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  • Showing only topics in ~games with the tag "steam.next fest". Back to normal view / Search all groups
    1. Steam Next Fest: what have you been playing?

      For those out of the loop, Steam Next Fest is a week long event (Feb. 5 - Feb. 12) celebrating upcoming games through demos and developer livestreams. Which demos have you been playing, and which...

      For those out of the loop, Steam Next Fest is a week long event (Feb. 5 - Feb. 12) celebrating upcoming games through demos and developer livestreams.

      Which demos have you been playing, and which releases are you looking forward to?

      30 votes
    2. I played and reviewed eleven demos from the Steam Next Fest in 24 hours. Which ones impressed you the most?

      In general, I found a lot of real gems this year! The indie scene is thriving like never before, and smaller teams are being enabled by the likes of Unreal Engine to create really beautiful games...

      In general, I found a lot of real gems this year! The indie scene is thriving like never before, and smaller teams are being enabled by the likes of Unreal Engine to create really beautiful games on a budget. So I had a lot of free time today and yesterday, and decided to go through my discovery queue and check out a few demos. That quickly ballooned into sitting down and playing right through over a dozen demos, two of which (The Lies of P and Wizard with a Gun) I didn't get far enough into to give any coherent thoughts on. How many demos did you check out? Are there any games you're looking forward to on that basis?

      The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood: 5/5
      From Deconstructeam, a Valencian studio with a strong emphasis on narrative, choice, and empowering the player to create their own art, this demo was one of the big winners for me. Gameplay revolves around conversations, VN style, but those conversations often happen in the context of you performing, essentially, tarot readings where the cards are all designed by you. I had a lovely, relaxing time making my own cards, and the challenge of interpreting them to the people around me in a way that felt… true, I guess, was memorable. There is an impressive level of responsiveness to your choices on display here, both on a micro level and, it seems, on a macro level, so I have to think that the game will be pretty replayable. My one gripe was that the dialogue felt a bit stiff and unnatural at times. The game isn’t voice-acted, and the lack of rhythm or cadence in a lot of conversations kept them from flowing well. But that said, even if individual lines of dialogue fell a bit short, placed in context, the conversations felt meaningful, engrossing, and interesting. I will be buying this on release.

      Death Must Die: 4/5
      I’m a sucker for the “Survivors” genre. My first experience with it preceded Vampire Survivors, the little $3 game that swept the world last year and popularized the new gameplay style; I started with the mobile game that inspired VS: Magic Survival. I had tens of hours in that game. And each subsequent entry into the genre; VS, HoloCure, 20 Minutes Til Dawn, etc., etc. have only worn me out more. These games are all the same: more enemies fill the screen; you get more autofire weapons to deal with them and dodge around to avoid contact damage. Fun for half an hour, but don’t really leave you wanting more. Death Must Die is different. Isometric rather than top-down, the combat here is all manual. You click to fire off an attack that needs to be well aimed; enemies don’t deal contact damage but instead have telegraphed attacks that you have to dodge. It feels very ARPG, actually; a bit Diablo. And the level-up system, which sees you selecting boons from different gods, is clearly inspired by Hades and offers considerably more interesting choices (so far, at least) than the usual Survivors game. Feels a lot more skill based, and a bit more build-craft-y, than usual. And I even caught a whiff of a story, though how well it’ll be executed remains to be seen. I look forward to the full release. Just wish there were more defensive options – maybe a parry?

      El Paso, Elsewhere: 4/5
      This is cute. A Max Payne-style third person shooter that’s well written in a surreal, noir sort of way; corny enough to be delightful; dark enough to maintain the tension. Visually, it’s a low res, low poly callback to the PS1 era. The gameplay is pretty tough; I didn’t finish the demo, but I imagine it would be a lot of fun to master. I’m keeping my eye on this one, even if it’s not my usual type of game. A special callout: there are biblically accurate angel enemies in this game, which makes me a very happy woman.

      Escape from Mystwood Mansion: 3/5
      I like escape rooms, and this demo is just a well-constructed escape room – actually, it skews very closely to the types of puzzles and mechanics I’ve come to expect from physical escape rooms. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing; I do wish the game used its medium to get a little more wild with it. But the puzzles were generally pretty well constructed and offered a few fun “aha!” moments when I solved them, and I didn’t need to look at a walkthrough or lean on hints to get through. That said, the hints that I did use were pretty lackluster, and in one case, actually wrong, so that system needs some revision. Some of the sound design got a bit grating, too. I don’t know. Were this a co-op experience I’d probably like it a bit more. The appeal of an escape room is the excitement of solving it with a friend, and there are certainly enough self-contained puzzle sequences here to support that. But no; Mystwood Mansion is a solo experience, and I’m not sure if it’ll be that fun to solve multiple predictable escape rooms alone, staring at a computer screen.

      The Invincible: 3/5
      I am of two minds about The Invincible. This game is an atompunk sci-fi walking sim adapted from a novel (my roommate tells me) by Stanislaw Lem, and so, suitably, what we have in this demo is a slice of high-concept sci-fi steeped in personal stakes. I have a hard time thinking of anything bad to say about this game. It looks good, runs well, has an interesting story that left me wanting more. And yet, one day after playing it, I just do not want to pick the game up again. I suppose part of it was the pace. Some of the best walking sims – What Remains of Edith Finch – tell incredible stories in the space of two hours. Meanwhile this demo was 40 minutes long and felt like only a small piece of some grand, sprawling story. Environments are huge and your walking speed is pretty slow, so there’s a lot of time between set pieces where your character is just having headaches or struggling to breathe, which really wore me down. I can’t imagine playing this game for 10 hours; 5 might be pushing it. It’s not super tempting when I could just read the book.

      Loodlenaut: 2/5
      Oh boy, Loodlenaut. Where to begin. Okay, so, I actually like this game. It’s pretty, and relaxing; an ocean exploration game where your job is to clean up trash, rescue wildlife, and climb the tech tree. I have played through the entire demo, done everything there is to do, which took about an hour. And I will absolutely not be playing the full game. If you’ve played Powerwash Simulator, you know how satisfying it can be to get rid of muck and watch a meter climb up to 100% clean, and Loodlenaut scratches a similar itch. The problem here is that the game feels so clunky and limited that the frustration often outweighs the satisfaction. For example, you have a cleaning gun that picks up trash, destroys goop, and breaks boxes. But you don’t aim the gun, the game does, and it’s not really based on where you're facing or what you're closest to so much as it is on the game’s capricious moods. Say you’re trying to pick up a glass bottle, but there’s a crate nearby that you can’t break yet because you don’t have the right upgrade. Well, Loodlenaut will snap the gun to the crate and repeatedly try to break it, until you wiggle around enough to get it to change its mind and pick up the bottle. Wielding the gun is a constant frustration, as is sluggishly moving through the ocean. Your swim speed is slow, and your boost recharges slowly, so going back and forth between central base and the area you’re cleaning – something you have to do pretty frequently – takes what feels like an eternity until you sink lots of resources into infrastructure. None of this is a bad idea – incentivising players to craft boost rings to improve traversal is a good idea; auto-targeting is more comfortable than aiming on a controller – it’s just these systems are poorly implemented, which leads to frustration.

      Luna Abyss: 5/5
      Luna Abyss is a fucking wild demo. I downloaded it because the game’s description used they/them pronouns for its protagonist. I had no idea what I was getting into. So, okay, the best comparison I have for this game is to Returnal. Like that game, Luna Abyss is a high-production value 3D shooter where hitting your shots is easy, and the difficulty comes from avoiding the attacks of bullet-hell style enemies. And like Returnal, it has a strange, unsettling atmosphere, tight movement, and punchy, satisfying guns. Of course, Luna Abyss isn’t a roguelike, and it appears much more straightforward with its story beats so far. I don’t know, I’m having a hard time capturing what makes this game so great. Let’s start with the world, which is bleak and dark and oppressive. You run through cavernous metal structures, all black and grey, lit in harsh red. Enormous metal pipes twist and curl and embrace each other like enormous, mechanical intestines, and you run across them to get to your next objective. This place was not designed for you, and you feel that so clearly as you traverse it. You jump off the pipes and enter into combat, where a generous aim assist ensures that all your shots will hit. But there are a couple of enemy types to prioritize. You fire your shieldbreaker at a flying enemy, killing it, and time slows to a crawl, increasing the impact of the shot and giving you a tiny moment of respite to see what bullets you’ll have to dodge and decide what enemy you should prioritize next. A miniboss spawns in, grinning facelessly, and releases a flower of projectiles. You sprint and jump and dodge and you keep firing until she’s dead. The room is clear, and the demo is over, and your screen is awash with the bright, striking red of the UI. “Thanks for playing,” it says. I felt like I should be thanking it, instead.
      It’s impossible to say, at this juncture, whether the game will be good. The crumbs of story were certainly engrossing; the combat fun; the world, striking. At the very least, Luna Abyss looks like it will be one of the most interesting and unique games of the year, whenever it comes out. I can’t wait.

      Sea of Stars: 3/5
      This one is alright. The world is beautiful, the music peppy, the character designs good. I just honestly have not played enough turn-based isometric RPGs to compare it to anything. I did have two big disappointments: I thought the writing was a little… on-the-nose, I guess? Characters just stated their objectives and everything was pretty surface-level. Dialogue wasn’t attacking or defending, only conveying information. And while the combat was fun and had a challenging timing element, it ended with a boss who I spent like ten minutes fighting for a single attempt, used all my items, did everything I could, and still lost to in dramatic fashion with no indication I had done any real damage. My suspicion is that the boss is simply meant to be an organic end to the demo, a scripted loss, but I don’t know; if not, it probably indicates that this type of game isn’t for me, since I found it to be quite a slog.

      Stray Gods: 2/5
      I really wanted to like Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. It is, essentially, a choice-based VN in the style of a broadway musical about ancient Greek gods struggling to live in modern society. A tantalizing premise, if a bit theatre-kid-y. But my degree is literally in theatre criticism, so I have a lot of tolerance for the genre’s usual excesses. I can’t think of another musical video game, but Stray Gods’ demo did not convince me that the idea could work. The performances aren’t the problem here; Laura Bailey is a charismatic lead with pipes good enough to carry the show, and the supporting cast of big names (Troy Baker, Felicia Day, Khary Paton) are no slouches either. But so much about this game is just not working for me. Let’s start with the sound design. This is one of those games where it feels like all the actors are recording in totally separate rooms. There’s a lot of dead air, not a lot of dynamism or one person bouncing off the other during conversation. It robs scenes of a lot of momentum and impact. And when I say “dead air,” I mean dead air. Bafflingly, the game seemingly has no room noise, no background audio, so when people aren’t talking, or music isn’t playing, everything is completely, uncannily silent. It’s genuinely weird.
      The musical numbers alleviate this weirdness by filling the soundscape but do little else to pull me in. We get to see four songs in the demo; two from the opening act, two picked from later in the game. All of these songs are very similar – fugues or duets, where one character has one perspective and another character (or chorus) has another perspective, and their conflict is expressed and then resolved through song. Which is a fine structure for a song in a musical, don’t get me wrong, but it is not a fine structure for every song. Even our main character Grace’s “I Want” song, the song that establishes her, her desires, and internal landscape and should absolutely be a solo, is a duet with a woman she’s just met. It does not work. And when the game has you making dialog choices during songs, it robs them of a natural arc; there’s no organic progression from the characters’ starting points to their ending points. Some part of me hopes that this game will be good, but I’m not optimistic. Stray Gods is no Hadestown.

      Vampire Hunters: 3/5
      In the Death Must Die blurb, I praised that game for refining the “Survivors” genre by making tweaks that allow for more skill and expression. But fuck that. Vampire Hunters is a braver game than Death Must Die will ever be, because it dares to ask, “What if Vampire Survivors was a boomer shooter where all your guns were on screen at the same time?” The result is absolutely wild; by the end of a run, more screen space is devoted to your guns than the entire rest of the game. It feels pretty weird to play, too; all of your guns have different ammo counts and may or may not be automatic, but all fire with the same button, so it can be tough to manage all of their separate ammo pools. And XP drops have a tiny pickup radius, so you really have to move to get them all. The neatest trick the game pulls is that it increases enemy spawn rate when you sprint, so moving at a high speed carries a lot of risk. But apart from that, this game is maybe too audacious to be enjoyable.

      Viewfinder: 4/5
      I am not a frequent puzzle game player, but I, like most every PC gamer, have a soft spot for the kind of reality-warping sci-fi-y puzzle genre originated by Portal and carried forward by the likes of Superliminal and, now, Viewfinder. First: this game is a technical marvel. You are able to, in essence, carry around entire environments, often with a wildly different art style from the rest of the game, and place them seamlessly and instantaneously in the world. I played this at 1440p, >100 FPS with nary a stutter on my midrange system. The ability to place photos and enter them is genuinely incredible on all levels other than technical, too; it feels magical, like stepping into a painting that you yourself made. My only question, one that the demo did not answer, is whether Viewfinder will be able to construct interesting puzzles out of this mechanic. This was something that I think Superliminal often failed to do, too; when the central mechanic of your puzzles is so unique and novel and powerful, how can you limit it in such a way that players actually have to think and put in effort to solve problems? For me, at least, every puzzle in Viewfinder was solved pretty much instantly, with no “aha!” moments, and that does worry me a bit.

      34 votes