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The Best Demos At Steam's Next Fest

Steam

Written by 

Tarran Stockton

Posted 

7th Oct 2021 10:22

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We are currently in the midst of an indie game renaissance, with wonderfully creative experiences crafted by passionate developers, releasing every week. The rise of indie publishers like Annapurna, Devolver, and New Blood are partly to thank for this, as they give a platform and resources to small teams that wouldn’t get the time of day with mainstream publishers. The success of one-man, independent developers like Toby Fox and Lucas Pope is also a signal of the smaller, more focused games that players are looking for.

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Recently, Valve has also made strides in favour of championing the indie game scene with the Steam Next Fest; it’s a several day long celebration that’s filled with demos, livestreams and developer interviews. Perhaps the Next Fest’s biggest achievement so far, is the re-popularisation of the demo. Previously a relic of a bygone era of gaming, the demo allowed consumers to trial a vertical slice of a game before release. I remember being younger and getting demo discs for my PlayStation 2 from magazines every month. They would have several upcoming games, and it helped me to decide which game to beg my mother to buy me.

With the newest Steam Next Fest set to end on October 7, I thought I would highlight some of the best demos available to play. If you do end up missing the festival entirely, worry not, as some of the demos will stay up and continue to be playable. It’s also worth noting every game featured in the current festival is set to be released between October 7 and May 1, so if any tickle your fancy, expect to be able to play them in full very soon.

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Conscript

The demo that impressed me the most was Conscript - an isometric survival horror which sees you playing as a lone French soldier, during the battle of Verdun in WWI. It takes direct inspiration from the original Resident Evil games, which shines through directly into the UI and carefully crafted atmosphere. During my short time with the game, everything seemed purposely designed to reinforce this suffocating sense of dread. The tortured screams of your injured comrades, the bullets whizzing over your helmet, and the dark ambient soundtrack - all made to heighten the tension as you skulk around dirty trenches. 

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The combat has a crunchy weight to it that highlights the protagonist's desperation to survive, it feels personal and exhausting, and instantly helped me to empathise with the character. Conscript is certainly one to watch out for, and is a must-play for any survival horror fan that effectively displays the terror of one of the most horrific wars of the 20th century.

Wytchwood

Pivoting to something a little more light-hearted, we have Wytchwood, a crafting/collectathon that sees you play as a witch, shortly after waking from a deep slumber. You awake with a mild case of amnesia and find out your coveted grimoire of spells has had all the pages eaten by a pesky goat. This is Wytchwood’s hook, and shortly after you’ll set out to collect ingredients and rediscover the magic lost to you, filling your grimoire with spells once again.

The world you inhabit is one full of gothic fables and fairytales, supported by a whimsical paper collage art style that really pops with colour. The demo sees you wander an autumnal forest, on the hunt for the ingredients of a typical witches' brew, with frogs legs and wet dog fur. I only scratched the surface on exploring one of the areas, and with several more ingredients to collect and capricious characters to meet, I can’t wait to get lost in Wytchwood.

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Postal: Brain Damaged

A celebration of indie games isn’t complete without a token boomer shooter, and as the genre continues to boom, it’s exciting to see more and more developers tackle it with their own flair. In come Running With Scissors - of Postal fame - to take a series premised on casual cruelty and crass humour, into an even more twisted and violent direction. For those unfamiliar with Postal, it’s an FPS slice-of-life sim, that sees you play an edgelord who hates the world and everyone in it, so sets out to murder everyone he can - in spectacular ways. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the tongue in cheek nature of the series always reigns it in from going too far. Plus, who doesn’t like using a tabby cat as a silencer?

In Postal: Brain Damaged, you begin in the nightmare that is modern suburbia, with a fancy custom buzzsaw and pistol with the ability to lock onto enemies. Speaking of enemies, unlike most boomer shooters, you won’t be fighting demons and monsters - just regular old humans...well not so regular. One of the enemies, which took clear inspiration from DOOM’s Cacodemon, is a floating chubby ginger kid with a spinny hat who chucks cheeseburgers at you. It’s all so utterly ridiculous, but that’s the fun of it all. Inhabiting the mind of a demented loser, who wishes to cull humanity is peak escapism and with tight, skill-based gameplay to boot, I’m all for it.

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Dread Delusion

The first thing I was reminded of when playing Dread Delusion was Bethesda Softworks’ Morrowind. The low-poly graphics paired with the dark, occult aesthetic, all neatly wrapped up into a first-person RPG, had me reminiscing of a game I hadn’t experienced for years. I created my character - a scholarly mage with a speciality in lore - and was swiftly released from prison and tasked with a suicide mission in return for my total freedom. It’s a classic RPG intro, that’s strength is its effectiveness in quickly engendering sympathy to your character - I guess that’s why The Elder Scrolls used it so many times.

Dread Delusion takes place in a world shattered by war and chaos, with the only living members seeking refuge in floating continents. It may look like a game straight out of 2001 but don’t let that fool you, it is decidedly modern - learning from a lineage of RPG’s from years past. The Steam page sells it as a game where the world can be changed by your decisions, with a litany of methods to solve quests through brains, brawn or both. They’re big promises for a small team, but their courage to develop a fleshed out, open world role-playing game has to be admired.

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Lil Gator Game

If A Short Hike and Breath of the Wild got together and had a baby, it would be Lil Gator Game. In this cutesy adventure game, you’ll explore an island that has been turned into a LARPing adventure, making friends and completing quests along the way, all in the name of convincing your big sister to play with you. The themes are apparent from the beginning and should resonate with all of us attempting to balance the duality of adult life and the want to indulge our childlike sensibilities. 

The game is very focused on movement mechanics too, with the ability to scale mountains, use a shield as a sled, and an oversized jumper for gliding. It’s undoubtedly the type of relaxing experience we all need from time-to-time and is the only demo I purposely stopped playing early, just to not spoil any more of the full game for myself.

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Fallen Aces

The last game I want to highlight is an upcoming title from titanic indie publishers, New Blood Interactive. Fallen Aces is a hand-drawn, first-person immersive sim noir, that takes place in Switchblade City, a city once protected by superheroes called the A.C.E.S. After they’re hunted down one by one, it’s up to you to get to the bottom of the mystery. Like any good immersive sim, Fallen Aces places you into a world with lots of mechanical systems that interact and intersect, then gives you the freedom to experiment and explore.

There’s a satisfying combat system here that makes use of prohibition era, ranged gangster weaponry and everyday objects that can be picked up as melee weapons - including glass bottles, pipes and trash cans. During the first mission, you’re tasked with infiltrating a club to save an undercover ally. I counted at least four separate ways to get inside the building, which is a good sign of the type of environmental design the developers are going for - a style intent on rewarding players for taking their time and exploring before rushing in. Fallen Aces' sense of style and world-building is sure to pull players in, and whenever it’s released I intend to be among that first wave.

 

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We Are In A Boomer Shooter Revival, And It’s Amazing

Bethesda Softworks | New Blood Interactive

Written by 

Tarran Stockton

Posted 

13th Oct 2021 17:14

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