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Steam Next Fest, June 2022: a round-up

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It’s impossible to keep up with all of June’s online video game shows.

We’ve had the LRG3 Showcase for those who like classic titles and physical collections. The Summer Game Fest for those who are interested in world premiers and flashy staging. Devolver Direct for anyone who likes a bit of comedy in their presentations – and that’s only the start of the list of events.

I’ve gradually given up on trying to watch them all for several reasons. The shows are always scheduled for the summer, usually guaranteed to be when the UK has its few days of good weather and there’s a barbecue planned. I also have less tolerance for getting hyped for games which then take ages to release as I’ve grown older, and I’d rather use the limited time I have for my hobby to play something than watch someone talk about it online.

That’s why the Steam Next Fest works for me. I can download as many demos as I want, play them whenever I have the opportunity over the space of a week and add any standout titles to my wishlist, without the pressure having to be somewhere at a particular time. It’s a good way to try out upcoming narrative releases, which tend to get lost among the bright lights, loud sounds and over-enthusiastic PR staff at real-world expos such as EGX.

This year’s event took place from 13 to 21 June 2022 and it seemed as though there were hundreds of demos available during the showcase. It therefore took a while to decide which to install and, from the 16 finally selected, eight games were awarded a place on my ever-growing wishlist (which has now reached an almost uncontrollable level and so might be the subject of its own post in the future). Here’s a round-up of everything I played and the titles I’m looking forward to playing in full.

A Building Full of Cats

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

This demo by Devcats was the last I downloaded and was done so on a last-minute whim thanks to its name. I don’t usually play hidden object games – but who can resist one which is cat-themed and, according to their website, in development by a studio run by felines? Even Pete enjoyed himself while we searched the hand-drawn environment for kitties, including those hidden in closed cupboards and secret spaces. It’s not necessarily a title I’d immediately wishlist but it’s one I’ll keep in mind if we’re looking for some light-hearted fun.

Antioch: Scarlet Bay

Wishlisted: yes

Midnight Mood Studio’s cooperative interactive fiction project appeared at Rezzed in April 2016, where Pete and I gave it a go. Unfortunately for quieter narrative games like this, they get lost in the noise of expos and so it was difficult to get a feel for what was going on. We enjoyed playing this demo a home in which two players work together as detectives to solve a mysterious murder in the city of Antioch. The idea of a cooperative text adventure is interesting – even if it’s likely I’ll get annoyed at Pete for going all bad-cop with his responses.

Broken Pieces

Wishlisted: yes

The impression we got from this demo of Elseware Experience’s upcoming psychological thriller in one sentence is that it’s going to be like a cross between Life is Strange, Resident Evil and Alan Wake. Its story centres on Elise who has moved to the French coast with her fiancé but is now stuck and completely alone after a paranormal phenomenon. Even though Pete may end up having to take over the controller when the combat gets more difficult, I think I’m going to get sucked into the game’s plot and strange atmosphere.

Casebook 1899 – The Leipzig Murders

Wishlisted: no

I first came across Homo Narrans Studio’s project on Kickstarter last month. It should be a game which calls out to me, a detective point-and-click where you make observations in your notebook and combine them to unlock new clues, but I wasn’t keen on the artwork. The demo unfortunately this. The visual style wasn’t my cup of tea even though I understand the vision the developer is going for, and I had trouble making the correct links to name the murderer even though I knew which character was to blame.

Dreams in the Witch House

Wishlisted: no

I really wanted to enjoy Atom Brain Games’ demo because I love the concept: a mix of point-and-click, RPG and open-world horror. The start of the non-linear narrative about Walter Gilman, a student in the legend-haunted city of Arkham and is experiencing bad dreams, is great. It’s just that I’m terrible when it comes to managing character stats and resources and I managed to make him very ill within just a couple of days. The gameplay sadly isn’t for me, but I’d recommend checking this one out if you’re a fan of old-school adventures.

Escape Academy

Wishlisted: yes

This game got an immediate thumbs-up from both Pete and I as soon as we’d finished Coin Crew Games’ demo. It takes place the Escape Academy, a school where students train to become the ultimate Escapist, and the full title will feature over a dozen escape rooms. We were rather pleased with ourselves when we managed to solve the tutorial room in just over two-minutes and one of the puzzles in the next level in eight seconds. I can see ourselves getting rather competitive when we pick up the title when it’s released next month.

Mothmen 1966

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

I’d seen this project a few times at various expos over the years but, like other narrative games, LCB Games Studio’s ‘pixel pulp’ got lost among the noise of the show. It’s an interactive adventure about a young couple, gas station owner and paranormal investigator who get caught up in a terrifying conspiracy during the 1966 Leonid meteor shower. The opening shown off in the demo is well-written and the 80s-home-computer graphics are good, but I’m not usually one for visual novels so I’m going to keep my eye on it for now.

Old Skies

Wishlisted: yes

If you enjoyed point-and-click Unavowed, you’re going to like Wadjet Eye Games’ upcoming release. Old Skies features several elements which will remind players of the developer’s other titles wrapped up in a story about a ChronoZen agent who takes clients on trips through time. It looks a lot different from the developer’s usual 2D-pixel style and this change can be jarring at first, but it slowly grows on you and it’s a Dave Gilbert project at heart. As I wrote last week, this game is proof that we shouldn’t be afraid to try something new.

STASIS: BONE TOTEM

Wishlisted: no

I backed the Kickstarter campaign for STASIS in November 2013, and both Pete and I really enjoyed The Brotherhood’s isometric horror-adventure thanks to its chilling atmosphere. It was therefore obvious we were going to give the follow-up’s demo a go but unfortunately, we weren’t as impressed. Our biggest issue was the character-switching; it’s a mechanic we’re not fond of anyway, but even more so when you can somehow swap items between protagonists even though they’re on opposite sides of an environment.

Surviving the Humans

Wishlisted: no

Like Casebook 1899, this was another game I saw on Kickstarter a while ago and decided not to back due to its art-style. This demo unfortunately didn’t do anything to change my mind on that and I found the gameplay to be rather slow. The idea behind the story is cool though: Cooper is a zombie who rises from his grave in the 1908s, and players accompany him as he learns what it means to be undead and how humans judge him for it. It’s just a shame that Surprised Monkey Studio’s project didn’t grab my attention.

The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo

Wishlisted: yes

It’s worth checking out this title for the 2D cartoon artwork alone, even if you’re not a fan of point-and-clicks, because Gammera Nest have created an imaginatively surreal world. This is inhabited by Mr Coo, who is trapped and broken into pieces and so must put himself back together again. A certain puzzle within the demo felt slightly illogical but this was purely because we hadn’t yet experienced enough to have a grip on the game’s logic yet; and there was a fun hint system to give us a gentle push in the right direction, so we weren’t stuck for long.

This rain will never end

Wishlisted: no

I must confess that I didn’t make it to the end of the demo for WooFoo Games’ noir detective adventure. It’s the sort of title which depends hugely on its story and the writing just didn’t do it for me. The grammatical and spelling errors in the text kept pulling my attention away from the gameplay and some of the conversations felt artificially inserted, coming out of nowhere. For example: the protagonist randomly asks a non-player character if they would like a fish, for no reason, and then tells him she’ll track one down for him when he says he would.

The Silent Swan

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

I’m really on the fence when it comes to Studio Circenses first-person open-world experience. On one hand, the visuals are stunning; the abandoned land evokes a melancholy atmosphere and there’s enough small hints at what has happened within the opening to create intrigue. But on the other, a lot of the path trodden within the demo looks very similar and sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether you’re heading in the right direction. I’m going to keep an eye on it for now and see what the reviews are like when the game is released later this year.

Unknown number

Wishlisted: yes

Godolphin Games’ project gave off the same quirky vibes as Blind Drive, a title I played in October last year and enjoyed, so it was immediately added to my wishlist once we’d finished the demo. It starts with a mysterious voicemail from an unknown number and ends with you being dragged into a scheme to steal billions of dollars from the world’s most notorious oil baron. What makes it unique is that it uses your microphone; you must talk, sing, whisper and shout – as well as impersonate tyrannical oil executives – to solve puzzles and progress.

We Stay Behind

Wishlisted: yes

You could say I came across this game through a series of Unforeseen Incidents after playing Backwoods Entertainment’s previous release after an expo in 2018. Their next project tells the story of the inhabitants of former health resort Laburnum Creek, who were refusing to leave despite a comet being on course to destroy their home. It’s hard to tell exactly where this title is going, but there was something about the demo which made me want to uncover the dark secrets which are clearly hiding beneath its surface.

Whispers in the West

Wishlisted: yes

I love the concept of Infinite Whys’ project: an online cooperative murder-mystery game set in the far reaches of the Wild West. You can get together with up to four friends on a chatting app like Discord, each choose a character with a unique skill, and figure out whodunnit. After interrogating the residents and inspecting clues, everyone must agree on a single culprit before the time runs out. I can see there being some rather heated discussions coming up in the near future when I purchase this title upon release.

So now the question is: how am I going to find the time to play all the new games added to my wishlist? I think I’ll start with Old Skies once it’s released because it’s hard to resist a Wadjet Eye title, especially if it’s looking to be anything as good as Unavowed. Pete’s pick from this month’s event is Escape Academy as we both adore escape rooms and the cooperative element sounds interesting; and it’s highly likely we’ll try Whispers in the West during out Friday video game nights with friends.

Did you managed to try any demos during last week’s Steam Next Fest? If so, which stood out for you and how much has your wishlisted increased?

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