Expos were previously the main way new games were added to my wishlist.
This has changed over the past couple of years however due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. The virus prevented any real-world events from taking place for quite a while and, although they’re now back on the schedule, they haven’t yet returned to their pre-pandemic glory.
Let’s take last month’s EGX as an example. Despite there being more games on display than the poor selection in October 2021, there were fewer I wanted to play. The only two that would have caught my attention would have been Unknown Number and Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, and I’d already tried the demos for these at digital expos earlier in the year.
While nothing online will be able to replace the buzz of a real-world event, these digital shows are a great way of finding upcoming releases you may not have heard of before. I think this is especially true for fans of quieter or more narrative-heavy games like me. It’s far easier to play something like this away from the bright lights, loud music and over-enthusiastic PR staff in an exhibition hall.
The latest Steam Next Fest took place from 03 to 10 October 2022. This was even more successful for me than the last event in June: after working my way through the adventure list and whittling down the selection to 16 titles, ten of them have been awarded a place on my ever-growing wishlist. Here’s a round-up of all the demos I played over the weekend and the games I’m most looking forward to playing in full.
10 Dead Doves
It’s difficult to know where to start with summing this one up. The visuals aren’t the best and I couldn’t help but laugh whenever a close-up of the protagonist’s shocked face appeared on screen. The controls were frustrating, with the left-stick controlling forward movement and the right-sticking handling the direction rather than camera. This was all wrapped up in a weird mix of suspenseful horror and childish humour which I found to be really jarring. There’s wasn’t anything in this demo which made me consider adding the game to my wishlist.
Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future
I love investigation mechanics and full-motion video (FMV) so I had high hopes for this ‘real-time, police interrogation and detective simulator’ by Think Ten Media Group. Sadly though, the demo just didn’t do enough to convince me. I spent over an hour watching videos of two suspects before choosing whether to play good cop or bad cop, and then it ended abruptly. It was hard to tell from this slice what the game will involve and if the player will be more than a somewhat passive viewer. I’ll keep an eye on it and see what the reviews are like at the end of the month.
DEAD LETTER DEPT.
Wishlisted: no but yes
The wishlist verdict above is probably a little confusing so let me explain. I chose to add this demo by Belief Engine to my weekend’s to-play list because something about it reminded me of Stories Untold. You transcribe lost mail into a computer as part of your data-entry job, but oddities in the letters gradually start to emerge and things take a twist for the strange. While this unique game is worthy of a spot on my wishlist, I’m not sure I’ll be able to play it: I’m too much of a coward and the demo alone creeped me out. Maybe I’ll be brave enough one day.
The demo for Black Salt Games’ ‘single-player fishing adventure’ was one of my favourites from the weekend’s selection. You take control of a trawler to explore a collection of remote isles and discover what lies below, but there’s danger lurking out there in the dark. I can see Pete and I playing this together on lazy Sunday mornings because there’s something here for both of us. He’ll love the grind of catching fish and using the money made from selling them to upgrade the boat, while I’ll enjoy uncovering the mysteries and digging up the past.
Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future
While survival games aren’t my thing, Pete enjoys playing them occasionally so I added the demo for Vile Monarch’s project to the weekend’s list for him. It’s a rather pretty title despite being set in a world destroyed by climate change, and my other-half said it reminded him of Flotsam but with a more realistic style. However, his final verdict was that it doesn’t seem to do anything different to other entries in the genre right now so it’s one he’s going to keep an eye on rather than wishlist immediately. I have a feeling he’ll be playing it in the future though.
Wishlisted: yes, and backed on Kickstarter
I backed the Kickstarter campaign for this point-and-click by Inklingwood Studios last week before even trying the demo. I’m therefore pleased to report that I wasn’t disappointed after giving it a try during the Steam Next Fest. The visuals remind me of Broken Sword, there are mentions of voodoo like Gabriel Knight and the top-down map looks like something out of Monkey Island. The puzzles during this hour segment were logical and contained a pleasant level of challenge, so I’m looking forward to seeing more when the game is released next year.
Kona II: Brume
I played the original Kona in 2018 after kindly being given a key by James from Killer Robotics. There was something special about it thanks to the narrator played by Forrest Rainier so, when I discovered that developer Parabole was working on a sequel, I knew it had to be added to my demo list. There were a few minor visual glitches which caused some confusion and the narrator’s personality didn’t shine through as much as it could have. But I liked the fact the story continued from the first game, and it managed to earn a spot on my wishlist.
Italic’s 2D point-and-click had made it onto my radar a while ago because it reminded me of The Silent Age, a game I’d played back in 2015 and had really enjoyed. There’s no time-travel involved with this project however as the story focuses on a teenage tomboy cat burglar in Paris. The puzzles contained throughout the demo weren’t particularly challenging but were logical so this could make for a nice casual experience. The Steam page mentions stealth – which makes sense given the protagonist, but could be a potential frustration for me.
Road to Nowhere
An FMV game? Check. Rupert Booth as the psychologist? Check. Heavily stylised 80s visuals? Check. Based on all those elements, it was highly unlikely that 15BIT GAMES’ project wasn’t going to be given a spot on my wishlist. While it was a bit too much like a visual novel for Pete’s taste, its narrative about a software developer whose life is torn to shreds by scandal captured my interest and made me want to find out more. And did I mention that Rupert Booth is in it? That’s more than enough to make me add a game to my to-play list.
Road to Vostok
I’m sure regular readers will be surprised to see this game included in today’s post, but you guessed it: it was another one added to the demo list for Pete. He’d enjoyed Escape from Tarkov but was frustrated by the other players so this ‘hardcore single-player survival game’ looked as though it might appeal. The demo wasn’t great though. Items scattered throughout the environment were replaced by coloured tin cans as placeholders and there were no enemies to shoot, so it really didn’t give an idea of what the final game would be like.
SEASON: a letter to the future
I played the demo for Scavengers Studio’s ‘atmospheric adventure bicycle road trip game’ on Sunday morning while everyone else was asleep, and it was such a lovely experience. This was in part due to some excellent voice-acting. The protagonist leaves home for the first time to collect memories before a mysterious cataclysm washes everything away, and you’ll find yourself taking photographs and making audio recordings for your journal. This is likely to be a game I play by myself in those quiet early morning hours so I can soak it all in.
Another FMV title developed by Wales Interactive? Although it might not have Rupert Booth in it, this was another game which was always going to be added to my wishlist. The only thing which was slightly disappointing about it was that it didn’t focus on Callum, the awesome wingman from the original Five Dates. Choosing the female protagonist will allow you to go on two dates with the same guy in the demo to get a taste of what to expect. Pete immediately fell in love with ‘Bash’ as he called himself, while I think we can do better.
The Case of the Golden Idol
This demo was added to the weekend’s list due to its investigation mechanics, but I suspected that the visual style may put me off. I really enjoyed it though and Color Gray Games’ project surprised me with its Return of the Obra Dinn vibe. As an 18th century detective, you’re presented with a scene which contains several hotspots and clicking on these reveals clues which are added to a collection at the bottom of the screen. They’re then used to deduce the person behind the crime, following the journey of a cursed aristocratic family.
The Eternal Cylinder
After watching Darkshoxx briefly stream Spore a couple of months ago, I’d messed around with it myself through the Xbox Game Pass and it was this which inspired me to check out ACE Team’s game. It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually play but I’m so glad I tried the demo. I loved the narrator and creature characters, and its plot about a giant rolling structure which crushes everything in its path is intriguing. I want to create an army of cute little Trebhum and discover where this thing came from and how it can be stopped.
The Garden Path
Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future
I didn’t have much luck with the demo for carrotcake’s gardening simulator. The controls weren’t properly explained so it took some time to figure out what to do. All sorts of herbs were scattered throughout the environment but each time I picked one, it was added to my inventory as the same item. The objectives wouldn’t mark as completed once I’d fulfilled them, and the demo crashed after around 35 minutes. I want to like this game because it’s really sweet, but I’m not sure its chilled pace and lack of direction is for me. One to keep an eye on perhaps.
Our first impression of Utopia Games’ ‘science-fiction mystic horror adventure’ was that it was a cross between Sanitarium and STASIS. It was therefore a nice surprise to find out in the credits that its protagonist is voiced by Ryan Cooper, who did an excellent job of playing John Maracheck in the latter. The ability to switch between isometric top-down and third-person views and see the detailed environment from different perspectives is a nice touch, and I wonder if this is going to have a part to play in the puzzles contained in the full release.
It’s hard to pick a single favourite from this month’s Steam Next Fest because the quality of the selection for an adventure fan was high. I enjoyed Dredge thanks to its unique premise and because it will make a good ‘Sunday morning’ game. Season was wonderfully voice-acted and feels like it’s going to be very poignant. And The Case of the Golden Idol is going to put my detective skills to the test with its build-your-own-theory mechanic.
Did you manage to try any demos during the latest digital event? If so, which stood out for you and how much has your wishlisted increased?