Incredible Free Demos To Try In Steam’s Autumn Games Festival

As with all things offered by Steam, the recent trend of Game Festival demo offerings are massively overwhelming, and curated only by algorithms. It’s daunting to know even where to start. So using my Secret Patented Methods, I’ve searched through the collection to bring you some highlights, demos worth installing before they disappear again at the end of Tuesday 13th October. You may have played some of them in previous Festivals, but that’s OK, it just means you’re extra-great.

Anything that catches your eye or takes your fancy, the very best thing you can do for the developers is to Wishlist it. The evil robots whose capricious whims control Steam will take more notice of a forthcoming game the more Wishlisting it receives.

I could keep writing this feature forever, and never actually post it, so I’ve arbitrarily stopped. Please leave links to other great demos you find in the comments.

The Slormancer

I have a feeling this one could end up being special. The Slormancer is a familiar-feeling top-down pixelly dungeon crawler, but just feels damned good to play.

The demo is a small slice of a larger game, restricted to exploring just one of the dungeon areas – the Graveyard. But when you can do this with three different character types – Huntress, Knight, or Mage – and explore the enormous range of upgrade options open to each. Keep ploughing on down the same (rather dull green-grey, sadly) dungeon and you’ll also open up the even more intricate Ancestral Legacy skill web, letting you get a good feel for just how bespoke your character development will be.

It’s definitely a shame that the graveyard only offers two enemy types, and never actually gets difficult, but then this is a pre-early access demo, so it’s obviously a long way away from done. But gosh, the hub town is astounding, so beautifully detailed and packed with characters to chat to. It’ll be quite the place to explore once everything’s opened up and the game is rolling.

The early access is due to start later this year, and I’m going to be in there straight away. This looks incredibly promising.

  • Slormite Studio
  • Out 2020 (early access)
  • Wishlist

TOHU

If you’re going to copy someone, copy the best. TOHU so closely resembles an Amanita Design game that I checked twice to see if it actually came from them. It is in fact from Polish team Fireart Games, and it’s testament to them that I couldn’t stop wondering.

In this short demo you play a purple-haired fairy-like girl, who – for reasons not yet explained – can turn into a hefty metal robot. She can flutter and briefly float, he (he grunts male) can lift heavy objects. Together they solve puzzles by your clicking on the outrageously gorgeous scenes, finding missing objects, and forging a path toward an escape helicopter of sorts.

The Amanita comparisons come thick and fast, not just with how you scour an area for the interactive objects, but also its combination of metallic tech with insects and plants. The only big difference so far is a slightly clumsy way that you sometimes get a ‘walk’ icon to move around, but only sometimes, and it would always be better just to have the character automatically walk when you click on the interactive items.

This is a stunningly gorgeous game, but the demo is a little short to see if it can deliver on the promises it makes by the nature of its inspiration. Here’s hoping.

Batbarian: Testament Of The Primordials

Due out next week, Batbarian’s demo has me adamant to play the full game as soon as possible. While looking like an awful lot of other pixel platformers, it plays like something much more special. Not because of any particular gimmicks, although it has a few, but because it’s just so solid, so immediately comfortable to play, and feels eminently fair.

It’s a touch too gloomy in the game’s caves (the bright image above is from a dream sequence), but the darkness is a key part of how you play. Because it’s a pixellated side-scrolling platformer, by international law your character – either female or male – has to be accompanied by a floating fairy-like creature. This one’s called Pip, which is probably what all the others in all the other games are called. But Pip is also a source of light, and by lobbing berries about, she’ll chase after them and light up switches that open doors or reveal platforms.

In this time-limited 30 minute demo, you can skip about sections of the games via portals they’ve put in just for this build, during which you’ll gather a wizardly companion, fight a fair few beasts, and face a nicely delivered boss fight. It’s a good taste, and if the game comes out on the 14th as planned, you can be pretty sure of finding a review soon appearing here. Unless, as I think it deserves, everywhere else does their job properly so I don’t have to. I’ll be playing it either way.

INCANTAMENTUM

Ooh I love a proper traditional point-and-click, done without irony, without gawping references to LucasArts’ jokes, and without feeling a need to apologise for itself. Incantamentum seems to fit the bill perfectly, a parochial adventure set in early 20th century Britain, in the fictional hamlet of Bewlay.

You play as Thomasina Bateman, an explorer of sorts who is researching for a book on the ancient barrows of Britain. She intends to visit Bewlay’s Hob’s Barrow, but first she has to negotiate the unwelcoming locals of the local inn.

That the demo only offers us the brief segment of arriving at the inn, speaking with the people drinking there, and eventually heading to bed, really underlines just how well it introduces an adventure I now very much want to play. There’s some great scene-setting here, lots of foreshadowing of dangers to come, and a strong foundation of “We don’t like outsiders ‘ere missy,” type alienation. This is due out early 2021, and I cannot wait.

Domino House

Due out in just a couple of weeks, Domino House is a monochrome escape game, with the rather crucial twist of being plain strange.

I think my most common issue with escape-the-room games is just how contrived the scenarios have to be. Which complete lunatic is locking people up in rooms but hiding an web of keys within an intricate series of puzzles and lock boxes? So I rather like it when the whole conceit is properly embraced, and it’s just madness for madness’s sake. No one does that better than Rusty Lake, but Purple Cable, the team behind Domino House, certainly get it right.

Here you’re faced with an ever-growing number of rooms containing the most peculiar cartoon creatures, odd patterns on the walls, and the need to click on dots in the right order to open cupboards, in order to gather bugs, hosues, or, as ever, happy teeth.

I’m completely stuck finding the last tooth, I must confess, but there’s a good amount of game in this demo – it’ll keep you busy for a fair while. And there’s only a fortnight to wait to see the whole thing.

Road To Nowhere

It’s hard to get a read on Road To Nowhere, not least because the game is so deliberately obtuse. But it’s intriguing all the same.

Presented as a mix of film and rotoscoped animation, this is about a deeply tired man called Cohle Bishop, a game developer who has recently gone through two serious break-ups. The first was from his girlfriend, Fiona, who is now spreading scandalous rumours about him to the press. The second is from his business partner, with whom he’d set up his development company, Two Sands. He’s left depressed, confused, and doubting his own sanity.

This is presented as a point-and-click adventure of sorts, a sort of dreamworld Tex Murphy if you will, where the laconic Bishop grumbles his way between conversations with his sister, ex-colleague, and therapist. What is actually happening is pretty unclear in this demo, but may well continue to be so in the full game – there’s a very deliberately dream-like quality to it all, from the colouring of the film, to the somnambulistic tones of Bishop himself.

It’s very sweary, and a little bit uncomfortable with repeated use of “bitch” to describe the ex-girlfriend. (Although she does call him the c-word in a text.) The acting is strong for the most part (the ex-colleague is a touch too cartoonish), and it’s certainly a very novel look and feel, one that’s really grabbed me. Very interested to see where this ends up heading – it’ll be next year when we find out.

Mind Scanners

Mind Scanners is a Papers Please-me-do, set in a dystopian future where mental health issues are monitored and eradicated by a team of Mind Scanners, sent out by The Structure. You, naturally, are one such scanner.

Very much in the vein of the progenitor of what now must be considered an entire genre, you are immediately faced with moral quandaries, as you realise you are almost definitely working for the baddies, but also need money to survive and protect your daughter, currently contained in a Structure facility. So do you diagnose rebellious or creative people as insane, in order to make money? Or do you rebel against your employer, as a secret messenger will encourage you to do, and risk losing everything?

As you mind scan, you use various under-explained tools to try to remove the mental instabilities from your willing or unwilling patients, restoring them to “normality”, or breaking them entirely. Fathoming the tools requires dangerous experimentation, and on top of that there’s, well, even more dangerous experimentation. And before any of that you’re diagnosing, interpreting their interpretations of ink blots. It’s all written with a good dark sense of humour, and because you’re so obviously working for evil, concerns about making light of mental health issues can be put aside – as a sufferer, I found nothing vaguely offensive here. There’s a hefty tone of Bladerunner to the diagnoses, and countless other scifis as you remove the “disfunctions” from their personalities.

The full game is due out early next year, and looks like it could be one of the very few to try to follow on from Papers Please that might advance the formula to somewhere more interesting. This is being developed by The Outer Zone, and you can find their older games on Itch, and interestingly, is being published by Brave At Night, the developers of Yes Your Grace.

Luck Be A Landlord

This came recommended in Buried Treasure’s Discord, and honestly, when I started playing, I wondered why. And then I kept playing. And then I lost and started over. And then kept playing until I completed the demo. And so now I’m writing about it, because heck, it works.

This is a clicker, of sorts, in which you are living in the most peculiar of apartments. It comes complete with a slot machine, and a landlord who demands rapidly increasing rent, meaning you’re locked in to spinning those dials and hoping you’ll earn enough coins to keep a floor of an apartment above over your head. After each spin you can choose a new item to put on the dials, and each comes with its own unique properties, perhaps just earning coins, perhaps interacting with other symbols when adjacent, perhaps offering random chances to unlock or destroy other symbols. You spin, add, spin, add, spin, add… and hope you can pay your rent in a specified number of spins time.

Well yes, this is very clearly a commentary on Things. But as thin as it appears, it’s very hooky too. Thinking about which of three icons to add, watching the money roll in, or not roll in, feeling great when a treasure chest opens up and the rent is secure, or realising you should have added more flowers for bees to land next to… I think it needs to slow down the spins, just a touch, to give a little bit of suspension – at the moment it’s all over in literally a second, and while too slow would be annoying, it lacks the ability for you to see a particularly wanted symbol just tick, tick, tick off the bottom of the screen, or better, drop in at the top. I also hope the full version is a bit more involved, perhaps with other things to raise money for, get a bit more of that core clicker clickiness put in there. But it’s already oddly engaging as it is.

Webbed

Looking at the images of Webbed, you may well be wondering if this is really worth a look. There’s no doubt that it looks like any number of Gamemaker platform games that come out on Steam literally every day. But trust me, play this demo. It’s actually incredibly special.

Webbed is about being a spider, and being a spider is – ask any spider – about being damned cool. They can spin webs! Seriously, don’t take that for granted. It’s insane. Go watch a spider, see how the fling them through the air! Stop and ponder how it can possibly be real that they’re able to thread a horizontal line between two bushes either side of a pathway. Ridiculous. And Webbed is about being that incredibly skillful.

Games like this live and die on the precision of their controls, and Webbed lives. It’s just immediately perfect to play, as you fling grappling-hook-like webs with the right shoulder button, or tethered webs with the left, then scuttle up and down them, before leaping balletically to the next branch. And as anyone who’s ever played Just Cause with enough mods installed will tell you, combining grappling hooks and tethers makes for lots of improvisational fun.

So yes, you can build intricate webs! You also, um, have a “laser”. I’m not entirely sure why the game calls them that, when “web bullets” or something would have made a lot more sense. Spider-Man doesn’t fire lasers, for heaven’s sake. But this means you can knock flies out of the sky, or bother enormous moths, as you jump and float about.

If you’ve ever seen those perennial news stories on the webs spiders spin when they’re on drugs, you’ll get an idea for how my efforts look. But who cares when a fly gets all caught up in it, and I get my tasty snack. Plus, I’m helping the local insects, like getting an ant down from the high, high branch on which he’s got himself stuck.

I love this, and I can’t wait to see how it expands out to become a big, sprawling spider-em-up, especially if it’s littered with tasks to complete in my own time.

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