Somehow another October has arrived, sneaking up on us like the spooky little month it is, and that means another Next Fest collection of demos from Steam. Too many demos, in fact, which is why I’ve plundered through the depths of the lists to find some intriguing games buried within.
Here are seven demos that show real promise, across a bunch of genres, so maybe you’ll finally be happy? Maybe.
An enormous spaceship called the Zephyr is on its way to a potentially habitable planet, a few lightyears from Earth. As the ship approaches Arrival Day, you – an engineer called Stella – find yourself embroiled in a mystery in which some sort of sabotage is taking place.
Between Horizons is presented like a point-and-click adventure, but in the full game will be a more non-linear detective-me-do, in which you’re nipping all over the ship to solve mysteries. The demo gives you a much more linear chunk, and a satisfying one it is too.
The big issue right now is the awful interface, that for some reason requires a controller or keyboard, and not the far more obvious mouse cursor. The map is especially bad, jumping in sections rather than smoothly scrolling, making it very confusing to follow. If the UI can be tidied up and made much less of a fiddle, this could be something really interesting.
- Developer: DigiTales Interactive
- Publisher: Assemble Entertainment
- Release Date: 2023
Damn roaches. Awful creatures. Especially when they’re bipedal and wielding a gun. In The Last Exterminator, you play as vermin-killer Kira Parker, who after seeing her van (home) get destroyed by these beasts, sets out to slaughter the lot of them.
And my goodness, this is so much fun. This is the mid-90s perfectly distilled, in a frenetic shooter with all manner of secrets to find. It’s just a single level in the demo, but I loved it, and cannot wait to play the rest. Those collapsing buildings!
The Last Exterminator is a Duke Nukem 3D-style FPS, but it’s not made with Build. It is in fact the developer’s own Mars Engine, and the game will come with a complete suite of modding tools and a level editor. See kids, this is what gaming used to be like! Super-impressive.
- Developer/Publisher: Ironworks Games
- Release Date: TBA
Remember Void Bastards, that roguelite shooter where you explored derelict ships and shot up a bunch of enemies? Well, now there’s Gunhead. I’m saying they’re really similar ideas. However, Gunhead has way cooler movement.
This is very much the same notion: you enter ships, shoot out the defence systems and patrolling robots, and gather cash to improve your equipment for the next run. Fail and ydou start over, with a cross boss. Succeed and you can unlock new weapons, starting gear, and most of all, mech suits. Because that’s what you’re wearing in these vertical levels, with your jetpack to quickly zip between levels.
I worry it might suffer the same issues as VB, in that there’s too much repetition and not enough impetus to keep going, but it’s definitely too early to say. Having fun with this.
- Developer/Publisher: Alientrap
- Release Date: 8 Nov 23
- Official Site
Artificial is a first-person physics puzzler that wears its Half-Life and Portal influences on its sleeve. However, importantly, playing it feels like neither, but something its own. You’re exploring some sort of derelict asteroid colony, and must successfully negotiate the rubble and ruin without getting hit by lasers, or falling to your death.
However, very importantly, this is a slow-moving game, and it’s all the better for it. You’re meticulously picking your way through debris, quite literally as you use the superb physics to pick up the detritus and move it aside, clearing paths or blocking danger. The demo begins at the beginning, then quickly updates you on some of the puzzling details so it can drop you in to some later levels where the challenges grow more interesting.
I really loved the heavy, meticulous movement, and the sense that so much of every level can be picked up, thrown or dragged, letting you improvise routes through the puzzles. I really feel like developer Ondrej Angelovic should remove the opening references to Valve’s games from the Steam page, because this is a game that can stand on its own, and doesn’t need to label itself a tribute act. (But definitely leave in the crowbar and lambda-labelled box in an early level, as that’s a lovely nod.)
- Developer/Publisher: Ondrej Angelovic
- Release Date: February 2024
A real pet hate of mine is games that start from the moment they open, meaning you have to sit through cutscenes and whatever before you can get to the settings. Makoto Wakaido’s Case Files takes this to a whole new level by doing all that, but in Japanese. You can only set the demo to English after you’ve skipped through screens and screens of text. Not brilliant.
However, this done, the result here is a neat little detective game, presented in chunky pixels and with a Phoenix Wright-vibe to crime-solving. In a bizarre opening, this story of some gruesome murders involving a religious cult and decapitations is being told by a grandfather to a small boy, as they sit on a park bench. Anyhow, you play as the younger grandfather when he was a detective in the 1980s, by talking to witnesses at various locations, cross-referencing clues from your diary to change the conversation options, and then piecing the information together in a sort of mind palace location.
What’s in the demo is way too under-challenging, essentially having you click through the options, rather than actually solving any puzzles, and there’s a good chance the whole game will feel this way. But then, really it’s about being told a story, with each of the game’s four episodes (yup, there are four stories in this “trilogy”) intended to last no more than an hour.
- Developer: Hakababunko
- Publisher: room6
- Release Date: Q4 2023
- Official Site
Another old-school treat, Wizordum is the most splendid mix of Heretic and Wolfenstein 3D, with the magic-casting combat of the former, and the secret-searching and treasure-gathering of the latter. Presented in glorious 2.5D, this is a tremendously fun FPS and a very generous demo.
The first of the two proper levels here (there’s a third you can unlock, which is extremely silly) delivers a solid FPS experience, tons of secrets to find, and a mix of melee and fireball-based combat. But the second level really shows off, taking things outdoors into a sprawling village, with all manner of mini-dungeon buildings to explore, and a series of magical forcefields to take down by destroying hidden cores. I absolutely loved this second level, and the thought of a game built out of similarly loose and explorable areas feels incredibly enticing.
Best of all, we only have to wait until next month to find out. Oh, and this really is Apogee publishing – the reincarnation of the company hired 3D Realms’ Scott Miller in 2021, making it legit!
- Developer: Emberheart Games
- Publisher: Apogee Entertainment
- Release Date: 15 November
With a very Wolfamongus visual style, and some gor-blimey guvnor decent British acting, The Midnight Crimes looks like it could be a point-n-click adventure with real ambition.
Set in a semi-open world, it’ll offer the opportunity to get diverted, take on side quests, during your adventures as a retired detective looking for a missing child, while investigating the deaths of his own family. The demo quickly demonstrates how you can be distracted from your given task by other activities, which immediately introduces a degree of freedom and variation that’s rarely available in the genre, which I find intriguing.
The camera angles in this psuedo-3D adventure I find slightly less enticing, making movement a touch too confusing. But the gloomy art is great, and the acting–although bloody slow, with no way to skip text–solid.
- Developer/Publisher: DeadlyCrow Games
- Release Date: TBA
- Official Site