Demo Derby – Steam Next Fest

Demos are hard. The biggest games don’t do them because they don’t need to. Their fans will promote the shit out of their games, with no hands-on experience, to the point that they can rely on pre-orders. Mid-tier games sometimes do them, but often don’t because they’re hard to do. You need to give someone enough to play to get a feel for the game, not so much that you’ve given them all they need, and you have to put your best foot forward so that you don’t turn off a potential sale. Indies do a lot of demos. They need to sell to publishers and they need to sell to potential buyers.

Steam is doing their own not-E3 this year called Next Fest. Part of Next Fest is highlighting indie games, including a ton of indie game demos. A handful of games I’ve been interested either put up demos for Next Fest, or I’m just learning they had a demo. Here’s some impressions, starting from least impressive to most impressive.

The Fermi Paradox

This is a not-4X with a stated goal of guiding space-faring species into meeting each other. Unfortunately, I found it a bit dry. This guiding is done by collecting influence points and using those to nudge sliders like tech level, population, and ethics via random events. For example, a war broke out on Earth. I could flat out stop the war by spending points, I could let it happen without losing any points, or I could encourage the war to add to my influence. That’s sort of the whole game. I didn’t feel like my nudging of sliders was particularly effective. I spent the whole time clicking to collect influence, making a decision every now and then, and none of it felt like I was doing much more than blindly navigating a decision tree.

NORCO

NORCO is a sci-fi Southern Gothic point and click adventure that explores the industrial swamplands and decaying suburbs of South Louisiana. It is exactly what it says on the tin. I love the way this game looks, and the writing is the kind of atmosphere I’m into, but it’s still a point and click adventure. I already had this on my wishlist before Next Fest, but I’m not exactly a huge fan of the genre. It sort of had a Kentucky Route Zero feel though, which I’m into.

The Riftbreaker

This is part RTS, part twin stick shooter. It’s like if you played Total Annihilation without selecting any units beside the commander. It’s a good looking game, but I’m not the RTS type. It starts with building a base.

Death Trash

Third person, post-apoc RPG. I’m pretty into this. It felt like the first Fallout except with direct input action. It’s weird and dark and a bit slow moving. I hadn’t heard of it before now and I’m going to keep and eye on it.

Dread Templar

Quake-like. Fast action, lots of brown and red texturing. It’s plenty fast and the shotgun felt good, but the first weapons are a pair of pistols and the first enemies are a bit too skinny. I know I don’t have perfect aim, but I felt like I was missing when I should’ve been hitting. Give me a bit more credit, please!

Sable

Third person adventure platformer. This game’s got a great look to it and I like the atmosphere. It’s fully 3D but it’s flat shaded and looks like a rotoscope animation. I mainly stopped playing it because I don’t want to get too far and have to redo it all when the game is released.

UNSIGHTED

Really surprised by this. It’s a 2D action RPG, a lot like Crosscode or Hyper Light Drifter. I generally loved what I played and stopped before I got too far into it, but it does suffer from that third person 2D perspective problem where it can be hard to tell what plane of elevation I was on.