With a wealth of game demos, I played a large selection and selected the most interesting that I could find in The Steam Game Festival.
The Steam Game Festival event that is happening right now is a pretty great idea. With all the usual gaming conventions and events cancelled due to current events, why not utilize the expanding digital space? I’ve long been a proponent of game demos, since there’s little better way to know if a game will land. Combining a week-long digital event with public access to a variety of demos and alpha builds is clever, and I hope something like it will continue.
One demo sampling spree later, I had marathoned through much of what the library offered. In total, I’ve played 24 different demos to completion, to the point that I’m as exhausted as if I’d been on a convention show floor. I intended to write impressions pieces for all of these games, so I set myself the limit of two paragraphs per demo. I’ve chosen to split these impressions into two articles so as not to completely overwhelm everyone.
For today, here are the 10 demos among the 24 that stood out to me the most, and why. They’ve not been arranged in any specific order; all of them grabbed me in different ways, so this list shall not be numbered.
Starmancer is a city builder and management sim set on a space station. You set up the infrastructure, reconstitute your colonists from biomass, and then make sure their needs are comfortably met. In return, the colonists can be assigned jobs, which they will gradually level up in. With the right infrastructure, you can scan the system for points of interest to deploy missions to. From this, you can gain additional resources and colonists. With the variety of features and systems at play, Starmancer is pretty damn good, even if it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before.
The game is well presented, has lots of interesting systems, and handles well for this point in its development. My biggest concern is that I was unable to get water during my demo time, as I never found the required ice asteroids to mine. If mission appearance is reliant on RNG, it’ll eventually be bad luck that sees you out of water, and therefore out of oxygen. My original draft pointed this out as a flaw, but it’s already been patched to be more common, so issue solved. With a decent tail in the research tree to keep gameplay fresh, Starmancer would definitely be worth your time, so here’s hoping it turns out even better.
There’s been a real dearth of movement-heavy first-person games since Titanfall 2 and Mirror’s Edge. In comes Ghostrunner, evoking feelings of both of those. It’s a fast-paced game in which you play a cyborg aiming to climb a cyberpunk tower and kill the Keymaster at the top. To do this, you have the ability to run, slide, wall run, use a grappling hook, and even air dash through obstacles. These obstacles are frequently gun-toting enemies that will kill you in one shot, but die in equally short order.
I had an absolute blast playing this one. It utterly begs the player to go fast, think quickly, and use all the tools at their disposal to traverse the environment. Death is frequent but respawning is as snappy, so it constantly drove me to try again. The premise is interesting, the possibilities are enticing, and the demo is way too short. I finished it in just ten minutes, but seeing that timer at the end just made me want to replay it and do it better. Can’t wait to see speed runners get their hands on this, let alone play it for real myself. Ghostrunner is one to watch.
Fights in Tight Spaces
This game wins the Best Name award for this list of previews. That said, it’s also right up there in winning the most approval from me. Fights in Tight Spaces is awesome. It’s a turn-based deck-building game in which you play cards to move around and utilize attacks to best your opponents. What really makes it special is that the player has perfect information; you know exactly what the enemies are going to do. By moving around or utilizing this correctly, you can have them strike each other or set up for more intense combinations.
Completing fights gives you new cards and money with which to heal or tune your deck a bit for future fights. It’s simple, effective, and there’s a lot of possibilities for how these scenarios can play out. The idea of an intense tactical fighting game played via cards might not sound like much, but Fights in Tight Spaces makes it work. The minimalist presentation in the vein of Superhot suits the gameplay immensely. All that’s lacking here is a playback that runs the entire fight at full speed afterwards. Give me that, and I’ll happily pay up to live out my John Wick fantasies in this game.
I’d seen a trailer for Spiritfarer previously, but going into this demo nonetheless surprised and delighted me. It’s another sort of management and base-building game, this time set on a boat. You build additions and rooms to meet the needs of the people you’re journeying with, grow crops, fish, and juggle resources. All sounds good enough so far. But then you realize that you’re effectively Charon, ferryman of the underworld, and your residents are spirits being guided to their resting place. Somehow, despite that, the game can only be described as “comfortable.”
Spiritfarer has an achingly beautiful palette of art and colours to it. The animation is gorgeous, the sounds are fantastic, and the entire presentation is so charming and whimsical despite the sober theme and tone. Some of the tasks can be a little chore-like, but with enough passengers and things to juggle, I could really see it being an engaging set of systems. There is a lot to love here, and if executed right, this could definitely be a sleeper hit. Again, Spiritfarer was an absolute delight, and I am looking forward to playing the full thing immensely.
I won’t mince words: this was my personal favourite of all the games I played for this piece, no question. The Riftbreaker is an absolute maelstrom of game systems. You play as a scientist in a mech suit deployed to an alien planet, and have to establish a base of operations. That means RTS-esque gathering of resources, building a base, and setting up automation and defences. This base then becomes an upgradable ARPG hub where you can outfit yourself with new equipment and research. Go out, explore, beat up hostile creatures, gather more resources and upgrades, and deal with an increasingly escalating pushback against you.
I’m a sucker for this kind of interwoven set of systems, and the combination of everything here is executed really well. The action feels good, customization is plentiful, the base construction is intricate, and the tech tree decently varied. Individual systems don’t seem to dominate one another; it all plays well and loops back together. Given that games with smaller and less ambitious systems often struggle with such a concept, this level of intricacy is seriously impressive. It even looks and sounds pretty good, to boot! For a game I knew nothing about previously, The Riftbreaker is now near the top of my list of most anticipated upcoming games.
More than any other game on this list, 30XX needed no introduction to me. It’s a sequel to the excellent roguelike Mega Man-esque game 20XX, which I still routinely play on my Switch to this day. I was happy to hear of its announcement, and happier still to play this demo and ascertain that it’s absolutely more of the same. This is a good thing.
Because I didn’t need to know much more about it, I didn’t play 30XX for very long. It’s a combat-focused sidescrolling platformer with some roguelike level generation. Items and set pieces are hidden in the levels and can potentially change up your powers, build, and stats. But more than anything, it’s a solid demo that does the likes of Mega Man proud. The new levels and enemies play well thus far, and I look forward to seeing what more comes of it. Suck it, Mighty No. 9.
Other writers at DualShockers have covered Cris Tales in more depth previously, so I’ll defer to them for this one. I will say that this was my first time experiencing it hands-on, and now I’m completely in love with Cris Tales. It’s a gorgeous world with some seriously fantastic gameplay systems regarding time manipulation. I loved it, and I’m right on board with Nick on his thoughts about it. Can’t wait to play the full thing.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister
This was another real surprise! Solasta: Crown of the Magister is a near perfect recreation and implementation of 5th Edition D&D rules into a video game. The full breakdown of actions and turns is here, as are all the specific class mechanics and options that you’d find in a tabletop session. Solasta comes equipped with a pretty functional character creator, but the gameplay demo utilizes a premade party. Nonetheless, the character creator is available to demonstrate how well it translates.
Even without my own characters, the adventure demo was really quite impressive. There’s party interactions and banter, as well as dialogue with NPCs where you can choose who chimes in or makes a skill check. This will be present for a player-created party as well, according to the devs. I doubt it’ll be quite at the level of Baldur’s Gate 2 or other such classics, but there is a lot to love here. The actual combat and dungeon crawling was varied, with lots of approaches and secrets to find.
Alongside Larian’s Baldur’s Gate 3, we now have Solasta to show what a modern D&D video game can play like. Very impressed and looking forward to the full campaign.
Cartel Tycoon is — as the name implies — a management/tycoon sim in which you build up and manage a criminal business. You build up farms, ship the farm goods to industrial buildings for processing, then dispatch them to be sold at trade hubs. The catch between this and a standard city builder/tycoon game is that the farm grows cannabis, the industry rolls it into joints and hides it amongst legal goods, and the trade hub is a private airfield. It’s a slightly more subtle version of Tropico, in other words.
The mechanics and gameplay in Cartel Tycoon is pretty solid and the game feels quite polished and presentable. There’s a little bit of micromanagement, as your cartel boss and lieutenants are movable units that you can control. You can use them to take over territory, boost the output of buildings, or conduct actions that you’ve yet to research the automation of. I quite enjoyed my time with it, but there was a bit of concern in the late game when I found myself snowballing into an unwinnable scenario. A few more means of balancing out the Terror rating would be nice, but the effects of it causing police or federal agencies to tamper with you was a nice touch. Quite a good game, and one I’ll keep an eye on.
This game is a treat. Cosmoteer sees you starting with a simply designed spaceship, and you take it into space to fight other ships. Defeating them nets you money, and money lets you purchase upgrades and redesign your ship entirely as you see fit. Want to make it durable, fly super fast, or simply be a floating brick with a giant railgun? All of these are options. There’s a real satisfying feel to building a good ship layout, then unleashing it on the galaxy and destroying them component by component.
New aspects of gameplay opened as the game continued, and I found myself increasingly more impressed by the scope of it. Want to buy multiple ships and control them as a fleet? That’s an option. Want to accurately control and try to maximize the output of the ship against tougher targets? No problem. Or, you can just keep on building up the one ship into a hodgepodge nightmare or monster battleship, if you’d like. Cosmoteer is clearly a real passion project and I was quite impressed. There’s already a selection of original or iconic sci-fi ships that come pre-built to tinker with, some of which are community-created. Creativity is sure to run rampant with this one!
These were the definite standouts to me from my time spent sampling The Steam Game Festival demos. The event will officially be wrapping up today, so if any of these sounded appealing, you should go check them out and show your support. I will probably end up picking up the full release of most of the games listed here. As for the other games I played, tune in soon and I’ll share my impressions of them in a bonus lightning round.