Steam Game Festival February 2021: a round-up

The Steam Game Festival made a return this year after three events in 2020. Over 500 demos were made available to gamers between 03 and 09 February 2021, while developers broadcasted their upcoming projects and answered questions.

The COVID-19 lockdown saw the cancellation of the usual gaming expos and organisers decided to take them online so they could continue. This has been great in terms of accessibility, but it also means I’ve tried so many demos over the past 12 months that it’s now proving difficult to find new ones I’m interested in. Fortunately I managed to dig out eight that looked as though they might be worth a go –here are my thoughts and whether they were deemed worthy enough for a place on my wishlist.

Blind Drive

Wishlisted: yes

We first came across this title at the Leftfield Collection at Rezzed back in April 2018, where Pete gave it a go. You step into the driving seat of someone who has been blindfolded and instructed to drive against oncoming traffic and must use what you can hear to avoid any collisions. It was good to be able to play the demo at home without all the noise and crowds of an expo, and what we found was a darkly humorous game which has now been scheduled for one of our upcoming GameBlast21 streams.

Cats and the Other Lives

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

A pixelated point-and-click about a family mystery with a cat protagonist should be right up my street. Instead of controlling a human character, you guide Aspen’s fluffy paws and witness the conversations that take place during the funeral of patriarch Bernard. The demo crashed just before I hit the hour mark but that’s not the reason why I decided to not wishlist it right now; although I liked the idea of playing as a cat, it felt as though I didn’t have much control over the situation unfolding so I’ll wait to see what the reviews say.

Dr Livingstone, I Presume?

Wishlisted: no

There was something about this demo that our recording software really didn’t like and so there’s no gameplay video for it here unfortunately. It’s an escape room which takes place in David Livingstone’s house after you’re called there to help your friend, but he’s nowhere to be found. I wasn’t overly keen on the graphics and some of the controls seem as though they’d be far better suited to a touch device than a keyboard-and-mouse. It just feels a bit too clunky in both appearance and play to be wishlisted.

Fate of Kai

Wishlisted: no

I can see why many puzzle-lovers will enjoy this game once it has been released but I’m sorry to say it just isn’t for me. The adventure takes place in what looks like a graphic novel where you can turn the pages to find out what happens, then go back to change the character’s thoughts to create a different outcome. I’m so used to there being words within the type of releases I play, either spoken or written, that I didn’t follow the story as closely as I should have and therefore struggled to become invested in it.

In My Shadow

Wishlisted: no

Although there were several things highlighted in the trailer that pointed to a title which wouldn’t be for me, I picked this one because I liked the idea of the central mechanic: objects are placed within a room to create different shadows before you guide a young girl across the platforms to get a glimpse of her memories. It felt difficult to move the items as finely as I would have liked and ultimately, the whole thing is just a bit too ‘cutesy’ for my tastes. I wasn’t enjoying the demo so I stopped playing before I reached the end.

Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

I really enjoy detective games and this tale about murder, espionage and revolution should have really appealed to me. Clues about the death of the protagonist’s father are gathered in a traditional point-and-click style with the help of Oscar Wilde’s ghost, before being fitted together in her notebook. The demo got off to a good start and the introduction with the characters was fun; but over the course of the next hour, I gradually began to lose interest. This one will be put on the back-burner for now and may be wishlisted later.

Lacuna

Wishlisted: yes

I’d kept skipping over this one in my Steam recommendations but playing the demo changed my mind: it ended up being the only other game besides Blind Drive to make it onto my wishlist. CDI agent Neil Conrad is awoken with the news of a murder before he’s dragged into a case which will turn both his life and the solar-system upside down. The investigation section was fun to play through and I appreciate the mechanics the developer has implemented to get away from the usual point-and-click frustrations.

Page One

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

This was probably the most intriguing demo from the latest festival. Not much information is given away about the game other than it focuses on ‘a beach, a house, the howling rain and a mystery to uncover’ and takes inspiration from classics such as Zork: Grand Inquisitor and Myst. So why haven’t I wishlisted it already then? I’m sorry to say that the 360-degree environment and hand-drawn lines made me feel a bit nauseous, so I had to stop playing – I’m not sure I’d be able to make it through the whole title, which is a shame.

Did you get a chance to check out any of the demos during the Steam Game Festival this month? If so, did any of the titles make it onto your wishlist?

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Steam Game Festival Autumn 2020 Edition: a round-up

Following the spring event in March and a summer one in June, the Steam Game Festival made a return from 07 to 13 October 2020 with the Autumn Edition. Hundreds of demos were made available to gamers for the week along with livestreams from the developers.

As this weird year progresses, I’m finding myself less and less enthusiastic about digital expos like this. I miss the buzz that comes from thousands of people with a shared love of video games being in a packed exhibition hall and getting the chance to chat to creators in person. But I can’t deny that being able to play demo for such titles in the comfort and peace of my own home comes with benefits, a much better environment for experiencing the kind of narrative titles I love.

Here’s a round-up of the games that caught my eye this time around – and whether I promptly added them to my Steam wishlist or kicked them to the curb.

Buddy Simulator 1984

Wishlisted: yes

Not a Sailor Studios’ project earned its place on my wishlist as soon as I’d completed the demo and has left me intrigued. At first it seemed like an old text-adventure but there’s more to it: things started to take a rather creepy turn about 15 minutes in and I can’t wait to see to see where it leads. All I know right now is that there’s an artificial intelligence (AI) called Zelda waiting for me, and who’s extremely unhappy about being torn apart from ‘my friend Kim’ thanks to the end of the demo…

Dorian Morris Adventure

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

The reason I picked Forestlight Games’ project was its premise: not only is it an adventure filled with puzzles, it’s a coaching tool which features personality tests and knowledge about the human mind. It could end up being rather interesting in that it will possibly give players an insight into how they think but I’m going to wait and see what the reviews say first. Being thrown straight into the game without any explanation or tutorial threw me off, and the lack of response to my test was a little disappointing.

INCANTAMENTUM

Wishlisted: yes

A pixelated point-and-click set in Victorian England? Of course I was going to end up wishlisting Cloak and Dagger Games’ project. I loved the atmosphere during the 30 minutes I spent with the demo and it seems like it could be an experience which leaves the hairs prickling on the back of our necks. After receiving a mysterious letter, barrow-digger Thomasina Bateman travels to the isolated village of Belway to excavate Hob’s Barrow – but she’s going to uncover more than she bargained for.

Land of Screens

Wishlisted: no, but very likely in the future

The artwork used in Serenity Forge’s project was lovely and it could have a nice message at the heart of its story, but it’s a game I’m going to wait for rather than wishlist right now. Protagonist Holland wants to get away from social media after her channels have been set ablaze by her recent break-up with boyfriend Brian; but is that going to be possible considering how plugged in everyone else is? The demo gave me Night in the Woods vibes so it could either be really good, or a bit of a disappointment.

Last Message

Wishlisted: no, but maybe in the future

JamesGamesNZ’s project is a short atmospheric thriller which takes place after a virus has infected the world (sound familiar?). Part of the demo took place through a laptop interface which enabled protagonist Jill to communicate with her sister and friends, while the other moved to a 3D-environment and had her searching through a neighbour’s apartment. I want to wait to hear a bit more about how these different gameplay styles will work together before I wishlist the game but what I’ve seen so far is pretty good.

Lucifer Within Us

Wishlisted: yes

Both Krikket from Nerd Girl Thoughts and Frostilyte from Frostilyte Writes recommended I try the demo for Kitfox Games’ project – and their suggestions were good ones, because it got wishlisted straight away. I really liked the way this title combined futuristic technology with religious aspects and I’m always on the lookout for another detective adventure. Players step into the shoes of a digital exorcist who can see beyond our reality and into the alternate timelines of those accused, which helps her to purify their daemons.

Of Bird and Cage

Wishlisted: no

Capricia Games’ project is the most confusing one on today’s list and I’m still not sure what to make of it. On one hand it seems like a much darker version of Life is Strange – something I’d probably enjoy – and I like the interesting concept of it being a music-based action-adventure. But on the other, there were far too many adult themes thrown into a 25-minute demo so I’m not sure how sensitively all of these will be handled in the full game. I’m going to sit this one out for now but I’ll be keeping an eye on the reviews out of interest.

SAMUDRA

Wishlisted: no

This lovely-looking title by Khayalan Arts made it onto my list for the autumn festival thanks to its gorgeous artwork. It’s absolutely beautiful: setting the story beneath the sea has given the developer the chance to make use of some great effects and the ambient soundtrack suits it perfectly. Ultimately though, it’s not for me because platformers just aren’t my thing. I’d say it’s worth checking out if you enjoy more narrative-based entries in the genre but don’t go into it expecting a huge platforming challenge.

Superliminal

Wishlisted: no

I honestly thought this one was going to be a favourite game from the latest festival – and I was wrong. Although Pillow Castle’s project seemed like just the sort of puzzler my other-half and I often end up playing together, we both came away from the demo feeling slightly underwhelmed. I can’t even explain why: the graphics were nice and the challenges made sense but it just didn’t seem to be that ‘wow’ factor. It might be a game I pick up during a sale at some point but right now, I’m not sold.



Did you manage to check out ant of the demos during the Steam Game Festival last week? If so, were there any that you enjoyed and are now anticipating the release of? It seems as though we may not get a winter edition this year but I’m sure Valve will be back with plenty more demos in 2021.

Steam Game Festival Summer 2020 Edition: a round-up

With gaming expos being impossible this year due to COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in the number of digital events. I might be feeling drained by them but I’ve got to admit: it’s nice being able to try a game in the comfort of your own home away from a noisy exhibition hall.

Following the cancellation of GDC’s Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs and more, Valve decided to showcase more than 40 demos planned for the events during the Steam Game Festival back in April. It returned again last week with the Summer 2020 Edition and gave players the opportunity to check out over 900 games for themselves. Although I didn’t have time to play all of them, I did manage to check out several which looked interesting – and here are my thoughts.

A Space for the Unbound

The prologue for A Space for the Unbound by Mojiken Studio came onto my radar after a discussion with another blogger about their projects and those published by Toge Productions. Having already played A Raven Monologue for a post about free titles in July 2018 and the demo for When The Past Was Around for the spring 2020 Steam Game Festival, I really wanted to like it – but I didn’t. I’m afraid to say that I caught myself nodding off a couple of times during my half-hour playthrough so I don’t think I’ll be picking up the full game.

LOVE

The demo for LOVE by Rocketship Park may have lasted less than ten minutes, but it was very sweet and resulted in the title being added to my wishlist. Players get to know the inhabitants of an apartment block by rotating its floors to solve puzzles and see moments from their past and present. I get the impression that this is going to be one of those quieter games a lot of people will miss out on, but those who come across it will find something which tugs at their heartstrings and has an emotional impact.

Mutropolis

Point-and-clicks with science-fiction storylines always appeal to me so it was no wonder I tried out Mutropolis by Pirita Studio. Although it’s nowhere near as dark as some of the other games of its type, the demo was enjoyable and the puzzles contained within were logical. The title takes place far in the future when Henry Dijon and a team of archaeologists leave Mars to visit an abandoned Earth and dig up lost treasures. Things go well and they make an amazing discovery – but then Henry’s professor is kidnapped and it all starts to get a bit weird.

Nine Noir Lives

A comedy noir adventure featuring a cat detective? The description for Nine Noir Lives by Silvernode Studios sounded awesome and I loved the feline title art, but I’m sorry to say the game didn’t live up to the expectations they’d set. My main issue with it was that there was just far to much dialogue where the player was required to passively listen; it was over 15 minutes before I was able to make my first real move and I was beginning to get bored. I made it to the end of the demo but I don’t think I’ll be purchasing the full title.

One Dreamer

I like games which feature interesting mechanics and if the prologue is anything to go by, One Dreamer by Gareth Ffoulkes is going to be included on that list. You can look at the code of objects found in the environment and change their variables to get around obstacles; so update ‘enabled’ to ‘true’ to open a closed roller door or switch files to get a goose honking like a cat and wearing a top-hat. It seems like there’s going to be quite a touching story underneath this pseudocode too so sign me up.

Papetura

Papetura by Petums is a point-and-click which immediately reminded me of the releases by Amanita Design thanks to its charming characters. It’s absolutely gorgeous and this can be attributed to the fact that it’s handcrafted: making the game entirely out of paper gives it a really unique look. This was another short demo coming in at under ten minutes, but it was enough to get a taste and make me keen to join Pape on his adventure to stop the dark and flaming monsters from burning down his world later this year.

Sail Forth

Although I ultimately didn’t get along with the game, my favourite thing about Sea of Thieves was the exploration. That’s why Sail Forth by David Evans Games jumped out at me: this procedural adventure would give me the ability to explore the waters without having to put up with players who just wanted to kill me. The demo was a little janky and it’s clear the project is still being worked on, but it gave a good enough idea of what the team is trying to achieve and the type of mechanics they’re building into their release.

The Wild at Heart

My favourite demo from the Steam Game Festival this time around. The Wild at Heart by Moonlight Kids was a wildcard (no pun intended) as I picked it randomly thanks to its artwork – and I was left impressed, with another title added to my wishlist. It’s similar in gameplay to Overlord and Pikmin, and its story about two kids finding a mysterious realm within a forest is charming. I may have encountered a bug during the demo which prevented me from finishing it (the developer is working on fixing it) but I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

Did you manage to check out any of the demos during the Steam Game Festival last week? If so, were there any that you really enjoyed and will you be looking out for them in the upcoming summer sale?

Steam Game Festival Spring 2020 Edition: a round-up

With COVID-19 having a huge impact on the world right now, many expos over the next few months have been postponed or cancelled. MCM Comic Con has been pushed back to July; and Insomnia66 has been pulled, the organisers choosing to wait until Insomnia67 in August.

They’re not the only events that have changed on our calendars. The London Gaming Market still went ahead last month but with my other-half and I taking the decision to not attend this time around, I instead looked at the traders’ websites and ordered some games online for my PlayStation 2. And with EGX Rezzed being postponed until the summer, I published a similar virtual round-up for the expo last Friday and shared the titles I’d have checked out if all was well and it had gone ahead.

These postponements and cancellations may be disappointing but they’re for the best: it’s important we look after ourselves and each other right now. But it doesn’t mean we can’t get that expo-feeling. With the first LudoNarraCon taking place last year, many organisers are following suit and setting up online events. The spring edition of the Steam Game Festival took place from 18 to 23 March 2020 and gave everyone the chance to try out more than 40 demos – here are some brief thoughts on those I played.

Divisadero

Horrifying crimes in a dystopian world? Check. A disgraced policeman protagonist who’s seeking redemption? Check. Cinematic pixel art? Check. I should be all over Divisadero by Team2Bit but I’m sorry to report I’m not sure whether this one is going to be for me. It felt natural to press the return key at certain prompts but rather than respond to them, it kept opening the inventory; and I’m not particularly keen on the visual style. Still, I’d be interested to see what the reviews say about this one.

Hazel Sky

I had some trouble with Hazel Sky by Coffee Addict Studio and eventually had to stop the demo because the motion-blur and fuzziness was causing nausea. But seeing someone else play it on YouTube afterwards made me add it to my wishlist straight away. Although different in visual style, I’m getting some real Eastshade vibes here and it looks like it’s going to be a chilled experience. The story focuses on a young man named Shane who must pass the Trials and return home as an Engineer or face banishment from the flying city of Gideon.

We should talk.

It’s easy to tell that We should talk. by Insatiable Cycle is a title about relationships, but it’s hard to get a real feel for it during the short demo. This only showcases its main mechanic: the ability to choose what you want to say to other characters or send via text message, by selecting options for each part of the sentence. Not much of the story was revealed other than you’ve gone to a bar for a drink while your girlfriend is at home. It’s therefore difficult for me to recommend this one right now but perhaps it’s a game to keep an eye on.

Moncage

Alongside Hazel Sky above, Moncage by OPTILLUSION was my favourite demo of the festival for its mechanics and lovely artwork. Players manipulate a cubic device where each face displays a separate scene and you have to find the connections between them. Rotating it means different angles can be used to match up, with each new action discovered revealing a story told through photographs that seems to be about a father and son growing up. Another game which has been added to my wishlist.

When The Past Was Around

Back in summer 2018 I wrote a post about free games on Steam, and one that was featured was A Raven Monologue by Mojiken Studio. I knew that When The Past Was Around was by the same developer as soon as I saw its hand-drawn visuals. Each scene in this point-and-click is like a different memory in which a young girl seems to be in a relationship with an older owl male; and I kind of get the impression that however it ends, it’s going to be just as bittersweet as the creator’s previous work.



Did you manage to check out any of the demos during the Steam Game Festival? If so, were there any that you really enjoyed? The second LudoNarranCon will be taking place from 24 to 27 April 2020 so stick the date in your diary for your next virtual expo.