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Steam Next Fest: A Recap

Dee and Jordan share their thoughts on Next Fest demos! (Becca guest stars.)

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Dee and I had the opportunity to sync up during some free time and check out a handful of demos this past Steam Next Fest. I even got my wife, Becca, to try one out! (It's a Herculean feat to tear her away from Sims 4.)

I'll post our thoughts on The Last Plague: Blight as a separate post sometime this week and cover the other three demos today. Overall I was pretty satisfied with the games tested and look forward to experiencing new games in the future.


Infection Free Zone

Jordan: As part of my pact -with myself, not Satan- to move out of my gaming "comfort zone," I've been dabbling in these society survival games that pop up on my feed. Think Frostpunk, but with zombies. Not only did I enjoy my time with IFZ, but I was able to talk both Dee AND Becca into trying it out, which is a personal record for me.

I was sad that the demo cut you off after eight days had passed in the game, and I was sad to see so many features locked out, but I get it because, hey- it's a demo. Even with my beginner-level familiarity with the UIs & controls of this game type, I could jump right into sending my people and squads around to forage and repel infected with little issue. Minus the time I fucked up and right-clicked the squad into the horde. RIP, brave souls. A+ for the game developers because the screaming and spurts of futile gunfire carried home what a fucked up choice that was! I'm really into how they're using OpenStreetMap to make these cities and towns conform to the actual locations.

I CAN FIGHT ZOMBIES IN OUR HOME TOWN DEE.

The gameplay felt very satisfying- just doing my thing, clicking my people along on their tasks, watching them zoom over infected in the car, just your everyday survival-type stuff. How about you guys?

Dee

Since this isn't typically the type of game I play, I did not think I would enjoy this demo. I really enjoyed this demo. I felt this immediate sense of attachment and protectiveness over the colony of survivors I was guiding. I wanted to see them grow and thrive and survive! To that end, everything about the game felt simple. That's where this style of game tends to lose me - when systems become complicated, dense, and very reliant on a lot of micromanagement.

That's not to say this game felt simple. I can see, for example - like Jordan mentioned - the features locked out in the demo, adding levels of complexity and customization. You still have to be thoughtful when building your squads and where and when you send them to complete tasks. You also have to be smart about assigning and splitting your workforce. Do you focus on having a lot of scavengers gather mats very quickly? Do you focus on builders to get as many structures up as fast as possible before the hordes attack you in greater and greater numbers? Oh, what about that cookhouse you've built? How many people do you assign there to keep your survivors fed and happy? Uh oh, it's nighttime, and one of your squads is stuck away from home! Do you risk them coming back through the horde-infested city to help defend your HQ, or have them hunker down where they are?

It's certainly a game of juggling your choices, adapting to the situations you find yourself in, and trying your best as this overseeing entity to keep as many people alive as possible. And I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Looking forward to this one.

Becca

Society building and simulation games are my jam. I went into this demo with high expectations, and for the small snippet we got to experience, it didn’t disappoint.

Gameplay centers on a loop of progress and expansion during daylight hours and hunkering down to survive the hoards at night. Otherwise, it runs like an open sandbox and causes the player to rely on their intuition and own triage system for prioritizing actions and development. The controls were intuitive, and I didn’t find it challenging to navigate the UI looking for the options and commands I wanted.

I appreciate that the environments are based on real-life locations throughout the world, this is such a neat idea! Unfortunately, I chose to locate in Germany; it was winter, so my day-night cycle was not the best. I felt like I had such little time to gather and explore during the day, and I would just hit the fastest speed to skip through the drawn-out night where I couldn’t do much. This disappointment of course was my own doing, and I like that you could make your gameplay more or less challenging based on when/where you locate. Social, economic, and political policies and exploratory systems are integral to this gameplay. They seem to include these features with their laws, research, and expedition tabs visible on the game menu. However, they were locked out of the demo. I’m curious to see more about these systems and how they’ll impact gameplay in the long term. I also noticed options that though they were also locked out, appeared to be for repairing and upgrading buildings, so it’s nice to see they’ll be including those features as well. Overall, I loved the demo. I think the game is excellent and has so much potential.

I look forward to seeing how it develops!


Voidtrain

Jordan: So we jumped into Voidtrain together and played through the entire 45-minute demo. (Note that Voidtrain has been available to purchase on the Epic Store for the past year as an early access title, but this Steam demo represents the most up-to-date iteration of the game.)

It was an interesting environment, graphically, and with the whole void+train+weird critters thing. The cut scenes and the way they conveyed information and moved you along with the bit of story/lore were cute. I can only pass along so much from a demo, especially since I've avoided any content made on the game since it was released as an Epic exclusive. But it strikes me as being quite similar in overall setup to Raft. Kinda a very bland existence of locomotion through the environment while acquiring materials in, to me, a kinda mini-game fashion. For Raft you hook things and reel them in; for Voidtrain you air swim out to them on your little safety line. Regarding results, it's similar to going out and foraging for materials in a traditional survival title. My issue with the two titles is that it's a level of passivity that makes me bored. I don't have to search out or plan to build near resources-instead I stand around, and items mostly come to me/within easy range. I wonder if this will play more like Remnant: From the Ashes for me. "Work with a friend to progress through some story, murder some critters, craft some shit."

The creatures I saw during the demo were visually interesting. I found the ones that attack your train to be a neat touch; it felt very satisfying to blast them away with my little revolver. However. I fucking hated the noise of the highly active & population-dense little floating dudes. Anytime they buzzed by the train I made a point of murdering them. That noise drove me bonkers. I don't want to nitpick too much about the train because it's my understanding (from dipping in and out of their community Discord) that many upgrades can be done to the vehicle down the line. Same thing with any survival aspects, of which I saw none, perhaps stuff will be included in the early access version on Steam. The crafting is pretty standard -make benches/tables to craft items to need different types of things to craft more workspaces to craft those items.

Dee

I had some good fun with this one! Also, any game that hands me a revolver within the first half hour has my attention. The comparison to the gameplay of Raft is apt in that you advance and build up your vehicle rather than a fixed point out in the world. I liked that it was a train! I imagine building the train up and making it this fantastic, sprawling base. The world and underlying story were intriguing. I was interested to know more about this weird, surreal, seemingly endless void you find yourself in. Supposedly there were/are other people out there? That's awesome; I need to know more!

...AND THEN THE DEMO ENDED RIGHT AS IT WAS GETTING GOOD AND I WANTED TO CRY!

I can forgive the devs, though. I get it - you need to draw people in. Draw me in it did. The gameplay loop may become repetitive over time, and the basic survival elements feel very limited. They're in that category that I don't enjoy much of just being a slightly distracting thing in the background that you have to think about occasionally and can quickly be dealt with - making them feel like they don't need to be there. This title will likely find itself in our Nominal Survival genre. Overall, though, I liked this demo and enjoyed it! I can easily see myself playing more of it.


Tribe: Primitive Builder

Tribal village

Jordan: Well, I posted my tirade the other day as a standalone article. I was less than enthused about the game after experiencing it in demo form- the game came across as very blah. What the fuck was with the 'fishing' in that game? Not even fishing. Flailing. Maybe it was because it's just a tutorial in the shape of a demo, but it felt like following a 'Honey Do' list- of pretty dull chores. What are your thoughts on the game as it's been presented so far? How did they handle the tutorial, and what does the game look, feel, and play like for you?

Dee

Yeah, dude, it was rough. I don't think the fishing mechanic was the problem; it was the water textures. It made it so difficult to see and hit the fish by throwing the spear, which is the method you're told to use. I found way more success by running around in the water and stab spamming with my spear. While playing, I struggled for a while to describe how I felt about it. I finally landed on at least one: soulless. That sounds harsh, maybe more than I mean it to, but the problem was that it felt like this odd disconnect the entire time I played. I was doing the tasks as they were presented to me, but I didn't feel any accomplishment in completing them. Instead, I was going down a to-do list and checking them off before moving on to the next task. I didn't feel any attachment to this village I was supposedly building up.

Meanwhile, the whole time I had these three meters: hunger, thirst, and energy(?) that just felt more like nuisances that stopped me from finishing my to-do list. It all just felt so... Empty.

That said, it wasn't all bad. I liked the method of building - I'm a sucker for a blueprint-style building that lets you put the structure down and then fill it in over time. I liked using rituals to unlock other crafting; it felt very fitting to the game's theme and story. The world itself was very vibrant and colorful and nice to look at. I think as you build up your village more, the world itself may begin to feel more alive, which, unfortunately, was really lacking in the limited demo. For example, after building my fishing hut and assigning a worker to it, I noticed that he was actually out there in the river fishing, and that, to me, was a really amazing detail. More details like that, and I think it'll be much easier to feel a sense of attachment and realness to the tribe you're building.

Some other minor things I'm sure will be fixed in time: some sounds were missing, which made some cutscenes awkward; some minor grammar issues and typos in the text; and the voiceovers could use some improvement. There are the bones of something fun and engaging here. I'm hopeful it'll get there.


Did you try any demos during Steam Next Fest? Swing into the comment section below and let us know. You can also chat with us on our community Discord.

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