Highlights of Steam Next Fest - February 2024

There are some really excellent demos in this round. Last festival I was rather underwhelmed, but this time there are a TON of games that I'm really interested in that are already well polished. It's going to be a good year.

Instantly grabbed me. The game is about mining asteroids and some light automation to gather materials, upgrade stuff, and save up for a ticket to earth. It's a roguelike in disguise - you set up a mining outpost, and once you leave, everything is gone except your collected currency. You need to defend the asteroid from raiders, and the threat becomes greater the longer you mine for.

Abiotic Factor
Getting extreme Half Life 1 vibes from this - including the graphics, voiceovers, sound effects and even the elevator ride at the start of the game. The voice actor humour is great. It feels like it's going to be a survival crafting game set in the "Black Mesa" facility. Traits for characters make them interesting, you can learn recipes from the environment, and there's something to do with being able to package up furniture and move it around. Unfortunately it's also multiplayer, so hopefully it balances ok to work in single player too.

YES! Automation! Set in a 2D world like Terraria. Excellent tutorial. You play as a robot, and you start by mining and harvesting stuff to smelt iron and make a drill, which you automate into a forge, then into a crate. There's a HUGE map to explore too. Excellent atmosphere, mining, crafting, research of new tech, personal upgrades. Finally a new original idea for an automation mining game. Movement is a little clunky.

Children of the Sun
Extremely weird game with much more art than substance. It's basically a puzzle game. You have one bullet, and you have to kill everyone in one go. Every time the bullet hits someone, you aim at another target from where the bullet struck. So it's about working out who to shoot first through trial and error to see which order you need to shoot people in to get everyone without blocking yourself into a corner.

Final Factory
This is a good example of something I might not have picked up unless I'd played the demo first - even though it ticks a lot of boxes. It's a top-down 2D space / exploration / mining / automation / combat game. You start off as a tiny spaceship, mine asteroids, craft combat drones, automate mining. Has research, power systems

Lightyear Frontier
I've been looking forward to this for... years? It's a farming sim, but you have a mech. It's gorgeous, runs well, bright and colourful. I had no idea it was going to be first person - works really well. High attention to detail. Some areas of the map are dirty / slimed and you need to restore the area. Different tools are different mech arms. A hose arm, a saw, a seed gun for planting. Uses the blueprint system from grounded where you can place a blue outline, then add the resources when you have them. Has upgrades, crafting, building, planting, exploring, multiplayer, weather effects. Love it.

Omega Crafter
Off the top of my head, this looks like it's a cross between Palworld and Autonauts. The translations are a little wonky and the UI  isn't great - but it might turn out to be really nice if it's polished enough. It's a colourful open world / survival / craft game where you build bases and workbenches etc, but you also have a little helper with you, who you can program with simple drag and drop commands, loops, conditionals etc.

Pacific Drive
I never paid much attention to this when I heard about it because my brain switches off when I see "cars". Thankfully though, it's not literally just a driving game - you do actually get out and do things. Lighting, sound and graphics all come together to make a very engaging atmosphere. Interacting with the car is tactile - it's not just hotkeys for lights, windscreen (although you can do that), but you can also look at things on the dashboard and interact with them individually, like turning the key to start the engine, then moving the gearstick to start moving. The car is made out of all separate parts (bonnet, engine, battery etc) and can all be picked up, moved, fixed, refilled etc which is very immersive.

Star Trucker
Again with the cars - normally I would have ignored "driving simulator" but being in space piqued my interest. I can see myself playing a ton of this. Looks like the core gameplay revolves around delivery contacts, but it's highly polished, runs really well, and you can get out of your truck with a spacesuit and fix it up (with similar controls to Hardspace Shipbreaker). Just like Pacific Drive, the controls in your truck can be interacted with directly, like the jump lever, cargo disconnect, power control and reverse camera etc. I went back to play this twice and discovered it's even deeper than I thought; all your truck parts can be found, repaired and replaced inside the cab, power cells need replacing, individual systems get damaged if you crash, and boxes etc fall of shelves in the storage compartment. If you gravity compensator runs out of power, you lose gravity and everything floats around. There's also a rank up system with skill points.

Welcome to ParadiZe
This feels like a really fresh idea - it's effectively a top down hack and slash in a zombie apocalypse, except that you can put hacking devices on the zombie's heads to turn them into servants. In the demo this just consisted of allowing one to fight for you and heal you, but looks like there's also going to be basebuilding where you can task them to fetch materials and fuel generators etc. Zombies you find in the wild have all kinds of weird equipment that makes combat interesting - like boosters that propel them towards you, air pistols, and trumpets that start zombie hordes. You can also ride your pet zombie like a steed for faster travel and mounted combat.

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