Highlights of Steam Next - June 2021

One of my favourite additions to Steam recently is what they're calling the Steam Next festival. There actually isn't much info on the festival page about exactly what it is, but I dug into the developer pages and discovered that it's designed to showcase games which have a release date within the next 6 months, and that games can only participate in one of the three festivals held every year in February, June and October. There's a bunch of livestreams which I don't care about, but the interesting thing is that they all have playable demos; which gives you a chance to see dozens of games first-hand instead of just looking at the pictures. In previous festivals, I've really enjoyed The Riftbreaker and Scrapnaut. Here's a list of the best demos I played this year!

It's worth pointing out, instead of saying on each individual game, that most of these are either missing display resolution options entirely, or run poorly. I'm giving them a free pass as I expect they were rushed to get a demo out in time, and I expect them to be improved before launch. They're just to give you a brief impression of what the game will be like.

Project Haven (Demo)

Having initially assumed this would be similar to Gears Tactics & XCOM, I was pleasantly surprised to find some really unique mechanics in the formula. Yes it's turn based, but you can take direct control over each character, changing the top down camera to a third person view to aim. You can crouch to improve you aim, take cover, lean around corners, and you aim yourself. The 'percentage chance to hit' is represented by a circle around your reticule indicating where bullets can hit. Oh yeah, and there's no grid; it's free movement, has a great UI and voiceovers. Definitely one to keep an eye on if you're a fan of turn based combat.

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Terra Nil (Demo)

This is a smaller scale that I was expecting; more like a puzzle game than city builder. You start on a barren world, and your task is to rejuvenate the eco-system in three stages. 1, Turn the wasteland into greenery 2, Create a balance between the temperature and humidity by building things that create bogs or set fire to greenery 3, Create structures which recycle your buildings, collect the resources and leave the planet clean It's relaxing, polished and has a nice art style. My concern is longevity; I felt like I'd seen the whole game in 40 minutes. I look forward to seeing what else they add to the full game.

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You play as a band of mercenaries making their way across a beautiful isometric overworld; moving from town to town, taking on quests, camping etc while managing resources for fighting and travelling. The battle system is pretty nice - turn based combat on a flexible grid system. Each class of mercenary has sub-classes, a skill tree, levels, attributes, traits & professions (which allow them to do things like tinker or cook, and give them combat bonuses). Line of sight also actually matters; I shot my own rogue in the back with my archer by mistake. And you can rename characters, which is always fun.

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Death Trash (Demo)

This is why I like the demo festival. If I'd seen this just on the store page, I would have brushed over it and ignored it as it looks kinda horror-like and really pixelated. Actually playing it is a really different experience; it feels a lot like a tiny pixel version of Fallout (with a similar intro); you leave a vault, and step out into a dangerous wasteland. There are levels, skill points, implants, stealth, crafting etc. Didn't get too far content-wise in the demo, but combat is decent both for melee and ranged and there are implants and abilities you can learn too. The world is a horrible wasteland, and you come across people who may help or try to kill you. Looking forward to it.

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Spirit of the Island (Demo)

This is another life-sim (read: Stardew clone), with those cute graphics from the remake of Link's Awakening. The translation is a bit wonky, but that's ok for now. Although it starts out basically the same - a boy on a farm with a mine near townspeople who want to talk to you every day, it looks like it's got a lot of stuff in the pipeline for later such as employees & staffing, tourism, electronics & power, entertainment, a decent building system, vehicles, and multiple islands to sail to. Oh and survival elements so you have to eat and drink.

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Bear and Breakfast

You are a bear! On a walk through the forest with your animal buddies, you discover an abandoned building and a talking shark robot thing, who draws you into a pyramid scheme for developing resorts for tourists. Everything is hand drawn and the dialogue is really funny. Really everything about the game is relaxing and cosy. The gameplay loop revolves around building rooms for guests, meeting their needs for decor, comfort, heat, hygiene and food, whilst collecting their trash, designing special rooms and generally running a hotel business. Although it's very polished and there's lots of attention to detail, it does suffer a little from pacing and UI issues towards the end.

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