2023-02-16: The Final Post Concerning The Steam Next Fest of Before, Where Before is Still February 2023, Through an Earlier Point Therein
I'd write a sombre farewell to Steam Next Fest, but we get three of the fuckin things a year. We're going to get the next one before we can even blink. Anyway, here's the final set of demos I enjoyed from this event, and by GOLLY it's been a good one.
The core mechanic of Chants of Sennaar is very similar to a game I have a lot of respect for, but could never bring myself to finish: Heaven's Vault. Your goal is to learn a glyph-based language entirely through context and deduction, building up from very basic instructions all the way to complex snippets from books and engravings. The difference is, Sennaar is more of a linear adventure with puzzle elements, while Heaven's Vault is a sprawling open world with not much handholding to stop you drowning in a sea of untranslated glyphs. It's a matter of personal preference whether that's a good thing or not, but it should certainly make this a less daunting experience.
This grungy, grimy, gross, ghoulish game is actually a time loop adventure quite faithfully following in the Outer Wilds' footsteps. You're stuck in a time loop and need to figure out why, is about the long and short of it, with knowledge-gated progression and a wide open world to familiarise yourself with across runs. The aesthetic is the stand-out difference here, I think, with a tone and sense of humour quite similar to a particularly unpleasant late night cartoon, presented through 3D models and stacked 2D layers for the environment.
The vibes in this game absolutely impeccable. INSANE, even. The music, the visuals, it's candy for all your fuckin senses at once. Top marks on that front. The gameplay is decent, with tight controls and for platforming that doesn't get particularly difficult, and turn based combat which is more a sequence of reaction time challenges rather than JRPG style tactical combat (which is a positive for me). Unfortunately the demo was quite crashy on my poor little Linux box, so I didn't get too far in. An underinformed recommendation, perhaps, but a recommendation nonetheless.
Inspired by real events, this game has you play as a prosecutor under Fritz Bauer, pursuing unresolved Nazi crimes over a decade after the end of the Second World War. You review documents, interrogate witnesses and suspects, and try to reconstruct the events of the crime based on all of your inconsistent information. It's a thrilling narrative, and it touches on something a lot of WW2 related media doesn't; the sociopolitical implications of getting justice for the victims of a regime, when hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters of that regime simply reintegrated into society after it fell. Heavy shit.
Mail Time is a cute little 3D platformer about being a cute little mushroom mailman who delivers mail (and collects stuff, and delivers stuff) for cute little anthropomorphic forest critters. How's that for some tonal whiplash?
Jazzy rhythm game about an unsuccessful pianist who struggles to make ends meet in the big city, until he comes across an opportunity to play in an equally struggling jazz club. What happens next? I dunno, the game's not out yet. The game's got a great peppy metropolitan jazz vibe to it (or whatever the hell the proper word for this subgenre is), with DDR-style mechanics used to depict the main character's piano performance. The start of the story is rather cliché, but it did get me invested in seeing this sadsack succeed, so I'd say it did what it had to do. It was probably the most effective narrative cliffhanger of all the demos I played this Next Fest, thinking about it.
Remember the hacking minigame from Deus Ex Human Revolution? DROP feels heavily inspired by it, though developed to the point where it could reasonably be a game in its own right. It's a game of micromanagement, keeping your eyes on many ticking counters at once, and flicking between nodes and activating your programs as fast as your fingers possibly can. There are a lot of mechanics at play but the pace of the tutorialisation is very well done, slow enough that it doesn't get overwhelming, but not so slow that it becomes monotonous. It's easy to enter a flow state while playing, reacting to the icons and sounds more by instinct than any real logic. Impressive for a game I only played for an hour!
This demo feels like a narrative-driven escape room, and it feels like something a lot of people who aren't me would appreciate. It's a comfy point and click experience in which you explore a room in a 360 degree view reminiscent of Google Street View, piecing together clues from the environment and using the right Items on the right Things to progress. I got stuck, though, and I didn't particularly want to continue with all the clicking and dragging the game had me doing, especially since I didn't really know what I was looking for. This is one for the escape room enjoyers, perhaps.
Jazzy and grimy turn-based RPG with great music, incredibly well executed pixel art, and some of the best written casual conversations I've seen in a while. As a not-writer, I sometimes find it hard to explain why some writing works for me and why some doesn't, so I won't. You'll just have to take my word for it and try the demo yourself.
And that's that. I don't really have anything else to add :/