Steam Next Fest February 24

Steam Next Fest February 24

The year has kicked off with a bang, as the first Steam Next Fest of 2024 has come swinging. I took it upon myself to try out as many demos as possible, so I’d like to mention the 6 that struck me the most.

Children of the Sun

Developed by René Rother, published by Devolver Digital
In Children of the Sun you are…. And you fight members of a cult that…. You know that cool bit in Sniper games where you follow a bullet cam when you nail a shot from three blocks away, or get two enemies with one shot, anything cool like that? These guys said “Let’s make a game that is only that.”
This is a puzzle game disguised as a traditional sniping game. You have a certain degree of control over the bullet in the air, and once it hits an enemy or explosive, you must shoot again from that spot. The idea is that you create a chain where you take out every enemy in the level with, technically, one shot. In the demo, you get the ability to fully redirect the bullet in the air after getting some critical hits, and it feels like there is more in store in terms of abilities and obstacles (like enemies carrying shields, as the demo has in some levels.)
No release date has been announced, but Children of the Sun bullet-steered its way into my wishlist already.
Want to check out the game yourself?

Pacific Drive

Developed by Ironwood Studios, published by Kepler Interactive
I grew up in the 2000s, the era of demos and demo discs. I think I played the demo for Call of Duty 2 so much that I could probably recite the dialogue from start to finish. Since then, this is the first time I have been so engrossed with a demo. Pacific Drive sinks its hooks into you like a mosquito. By the time you realise, it’s already too late and you’ll be scratching that itch for a while.
Your task is to find a way to escape The Zone, an extensive area where all manner of supernatural events have been happening for a few years. When you arrive, you are hailed by some people on the radio of the car you found, who are astonished to discover you found a working car. Now, armed with this trusty station wagon, you are to go exploring different areas of The Zone, finding materials to craft an escape route, as well as finding stuff to improve your car and ensure your survival.
The characters are likeable, distinct, have good chemistry between them. The difficulty curve seems appropriate, the tutorials are good for the most part, and the game presents several options in what to invest in first. The driving feels good, even on keyboard, though it has some small oddities that could be worked out in an early patch.
The game releases on February 22 on Steam, and I’m very much looking forward to it!
Want to check out the game yourself?

Duel Corp.

Image taken from the official trailer

Developed and published by Dreameffect Entertainment
Very smooth, reflex-based, duel-centric and punishing combat focused game with a wide variety of weapons, classes, abilities- Fine, it’s a ‘soulslike.’ One that employs a peculiar pixelated graphics style reminiscent of a blown up 3DS game, but actually crafted for modern displays. (It personally reminds me of 3DS Fire Emblem characters.) The name of the game is polish. A set of strong core elements, polished and refined to make for a very entertaining soulslike battler. Attacks are directional and blocking them follows the same rules.
Only the Knight class was available in the demo, but coop was live! We jumped in with Thomas and, despite living a full continent and ocean apart, we didn’t encounter any more lag than with big name releases! PVP wasn’t the best in such conditions, but we still gave it a try as Duel Corp boasts a PVP arena and some PVE procedurally generated areas with random objectives and conditions. Overall, I was simply impressed with the strong offering from a mere demo!
No release date has been announced other than 2024, but I’m following this one closely!
Want to check out the game yourself?

Photography Simulator

Developed by Madnetic Games, published by Madnetic Games and PlayWay S.A.
A little known detail about myself is that I am a professional Photographer. I even have a fancy degree to show and everything. So I was very interested in seeing this take on making a game out of photography, as I genuinely think it isn’t an easy task. I’ll spare you all the reasons why I think making a photography game is hard, we can simply say that any of the arts is highly subjective and a machine would only be able to qualify a piece on technical aspects.
Sadly, Photography Simulator has confirmed my worries. The big obstacle I see for the dev team moving forward is in the Photo Evaluation System. The game will often judge an image as too dark, despite big chunks of it being overexposed. It will judge something as out of focus simply because the main subject isn’t in the centre point of your focus area, despite the subject being fully sharp. Controlling all of the camera’s settings (Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO, etc.) is clunky, but you simply cannot be as fast with a keyboard and mouse as you can be with a real camera, so I’ll give you that.
For what it’s worth, most of the advice NPCs give about photography and technique is accurate, if a little basic. I only found one real outlier, but it might just be a workaround for the aforementioned evaluation system. I’ll still keep an eye on this one out of professional interest, but I think the dev team has a big task ahead of them.
Want to check out the game yourself?

Star Trucker

Official Steam promotional image

Developed by Monster and Monster, published by Raw Fury
Move aside, Elite Dangerous, you are no longer Truck Simulator in space! Get your XL soda, put on your trucker cap and get in because they expect this shipment in Neptune in the next few hours. Just let me find where the hell the gravity generator is because I’m tired of my soda floating away from the cupholder.
Star Trucker is simple to describe. Sign contracts, haul shipments, deliver them in far away places in the galaxy for fat stacks. Respect the speed limit, don’t crash, stick to your lane in the interstellar highways. Turn on the radio and let the hours go by.
At present, I’m afraid that Star Trucker is a case of ‘Great idea! Execution needs work.’ The tutorials are the biggest issue, feeling lacking and treating the player as if they should already know half of this stuff. Case in point, the moment when I stopped in my playing was when the gravity generator was about to run out of power, so I got out of my comfortable chair™ to change the battery. Cue me bumbling around the truck for the next 10 minutes, 6 of those in zero-G, finding every other module in the cabin but the gravity generator.
Once I gave up and, grumblingly, looked it up…. You have to lift the stairs. You have to lift. The. Stairs. Someone thought it prudent to put the battery for the gravity module under the stairs. Space Vehicular Police report that my last recording shows me walking into the airlock and angrily jettisoning myself off.
There are some other details, like the controls being clearly optimised for controller, and the game does not accept generic joystick inputs. For a space game, I feel like that’s something that will need to be addressed for the full release. Sadly, I think I’ll hold off on Star Trucker until we know a bit more and see some of these issues addressed.
Want to check out the game yourself?


Developed by Pastaspace Interactive, published by Camlann Games
Now that games have gotten to the point of having convincing 3D models on a massive scale, we need more space monsters! Underspace fully agrees with that sentiment and delivers all manner of eldritch abominations, the smallest of which measures about the same as a modern submarine. This is a very effective hook, and the encounters with monsters are really enjoyable in-game! You fly into a spacestorm, the nebulous air (gases?) around you flashes and the silhouette of enormous tentacles appears from end to end of the screen. Your radar picks up a reading and a targeting reticle far too big for a ship appears. It closes in on you at full speed and a sea serpent that looks straight from the deep sea lunges at you.
These encounters are simply fantastic, which is why I wished for so much more from this game. Everything feels like it’s lacking an extra bit of polish to feel properly good. Generic joystick inputs are also not accepted, which is a real shame for space combat. On-foot movement simply doesn’t feel right, and I wish I could be more specific about it (I’m not sure the on-foot sections add much of value, to be honest.) The story starts in medias res and throws around a lot of proper names. Combat goes from braindead easy to ‘You died because the ship you were chasing dropped one bomb and that took out your shields and hull at once.’
With the game releasing on April 10th, the team behind it has a significant undertaking if they aim to fix these gripes by that date. I sincerely hope the developers can work them all out by then as I want nothing more than to be an eldritch hunter in space!
Want to check out the game yourself?


If every Next Fest this year is this impressive, then I can hardly wait for the next Next Fest, and the next next Next Fest; and the next next nex-… I think it is commendable of Steam to give these smaller titles (or smaller studios) a spot where they can be seen and celebrated the way they deserve. With demos this impressive, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I’ll be very much looking forward to what comes next.