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My thoughts on 15 demos from the Steam game festival

30XX – LIKE IT

  • For something listed as "Very Pre-Alpha", this game feels fun to play already. The demo even has two playable characters and co-op. Do expect bugs, though. I have to give the team credit, this game nails what it's going for while really looking the part this time. It certainly feels great to play, but I am really taken by the way the game looks now. Where 20XX kind of resembled Newgrounds flash games, 30XX evokes the SNES (or more accurately the SEGA Saturn, if you ask me) and it honestly does help bring across the Mega Man X feel they're going for. I know this is early days and I hope the devs take whatever time they need, but I think they're absolutely on the right track with this one and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

ART OF RALLY – LIKE IT

  • Very endearing low fidelity rally sim. Demo gives you one solid track with full run replays that feature dynamic camera angles. The developer seems to be favoring a psuedo-overhead view here, but with the full race replays I have to wonder if a traditional third-person or first-person view wouldn't serve this game better? I had a similar thought about Lonely Mountains: Downhill (different game, yes, but similar perspective issue). Even so, I like this game and love the idea behind it. Racing itself feels amazing, and cars are modeled after real life rally counterparts (with fake names and subtle changes to keep the lawyers at bay). Everything's low-poly, but there's exceptional attention to detail and the presentation comes across as iconic. There's a steep learning curve but your car feels like a beast that can only be tamed with a lot of practice. You're usually on the right track if people would describe your game as easy to learn, and difficult to master. And that's exactly what I would say about this game.

BACKBONE – LIKE IT

  • So this is a really cool demo in the sense that it's essentially a shareware episode (the first of five). This game has absolutely GORGEOUS presentation and style, the 3D environments/pixellated characters/strong environmental lighting looks incredible, and the music is both well composed and well produced. You're mostly just talking to people and soaking in the aesthetic, but the dialogue here is written very well with pretty smooth trees (though still needs polishing, a character passed a check and acknowledged a piece of info I never actually gave him). There are dialogue choices that seem to affect your interpersonal relationships, but it remains to be seen how much they impact the way future episodes play out. Very wild ending with a great puzzle as well (seriously, they're both great, don't spoil them for yourselves). I question whether this can maintain a high quality level over five episodes, but I'm into it.

CREEPER WORLD 4 – LOVE IT!

  • Man, this game is awesome. This is a mechanically rich tower defense where you fight an ever expanding blue blob known as The Creeper. Being the fourth entry of its series, this is a formula these developers have a very good handle on at this point (just look at Steam reviews of its predecessor, Creeper World 3: Arc Eternal, to see how much they've already perfected it). I absolutely ADORE the new 3D graphics engine. The creeper itself looks so imposing and enormous now, and the structures have this wonderful toy-like charm to them, with their low polygon counts. This demo is very very generous as well, with a number of levels to tackle and a great ramping up of mechanics to help teach new players. One day this is gonna be taking up a lot of hours out of my life. I can't wait.

DRAG – DON'T LIKE IT

  • Disappointingly short with only 1 track that runs less than 30 seconds, and 1 car, but you can understand what the game is going for. Let's be real, it's an overglorified tech demo, but this engine seems like it has potential. Your car feels connected to its surroundings (and reacts to them) in a way that reminds me of Mudrunner's physics, but obviously you're moving much faster (maybe Motorstorm is a better comparison). The aesthetic design of the car itself is not very good in my opinion. Still seems very early in development and the game's structure/modes seems very basic. The physics are incredible, have to give it credit for at least that, but not enough game to enjoy here.

DWERVE – DON'T LIKE IT

  • I hate to rag on this game, because the developers obviously poured a lot of love into this. The game runs smooth and feels responsive, it looks great, it sounds fine, there seems to be mechanical complexity and growth. But I'm just not really sold on this concept, at least the way they're bringing it here. I like tower defense games, and I like dungeon crawler RPGs, but Dwerve feels like it gets the worst of both worlds. There's no real ability to plan in the tower defense aspect. You basically just walk into a walled off triggered encounter and have to set up quickly before the enemies come (there is no way to tactically pause, nor is there a rush trigger). Your character has a weak auto attack and is super squishy, so if turrets go down you must respond quickly or it's back to the checkpoint, then slowly jogging back to the encounter again. The gameplay just feels anxious to me, but not in an enthralling way, and unfortunately I didn't enjoy it. (Props for permanent corpses, though!)

GLOOMWOOD – DON'T LIKE IT

  • This game is another one of those retro-revival FPS games, but unlike most of them, this tries to slow things down and cribs some stealth mechanics from the first two Thief titles. I'm unfortunately not feeling it. A few positives: I like the polygonal look, the ambiguous story and the idea of mixing stealth mechanics and loud weapons. Making noise a resource like that is interesting. But the level design feels old school in a bad way (lacks a sense of space due to arbitrary structure design, some unclear signposting). Sound plays a factor despite not being able to be entirely sure how much you're making. As a big fan of retro shooters and retro revival shooters, I was really looking forward to this game. But this game feels more like an awkward middle ground between two different first-person genres. It's the Obamacare of boomer shooters.

KAZE AND THE WILD MASKS – LOVE IT!

  • This game is a DKC knockoff with zero personality of its own. I don't like the way it looks and hate the way it sounds. BUT, I will say that I still love it anyway because even though it's a clone, it's about as precise a clone game as I've ever played. This game already has the feel nailed down. While the generic art style, mediocre 2D assets, poor man's David Wise soundtrack and weird evil vegetable army enemy really put me off, I keep replaying this because it feels…so…DAMN…..good…to..play. That rolling, powerful sensation of DKC's momentum is here in full force. The character is more responsive, however, with easier direction control (especially in air) and slightly forgiving frame times on some actions (like bounce platforms). They even carried over, but remedied, DKC:Tropical Freeze's horrible bonus levels by giving them infinite retries, limiting them to two per level, and not copying the same layout over and over (this remains to be seen in the final game, but there's no repeats in the demo). Huge surprise here. Very much looking forward to this now, albeit with my own soundtrack playing in the background.

PARTISANS, 1941 – LIKE IT

  • Partisans is a game made for a very specific niche audience, as real time tactics games come few and far between. I happen to land in this niche audience, so please understand my like isn't necessarily a recommendation. The current genre benchmark is from Mimimi Studios (I'm playing Desperados 3 around these demos and it is sublime, and also has a demo of its own, go play that instead of this). I hadn't even heard of this game until seeing it here, but I'm glad I know about it now. Despite some bugs/UI issues, I'm pretty impressed with this game. There's a scavenger angle to the progression and there seems to be some optional encounters that can reward that mentality. There are also gunfights which are actually kind of cool; utilizing cover and surprise attacks are as fun as they were in Mutant Year Zero. But a lot of it is pure Commandos stealth, and it seems like the devs have a good handle on it. Very much looking forward to the final release, but I hope the developers are given ample time to finish this.

PAWNBARIAN – LIKE IT

  • This is a game that takes the idea of chess puzzles and turns it into a simple grid-based roguelike dungeon crawl. If you've ever played Hoplite on iOS or Android, it works kinda similarly, but all your moves are tied to a chess set which are played out as a deck of cards in your hand. Presentation is very forgettable, but the logic around the game is sound and I could see things getting very tricky, very quickly. I'd love to have this game on my phone, would be great during a commute.

RADICAL RELOCATION – HATE IT!

  • This is a game about stacking a bunch of objects onto a car and driving that car slowly, and painfully, to its destination. And believe me, I don't mind slow deliveries. I have 65 hours in Snowrunner and 80 or so into the Euro/Amer Truck Sims… slow delivery games are a thing I'm into. But this is just a weak concept for YouTuber bait. It wants to be all wacky and silly when in reality it's just a boring series of short jaunts while stacking a bunch of shit on your car. One thing drops and you have to start over. And that's it…that's the game. No thanks.

THE RIFTBREAKER – LOVE IT!

  • YES. Probably my favorite demo. I really can't think of anything I didn't like about this. This game looks incredible, the lighting is fantastic and everything animates beautifully. The artstyle is good, environments are rich in detail and the space western vibe fits the frontier-esque nature of the gameplay. It sounds great… the weapon sounds are huge and menacing and the suit has this booming presence to its voice when it talks to you, I love it. The base building is on point, and it seems like a complex web/tech tree that will take a lot of practice to master. Enemies are fun to fight, abilities are fun to use (and the effects, expecially fire, are so good), and there are compelling upgrades to acquire. I am very sold on this game and will absolutely buy it on release. Go play this demo, it deserves your attention.

SKATEBIRD – LIKE IT (KINDA)

  • I would feel soulless saying I don't like Skatebird. This game has positive energy, a chill soundtrack and an adorable concept. I think it naturally puts a smile on people's faces, and it deserves credit for that. I will also credit the developers for coming up with a couple unique concepts that give this game a little bit of its own flair. For instance, instead of manuals, you can extend combos on ground by using the 'Scream' button, but it's a one-off trick booster with diminishing returns to the point of cancellation, unless you work in some other tricks. I think this is a clever idea. I also like how the birds flap in the air, giving some context to the very slow fall speed of the skaters (allowing for more trick time, and thus more fun). But this game is simply unfinished. The whole experience feels rough and floaty, like your skateboard is never connected to the ground. There are many collision bugs, and some tricks need massive reworking (the grinding lever never loses control, I was able to beat the trick challenge here on one grind). Very very cute game, good idea, but needs a lot of work still.

TESLA FORCE – DON'T LIKE IT

  • Overhead twinstick shooter from 10tons, who've been at it in this genre for a very long time. I've only played a few of their games, but I did kinda like Crimsonland and Jydge. I'm not too fond of this game, however it's really just because nothing jumps out at me. I can't say there's really anything wrong with it, if you enjoy twinstick shooters you'll probably like this as it's competent and has a hook (a rechargable mech suit which can be upgraded), but it just didn't really suck me in. I feel like you really need to nail it in this genre to get people to take notice, and Tesla Force feels decidedly average. I would never play this over Nex Machina, for instance, or Smash TV. Subjectively speaking, I'm not sold on the historical figure angle either, and the mechanical suit charging thing really didn't compel me much during my playtime. I think there's better games in the genre to play.

TREPANG2 – DON'T LIKE IT

  • At first glance, Trepang2 is pretty amazing. A blatant FEAR ripoff, this game has some incredible texture and lighting work to go along with some goofy, fun ragdoll physics and some great audio work. Everything reacts violently and dramatically to your bullets, be it the environment or the enemies. They've even tried to take a step beyond FEAR by introducing a pseudo-stealth mechanic by which you can elude/ambush the AI (but this is not a stealth game like Gloomwood, this is merely a tactical advantage), and the demo is generous with a story prelude and horde mode. But I found the experience kind of crumbles beyond this. The enemy AI isn't quite as good as FEAR, often enemies would conga line into a kill corner for me to easily pick off one-by-one. Enemy shout-outs are poorly acted and the dialogue is very lame (a lot of tryhard cursing and whatnot, compared to the calculated military jargon of FEAR). Bullet spread is harsh, making the shotgun feel weaker than it should. Bugs abound, with enemies getting stuck in walls and sometimes lighting casting odd shadows depending on geometry. There's also a weird hallucinatory part that seems like it's trying to capture the horror segments of FEAR, but just comes across as a confusing and annoying interruption. I think this could still turn out to be a good game, but it really just made me want to go back and play FEAR again, rather than making me want more of what it has to offer itself.
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Source: reddit.com

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