Steam Next Fest is back once again, offering the chance to play hundreds of demos of upcoming games. The event always marks a fantastic time of year that puts a spotlight on titles both large and small and is an excellent way to potentially discover your next favorite game.
As per usual, curiosity has gotten the better of the TechRadar Gaming team. This week, we’ve been scouring the official Steam Next Fest page to play a bunch of demos for games we’re particularly excited about or to try some that have piqued our interest when browsing. And now, we’re presenting our findings in a handy list of recommendations. So whether you’re spoilt for choice, or simply looking for a place to begin, read on to learn all about the Steam Next Fest demos you should play first from this year’s crop.
Picture this: you’re on vacation, exploring off the well-beaten, tourist-trodden path. You come across a small, lakeside cafe - the warm aroma of coffee and the sight of confectionery lures you inside. These are the immaculate vibes that Summerhouse puts forward, presenting a demo that’s easy to lose yourself in its cozy embrace.
Summerhouse - similar to other landscaping games like Townscaper or House Flipper 2 - tasks you with sculpting buildings from prefabricated pieces. These then intuitively click together, allowing you to easily build a dream home, villa, restaurant, or whatever you fancy, really. Some pieces can even combine to form an entirely new object, which only serves to promote and encourage experimentation.
The soft, pixelated visuals and warm color palette are equally charming and inviting, and the demo ensured I was spending much longer than I’d realized, despite it being a small slice of the game. You can check out Summerhouse for yourself over at its Steam page here.
Rhys Wood, Hardware Editor
Crow Country is shaping up to be a very promising and unique survival horror experience. Set in 1990, the player takes control of special agent Mara Forest in a search for the missing owner of the titular amusement park that’s now abandoned. Even from what’s on offer in the demo, the plot is already proving to be quite the mystery, as strange monsters roam the park, and Mara herself may not be who she says she is.
What’s easily the most striking aspect of Crow Country is its exceptional art style. Evoking the chunky, low-res pre-rendered backgrounds of the original Final Fantasy 7, it truly gives the feel of something that could easily pass as lost PlayStation 1 media, albeit with welcome modernizations like a smooth framerate and a widescreen resolution.
In the Crow Country demo, you’ll explore the opening section of the theme park, solving Resident Evil-style puzzles, reading memos, fighting monsters, and - above all else - drinking in the impeccably somber atmosphere. The game launches sometime in 2024, but for now, you can check out the Steam Next Fest demo over at Crow Country’s store page.
Rhys Wood, Hardware Editor
Have you ever wished Half-Life was a co-op crafting game, as you and your friends seek to survive deep in the bowels of a mysterious science facility? Well, best you start wishing for that, because that’s what Deep Field Games' Abiotic Factor brings to the table, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
While SCP definitely is an influence, the visual language of Abiotic Factor screams Black Mesa, and the game’s tight narrative will have you skulking through gyms, break rooms, and even engineering halls as you try to gather the supplies you need to avoid being turned into a snack for the ravenous monster that roams the halls.
Base building is particularly interesting, as you convert side offices and storage cupboards into bedrooms and cooking areas. It also comes with a twist: while you can power your base using the in-built power outlets running across the facility, these deactivate each night as the office officially “closes”, leaving you in the dark, and with no defense against the worst the lab has to offer. You can explore the horrors for yourself by checking out Abiotic Factor’s page.
Jake Tucker, Editor-in-Chief
The 4X (explore expand exploit exterminate - I have no idea why these aren’t called 4E games) genre has grown stale. Civilization is excellent, sure, but it’s become the template for every 4X, with very few people looking to breathe new life into things.
Enter Millenia, developed by C Prompt Games and published by strategy giants Paradox Interactive. This early demo will let you experience the first 60 turns of Millenia, an era-hopping 4X that strikes out on its own path.
The headline feature is the game’s different ages, with the game evolving into different eras to pick up or drop new features. These ages can be chosen by the first player to make it there, meaning you can - theoretically, if you’re a right meanie like I am - plunge the early world into an age of blood and cause every different nation to be hurled into war together.
There are a heap of new ideas here though: it’s the least odious tile improvement system I’ve encountered in a while, and focusing play on regions instead of individual cities is a bold change that I haven’t got to fully suss out. Be warned though, the UI looks terrible, and while the game feels polished, presentation across the board might make you retch. However, the game is still well worth checking out by downloading the demo for yourself.
Jake Tucker, Editor-in-Chief
Representing quite a change of pace from my usual bag, Botany Manor has already grabbed me by charmingly appealing to another professional area of interest I have: horticulture. It’s a cozy slow-paced game that has you exploring a manor house in 19th-century Somerset, as a retired botanist, putting together clues and research to help you grow a range of plants with enjoyable and mysterious qualities.
In a way, it’s a simple premise and game, but I can already see how things could well get more complex. Both the steps you have to take to find and piece together clues (like postcards, and reference book pages) as well as the process of learning and understanding the precise steps to get a flower to bloom (such as mimicking very specific weather conditions) hint at bigger jobs to come even by the end of the demo, and such greater scale could well make for some pleasing puzzles.
Developer Ballon Studios has created something that is educational, too. While some of the plants are fantastical and fictitious, they are grounded in real-world locations and growing conditions - though some of the precise flowering needs are pleasingly weird and wonderful. Throw in a lovely stylized aesthetic, and Botany Manor’s short demo left me wanting to carry on straight away, keen to devour more virtual horticulture.
Rob Dwiar, Deputy Editor
This gorgeous roguelike sci-fi game puts you in control of a spaceship on a quest to seek out a mysterious signal. From the get-go, you’re put in charge of a modular, customizable spaceship. The twist: it’s also a deckbuilding game, where each of your modules corresponds to a set of cards you can play during battles.
Traveling across an overworld map, you move from encounter to encounter, your meetings with strangers often turning into full-on space battles. This is where Breachway’s slick style shines. The ships themselves are memorably designed and their guns emit pleasing blasts of color. The visual punchiness helps keep you invested when your vessel has to slug it out with the enemy.
As turns roll on by, you’ll need to balance your ship's power allocation which you commit to using different cards during battle. You can beef up your ship with shields in anticipation of an incoming blow, or, with certain attacks, you can focus fire on specific enemy components to disable your foe’s more dangerous modules. The layers of strategy quickly pile up, creating lots of tough choices and clutch moments.
The test of any roguelike in this mold is its replayability, something that’s difficult to discern in the limited demo. However, if the slick presentation and satisfying game mechanics on offer in the demo are any indication, Breachway may well turn out to be a winner.
Cat Bussell, Staff Writer
Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge
I’m no stranger to cozy farming simulators that involve some form of creature collecting so the appeal of a game that revolves around collecting frogs is overwhelming. In a gorgeous, almost watercolor-esque environment, you’ll get to build your own frog haven. Placing furniture freely, and bringing life back to the wetlands, there’s a lot to love about what Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge offers.
However, alongside building a world for a variety of frogs to live happily in, you’ll have to photograph each species to fill out a journal. In doing this, you’ll also learn about the preferences of each species. This encourages you to keep placing more furniture around the map to encourage more frogs to visit so you continue to bulk out your research.
Essentially, if you’re a fan of a relaxing, animal-focused, wholesome gaming experience, then Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is well worth checking out. If you’ve been looking for a game that echoes the same cutesy feeling Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector offered when it launched in 2014, or you have a soft spot for amphibians, this demo is likely for you.
Kara Phillips, Evergreen Writer
What do you get if you combine the relaxing farming sim goodness we all know and love from the likes of Stardew Valley with the utter chaos of bouncy, wobbly, physics-based action seen in games like Gang Beasts? The answer is Southfield - a charming upcoming sandbox farming game from indie studio Radical Forge.
Southfield is shaping up to be the lighthearted, silly farming game I’ve always wanted. With weird and wonderful crops to harvest and a variety of options to customize your farmstead to your liking, it’s the type of game I can imagine sinking far too many hours into. What’s more, you can play either alone or with friends, meaning it can be transformed into a cooperative experience where everyone can bumble around as a blobby Bud (the delightful jelly-like beings you play as).
We previously spoke to Southfield’s game director and the CEO of Radical Forge, Bruce Slater, about the game, and he told us that “it carries a lot of things from physics games like Gang Beasts and Human Fall Flat over into a game like Minecraft with a little bit of the building stuff from Fortnite.” With the Next Fest 2024 demo, players can check out this unique amalgam first-hand.
Catherine Lewis, News Writer
Children of the Sun
A puzzle shooter in which you play as a lone sniper waging a one-woman war on a sinister cult, I was most drawn to Children of the Sun by its stunning psychedelic visuals. The decrepit rural landscapes are bathed in beautiful neon shades and rendered in a charming, but very unsettling, low-poly aesthetic that absolutely oozes a delightfully creepy atmosphere. The demo not only looks superb but also shows off some extremely engaging puzzle-solving that’s full of promise.
Each level challenges you to take down every enemy with just a single bullet - these can be supernaturally controlled and sent hurtling in a new direction after each successive kill. The controls are simple, relying entirely on your mouse, but there’s a lot of serious strategy that goes into deciding when to take your shot and how to chain each hit together. The addition of more enemies and environmental hazards, like exploding oil canisters and cars, steadily ramps up the complexity and nothing compares to the sheer satisfaction of eventually finding the best path.
Although the demo only contains a handful of levels to try, it’s already highly replayable and I’ve managed to find lots of alternate ways to tackle the stages on offer. There’s a leaderboard that pits you against other players for the highest score and each stage ends with a map illustrating the exact path of your bullet, which is a fantastic touch. This is a demo that shouldn’t fly under your radar and I’m eagerly anticipating everything that the full game will have to offer.
Dashiell Wood, Hardware Writer
If you want some up-to-date hardware to check out some of these demos, see our best PC controllers guide to learn all about the ideal gamepads for your setup.