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  • Writer's pictureAntal Bokor

I Spent a Long Time Playing Next Fest Demos–Here are My Impressions on Some of Them

Next Fest has come and gone, and while I’d like to say everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, there were a few stinkers that ended up in my queue. Quite a few stinkers, actually. But I’m not here to throw water on any project that might be starting to heat up–because the vast majority of these games are still in development. And while I’m saving my final verdict on these games for their full release, I wanted to talk about a few things I liked and didn’t like about each.

These games appear in no particular order.

The first game I fired up–and one of the ones I was most excited about–was Deathbound. I don’t know what it is about non-Fromsoft soulslike titles that seem interesting to me. That is, until I start playing them. No one has quite mastered the tight, satisfying controls and combat from the soulsborne series, and Deathbound is as clunky and janky as the worst of them. Still, it has an interesting premise with its mixture of technology and fantasy. 

However, a good premise does not a good video game make. Deathbound, unfortunately, has quite a ways to go before it will be a title I could recommend. However, it does have some great features going for it–including the ability to swap between different characters in a way that’s slightly reminiscent to Mortal Shell, but mostly reminded me of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES–yeah, I know. Ancient game. But in that one, you can switch between the four turtles, turning to another one when your health was running low. Deathbound does have a few more rules to how health is given or removed, but the premise was pretty similar. In the demo we could switch between a knight, a rogue, a cater and a heavy knight. None of which really stood out in a novel way.

It doesn’t help that the entirety of Deathbound seems to be obsessed with death in the edgiest, cringiest ways possible.

While I didn’t have the best time with the demo, I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one in the future.

I remember the original Outcast when it released, and it’s even had a few rereleases even despite a failed Kickstarter for the same. However, Outcast: A New Beginning is finally a follow-up to the 20+ year old Outcast. However, despite it being a modern sequel, it seems to have its head buried in the sand of the early aught’s with dialogue and voice acting straight from another era

But I can’t complain about how visually appealing it is. The Unreal engine is gorgeous–you can’t deny that. And while the original Outcast was about using CPU power to eschew traditional video cards, Outcast A New Beginning uses all of the bells and whistles your graphics card can muster up.

The demo allowed you to play three activities–open world exploration, combat, and city gameplay. Let’s fact it: Outcast A New Beginning feels pretty early still. Gliding with the energy winds and jetpack is fun–but it’s definitely nothing new. Similarly to the open world activities. And even the combat was a little lackluster. 

However, Outcast A New Beginning definitely has potential to be a great title–especially if the open world doesn’t get in the way too much. This one I’ll definitely play when it gets a full release.

This was a demo I wish I had more time to play. What would you get if you mashed up Stardew Valley and/or Animal Crossing with a mecha game? I’m not sure, but Lightyear Frontier definitely has a mech in it.

Okay, I’m being a bit fatuous, but the truth is nothing beyond the mech and its futuristic eye towards farming makes Lightyear Frontier stand out. 

However, if you ever wanted a mech in your cozy game, you’re in luck. Which, incidentally is something I never knew i wanted, so I’ll be playing this game on full release–even if I’m worn out of playing farm on my computer.

While Homeworld 3 is one of my most anticipated games of the year, I can’t say I really played much of its two predecessors. Well, that’s not fair–I did review them and finish them both. However, there is such a cult following behind these games that I never felt like I spent the time with them that they require.

Homeworld 3 looks to modernize the space RTS game with this latest entry, and Gearbox is doing a great job achieving that. Homeworld 3 looks to be in really good hands, and while I got absolutely crushed by the sweaty lobbies, I’m really looking forward to playing through Homeworld 3’s campaign.

Too bad about that delay, though.

There are a few things I indulge in outside of my retro and contemporary video game playing/coverage. One of those things is reading books about people surviving (or not) in horribly inhospitable–usually arctic–conditions. It’s rare that two of my hobbies overlap so specifically, like what happened with The Long Dark. That game is pretty much my standard for winter themed survival games, and while Winter Survival is a little janky–it’s also like The Long Dark on crack.

When you first drop into Winter Survival, you’re greeted with a few psychological questions to prime you for the upcoming game, but it also works as a difficulty setting. Its implementation is unique, even if the concept itself isn’t wholly novel. 

The gameplay itself is definitely not as slow as The Long Dark. You move faster, but the action happens quicker too. Even on the easiest difficulty levels wolves were tearing out my throat. In fact, I think I died more times with the Winter Survival demo than I have in my entire time with The Long Dark. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, to be honest.

But the demo was brutal, and dropped me into some pretty unsurvivable situations. I’d love to see what the full release has to offer–and I plan on following it through its Early Access.

Children of the Sun was easily the standout title I played for Next Fest. I didn’t really have high hopes for it, and my initial impressions weren’t great. However, it has such a striking visual style–that reminds me so much of the TTRPG game Mork Borg–and its unique approach to sniper gameplay really made this my most anticipated game of the year so far.

First off, it’s just fun. It’s rare that I want to replay a level in a game to get a higher score, but Children of the Sun has a unique mechanic where you actually can control the bullet you shoot to an extent–and even redirect it after a hit, or after other criteria are met.

I can rarely say this nowadays, but Children of the Sun is unique and unlike anything I’ve ever played. And it was easily my favorite demo of Next Fest. I don’t want to give too much away, though – you should definitely check it out.

If you’ve followed my coverage, you know I love horror games, especially when they’re in space. And I love games where you can pilot a spaceship.. The more sim-like the better, but even third person action styled space games like Everspace 2 can scratch that itch for me. With Hell Galaxy’s self professed unique blend of story and space fighter gameplay, I was hoping I was in for a treat. Everything looked set up to be a great experience on paper, but I just coudln’t find the fun.

Hell Galaxy seemed intent on torturing me with its muddy visual style and floaty movement. It’s rare I get motion sick from a non-VR game, and even with me fiddling with the settings I couldn’t get Hell Galaxy to be comfortably playable.

The gameplay wasn’t anything to push through the pain for, either. Generic space-based shooting, just not with an edgier theme–like cenobites got the urge for space exploration and they endeavored in earnest. There is huge potential here, but Hell Galaxy does not seem poised to realize it. Jesus wept.

There have been quite a few “old school” games styled like Resident Evil, but it’s rare for them to go as hard into the “old school” feel as Alisa. A wise movie character once said “you never go full retard” in regards to an actor taking on the role of a disabled character. Alisa’s tank controls feel like the video game equivalent to that statement. Though as horrible as they are, they really help to drive home Alisa’s retro style.

Alisa looks the part, and plays the part. It even has a setting that might be stronger for that specific type of gameplay than even Resident Evil was. Resident Evil’s strange esoteric puzzles feel a little tacked on and game-y to modern eyes, but Alisa takes place in a dollhouse where strange contraptions with moon logic answers feel right at home.

And despite Alisa looking like it consists of pre-rendered background, it useless fully 3D environments (i’m assuming) made to look like pre-rendered background. It’s very cleverly done.

It does have some heavy Eastern European influence, and as such there’s things like the protagonist Alisa being forced to wear tight clothing that resembles something a doll would wear–and I can’t help but feeling a tad grossed out by it. But hey, the game looks like its going to be pretty great. And even the misogynistic undertones fit in with the 90’s retro feel. Right guys? Right?

While co-op Half-Life was always a possibility with mods like the great Sven Co-Op mod, Half-Life was never meant to be played in a cooperative fashion. Abiotic Factor is a Half-Life style game that flips the script AND is built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind. Oh yeah, and it’s a survival game, not a story driven FPS. Okay that doesn’t sound like Half-Life at all.

Let me start again: imagine if you got to play as one of the scientists during the Black Mesa incident. Okay, yes, Gordon Freeman was a scientist, but I mean like helpless labcoats you can help or kill throughout the game. Sure Blue Shift and Opposing Force made you take on shoes of different personnel in Black Mesa, but playing as a helpless scientist really changes things up.

Now Abiotic Factor doesn’t take place at Black Mesa or in the Half-Life universe–but it might as well. You find yourself deep in the heart of the Cascade Research Facility after some sort of emergency causes lots of monsters to come spilling into the halls. You have to use your scientific prowess to devise blueprints in a wonderful “inspiratino” mechanic that sees your scientist use their brain to devise makeshift tools based on the resources at hand. And those resources are usually chairs and computers you can smash to harvest parts from. A nice departure from smacking tree.

Space games are my jam, man. I used to joke that Elite Dangerous was my space trucker simulation, but now someone’s gone and made an entire game based on that concept.

Now Space Trucker isn’t a “sim” per se, but it does have a lot of tactility in its gameplay. You have to switch buttons on your rig to turn on and off lights. If there’s a hull breach you have to get out of your seat, don a suit, and do some extravehicular activity to get those holes patched up.

Driving in Star Trucker is as slow and cumbersome as you’d imagine–just like I’d want. There is lots of big rig skill involved as you have to navigate busy yards–but now in three dimensions–while dropping off your trailer(s) in the designated drop-off zone.

This is one “slow” game that I’m really looking forward to. Sometimes it’s relaxing to kick back and just move around some cargo for awhile. 

I’m used to playing strange games. In my tenure with the indie game scene in Chicago, I’ve come across quite a few. Indika feels right at home among those art house games, but it also manages to be fun and extremely intriguing.

Indika’s store page describes it as a puzzle game, but it’s more of an adventure game with puzzle elements. Oh yeah, and a really sarcastic talking head that revels in your failures. You play as a nun, you see, and you have to deal with temptation along the way.

I never thought I’d be so excited to play a game where you’re a nun, but here we are. 

And it’s a very strange game, with pixelated an over gamified score and resultant musical cue juxtaposed with the muted imagery. It’s quite a breathtaking game, and it has a wonderfully discordant soundtrack that does a great job setting the mood.

I didn’t play much of Stormgate during NextFest, but I definitely know it’s a game I want to look out for. It captures that perfect feel of a Blizzard-style old school real-time strategy game. And it’s a damn shame that no one makes games like that anymore–until now. 

Take a drive through the Olympic Excursion zone, dodge anomalies, and discover secrets while trying to keep your car running. It’s like Jalopy with a cold war era containment feel. While it’s demo tempered my excitement some, I’m still excited to check out Pacific Drive once I can get ahold of it again, even if it’s just to discover what strange mysteries await.

Last but not least is Tribes III. To say I was a Tribes fan when I was younger is an understatement. I spent many hours spamming VGS (shazbot!) on Tribe’s video game voice system (also VGS)--one of the first of its kind. 

Tribes III takes the best of what made the original so good, and modernizes it. There have been attempts recently with Hi-Rez making (and then abandoning) the pretty good Tribes Ascend. But Tribes III Rivals is shaping up to be a damn good Tribes game in its own right. I had limited time with it during Next Fest, but I’ll definitely be mid-airing some flag carriers once the game hits retail.



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