If you haven't been watching Steam Next Fest, now's the time to do it. With AAA computer games few and far between, this is the year that the indies will own the PC, and there's still no better place to learn about new releases.
Even so, with such a massive number of games hitting the market, it can be tough to pick out games of promise. Here's a small selection - six games drawn from a variety of genres, styles, and studios. The odds are good there's something in here that might be of passing interest.
Dark games are a definite theme in this Next Fest, with plenty of upcoming titles showing off horror and weird fiction-themed visual designs. Vapor World, with its aesthetic of dreamy grotesquerie, is certainly one of the more interesting dark games on display.
Set in a world of manifest dreams, Vapor World features hand-painted graphics coupled with 2D Soulslike combat. The heart of gameplay is single combat against the "Seeds of Trauma" - large, freakish monstrosities with complex attack patterns. Fans of the Blasphemous games should really consider giving this one a look.
It's kind of amazing how few games there are that focus primarily on the film business. Hollywood Animal is one such title, with one notable distinction. Rather than being set in the modern biz, it instead draws inspiration from the golden age of cinema when studios held all the power.
Hollywood Animal features everything you'd expect from a simulation-style game, having the player manage the soundstages, set budgets, hire staff and performers, and deal with demands from the top. But the player is also a fixer dealing with the darker parts of the business, whether that means covering up an actor's bad habits or making under-the-table deals with some seriously unsavory people.
The roguelike deckbuilder subgenre has been undergoing some interesting mutations as of late. Infest combines cards with physics to create a game in which a clever player can manipulate the entire battlefield.
Infest is a game of pixels - free-flowing pixels that can represent anything from water to oil to acid. Attacks can cause these pixels to spill onto the battlefield and affect their behavior thereafter. This creates some interesting opportunities to defeat enemies, but it also means that the player must design a deck to deal with a range of battlefield situations.
Stealth games are a tricky genre to get right, and it often starts with innovating as much as possible. Ereban begins with a distinctive cyberpunk setting that sets it apart from many similar games, but it's the mechanics that really leave a mark.
The protagonist can acquire several supernatural powers based on manipulating shadows. She can collapse into a patch of living shadow to move quickly and silently and even ascend vertical surfaces. The level design features enough verticality that this allows the player to move and attack from unexpected angles.
As a subgenre matures, developers need to find new ways to stand out. For boomer shooters - a style that revels in being absurd - that means going as extreme as possible. In the case of Mullet Mad Jack, that means extreme speed. This is a game where standing still is death.
The protagonist in Mullet Mad Jack has just ten seconds to live (don't question it - that's what being a forum mod in the future is like). He can extend his life by taking out the robots that have overrun his world, with more spectacular and gruesome kills giving more time. However, his maximum lifespan is never higher than ten seconds, so the only way to survive is to keep constantly on the move.
I'll end this with an example of an interesting trend. As the neo-retro scene has matured, we've started seeing games that are designed with retro consoles in mind. In the case of DaemonClaw, we have a game designed to be played on the Mega Drive and Neo Geo.
DaemonClaw is a fast-moving, melee-oriented sidescroller with a surprisingly nuanced combat system. It's meant to look and play like a late-80s arcade game, with Altered Beast being an obvious inspiration. Definitely worth a look for any hardcore retro fans.
Check out some of the games here:
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