If you haven’t heard of The Steam Game Festival before, don’t worry, cause you’re not alone. This is apparently the second time that Valve has orchestrated the event, but the first time that I’ve been aware of it.
For the uninitiated, The Steam Game Festival is a weekend long event spanning from March 18th to the 23rd in which you are able to download and play around 40 demos for upcoming indie games. From puzzlers to adventure games, rouge-likes and RPGs, there’s genuinely something for everyone on display. I went ahead and downloaded a few titles and wanted to highlight them here.
Embr puts you in the shoes of a firefighter who has to do the typical firefighter things. Spray water, save people, loot their houses, it’s all represented in the game. You start off by picking a mission from your cellphone. Each mission in the demo had a threshold of civilians you needed to save, with optional objectives that boiled down to just saving all the people in the level, and stealing wads of cash in the burning house.
It’s all represented in this cartoony style in an attempt to detract from the actual horror that is being in a burning building. In my short time with the game, I found myself having to deal with not only fire, but live electric wires that don’t play well with water, and the harsh lesson that is what a back-draft is.
To my surprise, I actually had a very good time with Embr and would definitely play it again if I had the opportunity. It’s got some multiplayer functionality which seems like it’ll be almost necessary at some point considering the levels I played were big and dense enough to become slightly overwhelming as a solo firefighter.
Heavenly Bodies is one of those, “it’s hilarious to watch, frustrating to play,” kind of games that people love to stream. You are an astronaut floating through this derelict space station or space craft, it wasn’t super clear, and you have to complete objectives in this zero gravity environment. It sounds simple enough, but the controls and perspective work against you just enough to make it incredibly frustrating.
Each arm is controlled by an analog stick, with each trigger enabling you to grab onto things. You have to use these in tandem to propel yourself around the vacuum of space in order to get things done. It’s hectic and unwieldy, but I bet it would be a blast with other people involved.
I didn’t manage to get far in the demo considering there’s a ten minute time limit in place. Ten minutes in which I managed to open a door and definitely give my character a concussion or three from how many things I slammed them into. Heavenly Bodies seems like it would be fun, but only if you have a high tolerance for failure, and you have some friends with you who aren’t too precious about winning.
RAJI: AN ANCIENT EPIC
Raji: An Ancient Epic is an isometric action game akin to Lara Croft and The Guardian of Light in that you’ll be doing a lot of platforming, puzzle solving, and enemy killing. Leaning heavily into Hindu mythology, Raji: An Ancient Epic has you running around as a young girl named Raji who is on a quest to find her brother. Throughout her journey, she discovers an ancient power in her that makes her really good at killing demons.
In the short demo I played, I found combat to be fun albeit a little muddy in places, with hits not landing with enough impact along with not having much in the way of variety with your moves. To be fair though, Raji has a ton of contextual combat moves ranging from holding her spear out while she spins around a column to running up a wall, flipping off of it and stabbing into the ground for a nice area of attack effect. The problem was that the opportunities for these moves were limited in the few combat arenas I saw, as well as don’t reliably work. There were times when I’d manage to run up the wall, but getting the attack to happen after that was a little hit or miss.
But like all of the games on this list, it’s a demo and I can’t judge it too harshly. I really enjoyed Raji: An Ancient Epic as a whole, with the glaring exception being that somehow it reset my resolution mid game, and wouldn’t allow me to reset it because I physically could not click the “apply” button in the settings menu. Aside from that though, I’m kind of sold on Raji: An Ancient Epic.
Going Under is a beautifully crafted, fast and frantic rouge-like action game that tasks you with going through room after room of goblins dressed like tech bros. Using your fists and literally anything that isn’t nailed down, you punch, stab and smash your way to victory… I assume. I didn’t get very far in it because it’s surprisingly difficult despite its pleasing cartoon aesthetic.
In Going Under I maintained this feeling of being severely under powered in comparison to the many tech goblins I faced. Even one-on-one, these enemies are dangerous and can easily overwhelm you if you aren’t careful. At times I felt like the game might have been cheating a bit, specifically when 4 goblins would run up to me and simultaneously beat the shit out of me, but I bet that feeling dissipates with time.
I like just about everything going on in Going Under with the sole exception that I do not enjoy rogue-like games. If you’re into these kinds of experiences than you should absolutely keep an eye on Going Under, but the very structure of the game doesn’t appeal to me personally.
There’s plenty more to try during The Steam Game Festival, but these were some of the ones that I managed to play that stood out to me. I think events like these should ultimately replace the need for ordinary people to go to conventions. At least this way they can actually play games without having to wait 3 hours on a line.