It’s officially spooky season – so let’s talk about some Steam Next Fest indie horror game demos we’ve tried

Gare – Monday, October 16, 2023 7:07 PM
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In the minds of many a gamer, the month of October means one thing: it’s time to turn off the lights, close all the doors and play some spooky, scary horror games. Which is precisely what I did, motivated in part by this October’s Steam Next Fest, a recurring game festival of endless demos to pick and choose from. This time, in the spirit of the season, I opted to focus entirely on horror games – a decision that ended up introducing me to games both promising and... not so promising, but we’ll get to that in a second.

I unceremoniously began my journey into the world of horror demos with Pine Harbor, a first-person survival horror game I foolishly expected to take place at a harbor. Well, maybe the full games does, but the demo just had me wandering around in a dark, bunker-like place with dozens of monsters roaming about. Speaking of which, by far the strangest thing about this demo was how easily the monsters could track you down – you could be in a faraway room doing whatever, but somehow, these things could smell you out from a mile away and come awkwardly hobbling in your direction, seemingly out of nowhere, like a group of superfans clamoring for an autograph. Either way, the game itself was... fine, I suppose, although I wasn’t a huge fan of the demo’s drab, lifeless setting.

Next up, I switched gears with While We Wait Here, a creepy narrative adventure game about waiting for the end of the world inside a lonely diner. It’s worth noting, however, that the whole “we’re all going to die” scenario only comes into play at the very end, and you spend the rest of the demo flipping burgers and talking to the locals. That said, it was an interesting enough taste of what’s to come. Moving on! First-person narrative psycho-thriller REVEIL didn’t leave a particularly strong impression on me during its first half, but things got more interesting once I started exploring some of the darker, more twisted parts of the demo towards the end. All in all, I’d say this one could go either way – it depends on how well the storyline is executed, which seems to be a central focus of the game. My next couple of demos, sadly, didn’t manage to convince me: Scholar’s Mate started off intriguingly enough, but soon devolved into just wandering around an empty building with a flashlight while trying to look for key items to solve puzzles with, which... well, it wore me out after a while. Similarly, Pneumata looked fantastic in the screenshots, but when I actually tried to play it, the game felt somewhat undercooked and rough around the edges – I suppose the lesson learned here is not to be fooled by pretty graphics.

TELEFORUM was an entirely unsettling experience – in a good way. Albeit the demo is painfully short and I’m not sure I fully understood what even happened during the handful of minutes I spent with it, but I’m eager to find out more. Needless to say, the whole demo felt a bit like watching a cursed video tape, and I do absolutely mean that as a compliment. The Bridge Curse 2: The Extrication was a very pleasant surprise as well – it had a somber mood, a bit of exploration and stealth, a supernatural mystery to untangle and finally, an actual encounter with a genuinely terrifying ghost towards the tail end of the demo. This is pretty much how you put together a convincing demo, and it certainly made me excited for the full game. So did the demo of Hollow Cocoon, a game I’ve been interested in since I first took notice of it – and when I actually played it, it certainly did not disappoint. It’s gorgeous to look at, it’s got a massive, old-timey Japanese house to explore and a potentially creepy monster to play hide-and-seek with: I say “potentially” because the demo tragically ends just as the local boogeyman (or rather, woman) shows up. That said, this was probably my favorite demo from Next Fest, and I’m eagerly looking forward to finding out more about it.

And that brings our list to a close, but worry not, October is still far from over – so, on that note, allow us to wish you all a very spooky Halloween season and as always: happy gaming!

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