It’s that time again – another Steam Next Fest is upon us, running from February 5th to 12th and putting a spotlight on hundreds of fantastic upcoming games with developer deep dives, livestreams, updates and of course plenty of playable demos.
As usual, there’s no way we’d be able to get through observing and playing all of these wonderful games, let alone talk about them, but we’ve done our darndest to highlight just a few of the titles that really took our fancy. Most of them will be playable as part of the Next Fest as well, if they aren’t already, so make sure you hit the links below anything that sounds like your jam so you can check it out for yourself:
Steam Next Fest February 2024 Games To Keep An Eye On
Brodie: A far cry from the game I’d usually gravitate towards, Dystopika is the self-proclaimed “dark side of cosy” gaming.
It’s a city builder with none of the stress—there’s no objective and no resource management, it’s simply about erecting a cyberpunk city of your very own.
I won’t lie, the idea of adorning a brutalist cityscape with enormous, Blade Runner-esque billboards while a neon mood washes over everything, leaving you to imagine the stories of corruption, augmentation, and experimentation within this metropolis’ futuristic underbelly sounds like an unexpectedly chill night.
Kieron: Anytime that folks like Richard Hogg and Ricky Hagget get together with publishers like Annapurna Interactive, a good time all but guaranteed.
Flock is that good time, and especially so for fans of games like soothing, exploratory games like Flower or ABZÛ, tasking players with gradually traversing a beautifully-rendered open world full of unique creatures to discover, categorise and collect. While there are objectives to complete, either solo or with a friend, there’s so much value in just floating around on your giant bird and observing the weird and wonderful fauna that inhabit the lush, rolling hills and other unique biomes.
You’ll also have the chance to catalogue these creatures, identifying their species’ based on their physiology and behaviours, which is a heap of fun.
Brodie: Helskate is a super clever spin on the arcade skateboarding genre and wisely sets itself apart from things we’ve come to expect from other franchises like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and even skate.
It does this by incorporating ever popular roguelike mechanics to give the game even more lasting appeal than its grind-happy gameplay already did.
As is always the challenge with roguelikes, it’s going to ultimately be about striking the balance of difficulty and accessibility so that no one gets left below in their quest to conquer the demons of Vertheim.
Kieron: I’ve probably already said enough about this game here in the past, especially after my recent hands-on preview solidified it as one of the most exciting releases this year, but with launch just around the corner on February 22nd I feel like it bears bringing up once again.
Pacific Drive’s biggest triumph is not just making your mysteriously-equipped vehicle feel like an extension of your character, or even a character all its own, but a physical space to inhabit that provides haven and comfort amongst the constant, twisted threats of the Olympic Exclusion Zone. It’s a walled garden in a warzone and to survive within its warmth and light you need to cultivate and maintain it, lest the toxic air choke everything within.
In less flowery terms, fangin’ around a post-nuclear version of the Pacific Northwest in a beat-up station wagon within an inch of your life is a bloody good time.
Brodie: Perhaps the most thematically fascinating game of my choices, Indika presents the story of a nun who, through a strange connection to the devil itself, discovers an even more unusual world beyond the safety of her monastery.
The game is, in part, inspired by the novels of Dostoyevsky and Bulhakov where comedy collides with tragedy, with plenty of Russian culture seemingly woven throughout.
For what is an independent project, Indika is also gorgeously presented and I personally can’t wait to explore this game’s notions of religious virtues and self-discovery.
Kieron: Deceptively simple but oh-so-engaging, Summerhouse taps into the same parts of the brain as something like Townscaper, giving players the building blocks to create their own little slice of a visually-enchanting space – in this case by erecting a house.
Or, if you prefer, a church. A cafe. A cultural hub, maybe a mansion? With just a small selection of pieces available in the demo I found myself lost for far too long in this abstracted but strangely tangible, tiny world and inventing the stories to go along with these buildings that I’d build with equal measures of steadfast planning and chaotic intervention.
I can see Summerhouse being my go-to chill out game the moment it drops.
Brodie: Harold Halibut is one that I’ve had my eye on since its initial reveal many years ago. Obviously, its stop-motion and meticulously handmade aesthetic is an enormous part of the appeal but even the premise is riveting.
Living aboard an ark-like spaceship submerged beneath an alien ocean, humanity’s last hope, which includes lab assistant Harold and company, search for a new planet to preserve mankind itself.
I long for a hopeful adventure that really pays homage to games I grew up playing, like The Neverhood, and I really do think Harold Halibut has a special something that people might be sleeping on.
Kieron: Okay, so they’re bears, right? And they’re in space! There it is. There’s the game.
You play as Maxwell Adam, a Spacetronaut who’s had the misfortune of their DNA combining with that of a she-bear named Beartana. It’s a tale as old as time, sure, but in this game you’re also in space – don’t forget that.
The folks at Queensland studio Broadside Games are boldly shirking the typical tropes of human-bear-DNA-splicing video games with an irreverent first-person adventure full of chaotic, bullet-hell battles, a loaded arsenal, collectables, mini-games and more wisecracks than a Greek bathhouse on philosophers’ discount night.
Brodie: I think a one sentence elevator pitch would be enough to hype me up for this one. All it would have had to say is: “Psychological horror-tinged puzzles within eerie, liminal spaces.”
While that alone is music to my ears, I do like that the game seems to promise distinctive puzzles within expansive, non-linear worlds. It seems to suggest that the adventure itself is equally as important as the challenge.
It’s also tough to look past the nostalgic video cassette aesthetic of the eighties, with all of the aberrations that come with dead technology. If nothing else, Dreamcore could be an extremely beautiful technical show piece for Unreal Engine 5.
Kieron: Mullet Mad Jack is, in a few words, cool as fuck.
Set in a vintage anime universe with a distinctly 80s look, feel and sound, this hyperviolent FPS is a little bit Post Void, a little big Anger Foot, and a whole lot of frantic and gloriously gory action. Your goal is to save your anime princess by making your way up an imposing skyscraper, floor by floor, with a boss at every 10th level and the threat of starting over should you fall.
The big twist here is that in this 80s anime dystopia, humans can only live for as long as their dopamine allows – and yours lasts 15 seconds at best. Killing enemies is the only way to keep that timer up, so you’ll need to shoot, kick, stab, explode and otherwise sprint your way through each floor. Almost everything you do has a visceral in-game reaction and keeps you looking and feeling badass for every fleeting second of your life.
Brodie: Although I maintain this game’s name sounds like something you’d read on Urban Dictionary, it really is everything you’d hope for in a swashbuckling, precision-platformer.
Armed with the semi-titular Grinder, semi-titular Pepper can burrow her way through all manner of terrain, jumpstart machines, and obliterate her foes in a quest that’ll see her seeking to recapture her stolen plunder.
It’s expected that I would mark out for Pepper Grinder being a Devolver Digital game, but there’s really a beautiful flow and replayability to the game’s levels that reminds me in part of Celeste, which most would argue is high praise.
Kieron: Announced at last year’s The Game Awards, Tales of Kenzera ZAU is a metroidvania-esque 2.5D action adventure being published as part of the EA Originals initiative and developed at startup developer Surgent Studios, which was founded by Assassin’s Creed Origins lead actor Abubakar Salim.
The playable demo is a great introduction to the beginning of the game, and shows off Zau’s unique combat and traversal abilities based on his role as a shaman and the cosmic powers of the Sun and Moon that guide him. It’s poised to tell a captivating story of grief, and of love, inspired by Salim’s own lived experiences and told through an interpretation of Bantu culture. Based on what’s playable in the just-launched demo, this game could really be something special.
Brodie: There’s so much cool stuff coming out of the indie space in terms of horror and Mouthwashing is further proof that these guys and girls on shoestring budgets are outplaying the big dogs time and again.
Set aboard a shipwrecked freighter in uncharted space, Captain Curly’s “easy way out” becomes a living hellscape as he’s left limbless, maimed, mute, and entirely at the mercy of a crew he’d doomed to die alongside him.
Not only does this first-personal survival horror game have a ripping, classic art direction, the reality of limited rations and a waning power supply paints you into a dreadful, tense corner and I expect Mouthwashing to be a thrill until its dying minutes.
Kieron: Slice-of-life narrative with a feminist, punk rock edge? Rhythm-based mini-games? Light management sim sections? Yeah, we’re so here for this.
Dead Pets Unleashed is a new joint from the legends at Triple Topping, and manages to cram all those things I just mentioned into an energetic, messy, sexy, character-driven tale of ageing against the machine. If you’ve ever laughed at an episode of Bojack Horseman, or cried at an episode of Bojack Horseman, or spent three catatonic days in a darkened room thinking about an episode of Bojack Horseman, this is going to be the game for you.
Brodie: I feel as though I’ve gone relatively hard on horror for this Steam Next Fest, however this is one I stumbled across on social media recently and promptly followed the developer after the brief, mortifying clip.
It simply showed the player carrying a severed head, like a lantern at arm’s reach, only for the expression on its face to widen into a manic, toothy smile. After the player peeks behind them, they’re set upon by whatever it is that considers them prey.
It’s a cool premise, it’s sort of like a scarier Alien Isolation except instead of a radar, you’re holding a disembodied head that’ll alert you to the presence of danger in the most eerie way possible.
The game’s product page does promise five tests of “increasing depravity” so perhaps this is just one string to the game’s bow.
Kieron: Another one that’s less a game and more an interactive experience to create some much-needed chill, Spirit City goes one step further and actually works as a gateway to productivity in your work or just daily life by letting you set up and customise your own virtual room filled with helpful or just relaxing tools.
You can throw on some lofi tunes via the in-game playlists, or just add your own music, layer on some soundscapes like the sounds of rain on a window or birds chirping, set the ambience in the room and watch your adorable customised avatar do their thing. If you need to get to important tasks in the real world you can even create a to-do list in here or set up a pomodoro timer to help you stay on task while taking healthy breaks. And to sprinkle in just a little bit of video game there are even a number of “spirit” creatures to invite into your room by solving riddle-like instructions to set the right mood for them.
Brodie: Not unlike Dodgeball Academia, which was also published by ever pleasant Humble Games, #Blud appears to be an adorable, cartoonish twist on things. On appearances alone, it looks like something you might see tailing the credits for Dexter’s Laboratory on Cartoon Network.
As Becky Brewster, new kid in town and supercharged with latent demon-slaying potential courtesy of bloodline blessings, you’ll weaponise your field hockey stick and harness all manner of adolescent know-how, such as taking selfies to identify weak points and unearthing undead hives through the power of social media, to save Carpentersville High’s faculty and students alike.
While it gives off the vibe of a more truncated dungeon-crawling experience, perhaps in an effort to appeal to the masses, I think this game’s enormous sense of style and attitude will go a long way to finding an audience.
Kieron: Another Aussie-made gem, Copycat is the gorgeous and emotional journey of a shelter cat who finally finds a home that feels right for her, only to watch her new owner fall ill and a mysterious stray copycat take her place as companion.
There’s so much Aussie charm and love for the companionship of a pet in every corner of this game, even if the premise continues to break my heart at times. Thankfully, there’s also plenty of levity in adopting the persona of a cat and really living out those feline quirks that all cat owners love and hate in equal measure. This is definitely one to try out and fall in love with.