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13 great Steam Next Fest demos to get you started this October

We'll have more recs on the way later this week

In case September didn't add enough new indie games to your burgeoning Steam wishlists, Valve are back today with another edition of their demo-packed Steam Next Fest, and we've been playing some of its many, many, many demos to help give you a few pointers on where to start. You can view the whole of October's Steam Next Fest right here if you'd rather just dive in headfirst, but below you'll find some hand-picked highlights we've been enjoying ahead of time - including a new Return Of The Obra Dinn-alike, a first-person skeleton shooter, an underwater citybuilders and a platformer where your gun is also an umbrella.

As usual, we've only had access to a small sliver of what's available to play during October's Next Fest, so we'll be following up this list of initial recommendations with more of our personal highlights in the days to come. This month's Next Fest runs from today, October 3rd, until next Monday, October 10th, so keep an eye out later this week for more Next Fest-shaped goodness.

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I should also point out that some of the games we wrote about last week also have Next Fest demos you can try right now, too - games like Flat Eye, the new narrative management game from the Night Call devs, Cassette Beasts, a monster-catching RPG where you become and fuse with its titular beasts, and Homicidal All-Stars, the new tactics game from a bunch of former Hard West devs. There are no doubt loads more - and certainly too many to name here - but don't let that choice paralysis get to you. That's why we've put together this list, so please enjoy this cool selection of games the RPS Treehouse has been playing and loving so far - and if you spot any other neat demos we haven't covered here, then please do let us know in the comments below.


A 2D pixel art screenshot of Gunbrella showing a man leaping over rooftops holding an umbrella over his head. There's a zipline above him.

Rachel: I played the Gunbrella demo at PAX West and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again as I immediately fell in love with its slick, umbrella parkour platforming and the scrappy, gritty feel of the world. The demo follows the nameless gruff protagonist - the wielder of the gunbrella - as they investigate a local cult who have kidnapped the mayor and a local lass. All is not what it seems and there’s an uneasy feeling in the air, but none of the characters are willing to address it, not to a stranger like you anyway.

The gunbrella itself is a slick platforming tool, letting you zipline, glide and dash through the brown smudge of a world. It’s also a powerful shotgun, turning cultists and gangsters into a smear of bright red pixels. Gracefully drifting down a mineshaft Mary Poppins-style and dropping to the bottom to blow some masked goon’s brains out is a certain kind of satisfaction.

One of my favourite games is Lisa: The Painful and I've never found a game that could match it in the atmosphere, but Gunbrella is the closest. If you’ve ever had the horrible pleasure of playing that then please please please check out Gunbrella. If you haven’t, play it anyway it’s great.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


A group of superheroes fight in an arena full of green crystals in Capes

CJ: At no point during the Capes demo did any swishy back-curtains appear, which was slightly disappointing. Snazzy eye catching uniforms aren’t really what the game’s about though. The titular capes refer to persecuted super-powered individuals who are being hunted down in a near-future totalitarian system, trying to stay one step ahead of the very dubious law.

Take one look at Capes and you’d think it’s just another XCOM wannabe, but this squad-based strategy game seems to have more in common with something like Into The Breach. There’s a lot of special moves, shoving, being blocked by other units or environmental hazards, and not much in the way of cover to cower behind. That makes sense considering you’re managing a growing team of budding superheroes, but it takes some time to adjust your expectations. Once that’s out of the way, though, Capes improves by leaps and bounds.

Capes’ story is told through comic book style speech bubbles during cutscenes. It’s camp, and put me off at first despite being a lifelong comics fan. Yet they draw you in and make the turn-based combat missions really feel like you’re playing a funny book. I’m already itching to play more of this one when it lands next year.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

10 Dead Doves

A man in a hoodie stares into a white void with some black pillars in front of him in 10 Dead Doves

Rebecca: I've been going through a bit of a dry spell with horror games lately, but 10 Dead Doves reminded me of why I love weird low-budget spooks so damned much. In one of the most ambitiously cinematic indie narratives I've seen in a while, two pals travel deep into the Appalachian wilderness only to get stranded when their car runs out of gas. It's a familiar set-up, for sure, but it's impossible not to be charmed by the back-and-forth between leads Mark and Sean (portrayed by and loosely based on the game's co-developers, Mark Byram II and Sean-Michael Millard), or indeed by the uncanny yet whimsical way the characters are animated. There are survival horror aspects for sure, but it all takes a backseat to letting the narrative unfold at a generously unhurried pace, allowing a creeping dread to build up long before anything actually scary happens. In other words, the exact slow-burn spook factor I've been missing.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

The Case Of The Golden Idol

A stable scene with a man on fire in The Case Of The Golden Idol

Katharine: How has it been four years already since Lucas Pope's Return Of The Obra Dinn up-ended the entire detective game genre and left us all scratching our heads at its sheer ingenuity? That's the greatest mystery of our modern era: where in the heck did time go? Happily, The Case Of The Golden Idol is here to close the gap. It's perhaps the closest thing I've seen to a spiritual successor of Obra Dinn, and as far as I'm concerned its special extended Next Fest demo isn't nearly extended enough. I just want more of it (which is thankfully about to be quickly remedied, as it's out in full on October 13th).

At first, The Case Of The Golden Idol's little detective vignettes seem entirely unrelated, but the more you play, the more its overarching story begins to emerge. In each scene, your main task is to collect information – names, locations, certain adjectives etc (which can either be highlighted for ease or left for you to discover more naturally, pixel-hunting-style) – which you can then use to fill in the gaps on your 'Thinking' menu to solve each murder. It's very much in the same vein as piecing together Obra Dinn's crew manifest, using the snippets of information available to you to fill in the larger picture, and it's absolutely riveting. I also can't get enough of its mildly grotesque, but mesmerising pixel art. There's just something about those gurning faces that won't let me look away.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


A skeleton explodes in Enchain

Alice0: I've enjoyed seeing Enchain on Screenshot Saturday across the months, its many GIFs and clips of a skeleton stunting around with grappling hook, slide-kicks, wall-running, and such. I was very up for that, hoping to launch immediately into ludicrous noughties violence. This demo is not that.

Enchain is more fiddly than I expected, and the demo starts with a long sequence of tutorial rooms. Lots to learn about how to grapple, grab, and so on. Even murder isn't straightforward, with enemies needing to be finished off with dramatic violence once weakened. Even running and jumping around has lots of little bits to get a grip on. I almost stopped, disappointed that it wasn't the ridiculous high-speed ultraviolence I'd wanted. But... it starts to open up and head in that direction. When my fingers got the hang of its intricacies, it became satisfying. It looks to start opening up into a Dark Souls-ish form.

This is a lot of griping but: I'm excited to see what Enchain has to offer. In a few fights, I'd pull off stunts like swinging around a room to reach a weakened enemy so I could slide-kick them into their air, grapple them to me, then launch them into a foe to burst them. I laughed at the introduction of the rotund little robust skeletons. I pulled off a few call platforming sequences chaining grappling, wall-running, wall-jumping, kick launches, dives, and more. I wish the demo had introduced me to all these in a more exciting way, given me a better sense of what I might it might become, but I'm excited by what I've seen. Which I suppose is the purpose of a demo.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Mars First Logistics

A mechanical rover clasps a large blue pipe in Mars First Logistics

Ollie: Mars First Logistics is a physics game about building and driving a rover across Mars to haul various supplies to and from different locations. You can edit your vehicle at any time, and build it from scratch out of pieces that snap together intuitively and offer a surprising wealth of complexity. You might need to create a rover that can safely pick up and haul a crate of oranges from one point to another. In this case you'll need to design a rover that can clamp both sides of the crate and lift it up, while keeping the rover stable enough that none of the oranges fall out while you're trundling along the surrounding planitiae.

There are probably more apt comparisons - Space Engineers, Kerbal Space Program - but to me, Mars First Logistics is a cross between Fantastic Contraption and Robot Wars. Fantastic Contraption because of the try-and-see puzzle aspect to each contract you must fulfil. And Robot Wars, because you can make a srimech (self-righting mechanism) that actually works, and it takes me back to those Friday evenings in my childhood spent watching robots like Cassius and Chaos 2 righting themselves in spectacular fashion.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Knuckle Sandwich

Two boys fight two ghouls in Knuckle Sandwich

Ed: This year's Steam Next Fest brings us a new and improved Knuckle Sandwich demo. I can't tell you what's improved because I never played the original demo, but what I can tell you is that it's a turn-based RPG where you can catch some bugs and some wobbly bold text pops on screen with the word "BUG" to celebrate your victory.

The demo sees you start your journey as a weary young man who travels to Bright City in search of a new job. It's got a wonderful linearity to it – in a similar way to Undertale – where being ushered from point A to point B remains forever unpredictable. One minute you're dancing in a rhythm mini-game, the next you're taking out the bins in a burger joint. Only a couple of times does the cheery act drop and something sinister slide into view just to unsettle you a bit.

I really can't say much more, as I don't want to ruin anything (and "anything", is largely everything with the game's demo).

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Simulacra 3

A phone map screen in front of an office scene in Simulacra 3

Rebecca: I love indie horror, and Simulacra might be my favourite ongoing series. The first game gave me one of my favourite video game romances, while the second game has one of the worst (best) original songs ever to grace a soundtrack — complete with ultra-cringey music video! Surprising pedigree, I'm sure you'll agree, but how could I not have high hopes for Simulacra 3 on the back of all that?

Now, from the found phone FMV horror series that brought you Evil Tinder and Evil Instagram, meet Evil Google Maps! If it sounds like I'm mocking the games I just professed to love… I am indeed. Simulacra owns its cheesiness with pride; indeed, the third game leans even further into the vibe with some very obviously '80s-nostalgia inspired opening credits. After playing the demo, I'm seriously hyped for the latest concept, which sees you chasing leads via a map covered in pins that has both a real-world and a corrupted upside-down version. You see, this game's demonic body-snatching entity is doing its misdeeds via a sort of NextDoor-inspired social network where people can check into a local business… NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN!

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Rhythm Sprout

A sentient onion dances in front of sentient broccoli knights in Rhythm Sprout

Liam: Among the handful of tracks available in the demo for Rhythm Sprout, the standout tune is a lo-fi banger that samples the sinister laugh of a moustachioed villain. Every time you successfully hit a note as it tumbles down the centre of the screen, the spectral visage of your (vegetable?) adversary lets out a tuneful guffaw. It’s absolutely brilliant, and I can’t stop singing “Ho ho ha ha, ho ho ho ha ha” out loud.

A three-button rhythm game where you play as an onion wearing a tracksuit and a knight’s helmet, Rhythm Sprout makes a stellar first impression. Hitting successful notes makes your little onion take confident little stomps towards a goal, swinging his little sword at sentient sweet treats along the way. Everything blends together in a very pleasing way, its original tracks and colourful visuals a delight to behold as you tap buttons in time to the funky beats (or should that be beets?). The demo features a couple of late-game tracks, too, which ramps up the difficulty to the point where it broke my brain. I like that. A good rhythm game should make me feel like a god in its early stages before shattering me completely. I can’t wait for the full release to ruin my day.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

The Entropy Centre

The player fires a time gun down at a blue cube in an overgrown lab scene in The Entropy Centre.
Image credit: Playstack

James: If The Entropy Centre is a Portal pastiche, all that says to me is that maybe the world could use more Portal pastiches. As much as this first-person puzzler borrows from Valve’s masterpieces (especially the overgrown lab environments from Portal 2’s opening hour), its demo suggests that it can successfully transplant the thrill of solving a test chamber while using a brain-bending central mechanic of its very own.

Instead of shooting portals, your science gun in The Entropy Centre blasts a beam that rewinds targeted objects in time. What starts as fixing up a collapsed doorway soon becomes a series of tricky, twisty time manipulation puzzles that almost invariably gave a satisfying crank to the cogwheels rusting up in my skull. I won’t spoil any of the actual test chambers, nor the surprisingly high-stakes reasoning for why you’re working through them to begin with, but so far they seem pretty well judged in terms of balancing complexity and difficulty.

I’m also looking forward to another Portal influence: the inevitable moment when it all goes off the rails, forcing you to unleash the time rifle in less officious, more desperate settings. Put me on a collapsing bridge I must repair under my own feet, Stubby Games.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


An underwater cityscape from Aquatico

Rebecca: Can you even call yourself a BioShock nerd if you wouldn't jump at the chance to play an underwater city builder? Frankly, dear reader, maybe you can and maybe you can't, but I couldn't afford to take that risk, which is why I hopped into the demo for Aquatico with great enthusiasm. It's been a long time since I've really sunk my teeth into a city builder on any theme; it's a genre I loved back in my carefree youth, but simply one time-sink too many now that I'm an alleged adult. Aquatico seems way more complicated than the games I remember, but nevertheless it has enough charm about it that I'm keen to keep an eye on its progress. Although, Digital Reef Games, if you're reading this: I know you're probably planning to anyway, but just please, add an undo button. I'm both out of practice and all thumbs when it comes to placing infrastructure, and it's already proven to be a worrisome combination for my poor undersea Swiss Family Robinson.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


A boat spies some fish in to a rocky coastal scene in Dredge

Katharine: Dredge is one of those games I've heard a lot of good things about over the last few weeks, and I'm pleased to say that the hype is absolutely justified. On the surface, this looks like a lovely, idyllic fishing sim where you potter about chill, cartoon landscapes in your little tugboat before returning to shore to sell your catch, upgrade your boat and take on orders for the swarthy locals. This isn't just another Moonglow Bay-alike, though, for beneath the waves of this melancholy fishing adventure lies something altogether more horrifying. You never quite glimpse it during the demo, but there are strange goings on in this mysterious archipelago, and you definitely don't want to be out late after dark, believe me. That's when the terror starts to seep in, with the darkness placing ruinous rocks in your path, and strange lights start to appear on the horizon.

But while Dredge keeps its eldritch horror close to its chest during its demo, it lays out a very clear (if locked off) path for the rest of its management side of things. With lots of different rod types to buy and upgrade, larger hulls, better equipment and more all on the cards, I can see Dredge becoming increasingly moreish as the game goes on. Alas, it's not out in full until 2023 at time of writing, but this tiny teaser has hooked me real good.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

Against The Storm

A top-down view of a forest village in Against The Storm

Liam: How have I never played a roguelite citybuilder? After spending two hours (!) with Against The Storm’s generous Next Fest demo, this particular pairing feels like a match made in heaven, the verbs of the former fitting neatly within the structure of the latter.

Playing as a Viceroy to an enigmatic queen, it’s your job to venture out into an endless forest to establish new settlements. Buildings, resources and maps are all randomised here, your main challenge to create a prosperous village within these fixed parameters. But wait! Just for a laugh, the forest itself is also working against you, an ever-present storm worsening as you cut through its trees in the pursuit of valuable resources. Then there’s the queen herself, who’s patience decreases the longer it takes you to establish a functioning town. It’s all about balance, basically. Can you maintain a steady production line while keeping your townsfolk (a merry bunch of humans, beavers and lizards) happy? Can you expand deeper into the wilderness, uncovering its secret-filled glades, without incurring the wrath of the woods? Personally, I found the pursuit of answering these questions so absorbing I had to tear myself away from the demo just to write these words. Against The Storm is very interesting indeed.

Download the demo on Steam right here.

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