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The Caravan SandWitch demo teases a gorgeous exploration-adventure

Featuring a van and some sand, no witches yet though

Sauge discusses a van upgrade with her mechanic friend in Caravan SandWitch. The Gamer Network Wishlisted logo is added in the bottom-right corner.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Dear Villagers

The playable area in Caravan SandWitch’s Steam Next Fest demo isn’t all that big, but within seconds you’re plonked at the rusty wheel of an offroading motorhome and let loose to roam it. It’s a figurative "Go nuts," and given how much more this narrative-heavy, third-person exploration yarn seemingly has to give, it's an attitude I’m seriously hoping holds firm throughout the full game.

Your character, and lucky recipient of the aforementioned partyless party bus, is Sauge, a prodigal daughter of the planet Cigalo who’s returned home after picking up a distress call from her missing sister. That might sound like the setup for a hard sci-fi story but Caravan SandWitch keeps things light, warm, and dusty; if it weren’t for the holograms and van-mounted gadgetry, this little patch of Cigalo could pass for a ramshackle rural town here on Earth. Regardless, it’s dripping with tantalising mystery. Where’s your sister? Why is a spacefaring species living amid ruins? And who’s the tall lady in the hat, peeping you from afar then pulling a G-Man disappearing act whenever you get close?

Climbing up an ancient beachside radio tower in the Caravan SandWitch demo.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Dear Villagers

Questions for another time, or at least another release date. But I’m already enjoying what’s here, especially the smoothness of Caravan SandWitch’s on-foot clambering and the chunky handling of its... well, caravan. In lieu of any combat, time pressures, or particularly challenging puzzles, nailing the feel of manoeuvring through Cigalo’s decayed landscapes could go a long way in keeping the exploration engaging.

It also helps that Caravan SandWitch is a real looker, rich in colour and detail both. The latter, perhaps more so than you might expect from the debut project of a small indie outfit. If anything, this lushness makes it a little frustrating when the demo concludes just as you’re seemingly about to feast on its first real swooping vista. No, no! Let me keep cooing at your vast dustbowls and foreboding electrical storms, game.

Driving off towards a huge desert storm in the Caravan SandWitch demo.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Dear Villagers

Just to make that fade-to-black moment even thwarting, it occurs just as the map is clearly opening up, as well as immediately after completing a pretty unremarkable fetch quest based around scrounging circuitry. It’s all in service of building a giant resource-scanning tool to bolt on the van, which Xzibit never thought to do, but the demo just ends before you can get any meaningful use out of it. Which is vexing, but then, isn’t the whole point of a demo to leave you wanting more?

I certainly do, and with any luck I won’t have to wait too long, as Caravan SandWitch’s Steam page currently lists a 2024 release. You can download the demo yourself from there.

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