Throughout the years, Steam Next Fest has functioned as a virtual equivalent of E3 for PC games. Here, you can explore demos of as many games as you desire, as opposed to queuing up all day long and only getting to play a select few. And you can do it all without the headache-inducing noise and the pricey cafeteria pizza.
We have played a variety of games from this Next Fest, and with an abundance of demos to choose from, it’s tough to highlight everything we enjoyed. Nevertheless, we’ve selected five games that you should keep an eye on in 2024.
In the 1940s Pacific Northwest, the United States government experimented with peculiar new technology with the potential to enhance the world. Over fifty years later, these experiments are secluded behind a 30 meter-high wall, with those left inside never to be heard from again. What perils and perhaps even nightmares are contained within are what Pacific Drive immerses you in.
As an unwitting delivery driver who finds themselves inside the Zone, your only allies are some voices guiding you over the radio and your old, beat-up station wagon. In previous driving games, I never cared about what happens to my vehicles. But in Pacific Drive, you depend on your car not just to get around easily, but also to store belongings, craft supplies, view the map, and more. Colliding with the environment too hard can result in breaking off panels or popping a tire, which is a significant disadvantage in a survival game like this. It’s even more immersive when you have to manually turn the ignition and set the parking brake, in an effort to save fuel and prevent your car from rolling away, respectively.
Unexplainable anomalies occur all around you. A few seem helpful, like dumpsters that spit out supplies, but most are antagonistic. Strange machines try to drag your car away, parts of the ground shift unexpectedly, and most things in general are in an unstable physical state. I had a particularly stressful moment when I got caught in a storm that nearly wrecked my car as I sped through the escape portal with only 11% health and no healing items left.
In Pacific Drive, your car serves as a means to pull you even deeper into a world that we can’t wait to anxiously cruise through later this month.
If you’re yearning for a potential alternative to Dark and Darker on Steam, Dungeonborne might be the answer. Like Dark and Darker, Dungeonborne is a dark fantasy PvPvE game that merges multiplayer extraction-dungeon-crawling with some battle royale elements. Before entering the arena, you’ll customize a class, from magic-casting pyromancers and cryomancers to rogues and fighters. Each class comes with its own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, which you’ll need to strategically play around against both AI enemies and other players.
In a standard match, you and any teammates you choose to bring along will search for treasure and try to find an exit without being killed. Any loot you escape with can be sold for better weapons, armor, and supplies to start the next round with. But be careful; you’re only ever one or two bad decisions away from death, and in this game, death means losing everything on you for good. Get ready for possible salt when you lose, but major euphoria when you clutch out an escape. The arena slowly shrinks, pushing players closer together to force PvP encounters.
Combat is slow and methodical. Every item and every swing of your weapon has major consequences, so you have to be very thoughtful about going for an attack if it’s just going to leave you wide open for a counter. This ALSO means that I am not very good at the game yet and have died to a bug more than once. And yet… I also kinda want to jump in for just one more go.
In a lot of ways, Dungeonborne fills the voidleft by Dark and Darker on Steam’s storefront. But if it has staying power, the competition will only push both games to be better and better.
Like its spiritual predecessor, Berserk Boy’s core gameplay features dashing, wall jumping, and unlocking new forms as you progress. But whereas Mega Man is about shooting your enemies, combat in Berserk Boy’s demo favors physically ramming into them, at least with the demo’s two powers. The more hits you land within a limited amount of time, the more your combo counter builds up. The higher the combo counter, the more you’ll fill your Berserk Meter for powerful one-off attacks.
In between levels, you’ll fall back to your base, a laboratory of sorts that functions as a home for the resistance. It’s a hub for buying upgrades to strengthen your move set, jumping to new missions, and revisiting old ones. Taking a page from Metroidvania games, Berserk Boy encourages you to do some backtracking to reach previously inaccessible areas, find collectibles, save up currency to afford that upgrade you’re just shy of affording, or find hidden paths to score a better completion time.
Berserk Boy will bring all the “Lightning Justice” you can handle on March 6th.
In a neon-drenched dystopian future ruled by robot billionaires, humans have merged with the internet into a new being that requires dopamine every ten seconds or else they die. When an “influencer princess” with over 2 billion followers is kidnapped, it’s up to Jack Banhammer to save the day… while livestreaming the entire thing, of course. Whoever rescues her will win a pair of shoes as the grand prize.
Consequently, Mullet Mad Jack is a hyperactive, candy-coated, taurine-fueled, adrenaline-pumping good time that pays homage to the FPS games that defined the era it celebrates. And at the end of every randomly-generated level, you get to choose a perk that makes the next one even more insane. It’s one of the most “feels cool to pull off stuff” power trip FPS games I’ve played since Superhot.
From the folks behind Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve comes Rotwood, a roguelike dungeon crawler where you and up to three of your friends take your furry avatars through the woods and clear out endless creatures like an old-school arcade beat-em-up. The gameplay loop in Rotwood is like having a bag of chips in front of you: it’s so effortless to just go for one more chip or one more room over and over again without even thinking about how much you’ve consumed.
This game is absolutely gorgeous, with a beautiful hand-drawn art style and impressively-detailed animations. Well worth coming back to for the soundtrack alone.
Have you played any other Steam Next Fest demos? Be sure to check out our suggestions and sound off in the comments any stellar game demos you played yourselves.
Nick Cramer is a freelance writer and video editor for IGN.