15 Steam Next Fest demos you should play first this February

The first Steam Next Fest of 2024 is officially upon us, though this year there have been so many demos going live early that you may well have played a bunch of them already without even knowing it. Still, in case you need a helping hand cutting through the many hundreds, if not thousands of free demos that are currently jostling for your eyeballs on Steam, we’ve put together this shortlist of recommendations to get your started.

There are 15 picks here, covering everything from citybuilders to horror games – and a lot of these are games we’ve never written about before, either. But, in case you are looking for demos of more well-known PC games, we’ve also listed some of the big obvious choices you might want to check out as well (and all the other demos we’ve written about over the last couple of weeks). You know, because we’re nice like that. So come and join us for 15 (plus!) Next Fest demos to get you going.

Below you’ll find our hand-picked recommendations from the team, which are all based on demos that we’ve been able to try in advance. You can view the full Next Fest line-up here if you’d rather browse through the whole catalogue on Steam, but as with every one of these events, there are always loads of games that are worth trying beyond what we’ve listed here – including plenty of bigger names that we’ve covered extensively elsewhere on the site. For completeness sake, we’ve included those games below, with links to both things we’ve written about them and their respective Steam pages, so you can either read more about them or just go and check them out directly. The choice is yours. But if you’re looking for 15 games you likely haven’t heard about before, then read on below for some fresh new indie picks.


Reus 2


A mossy giant looks over a Japanese-inspired town in Reus 2
Image credit: Firesquid

Edwin: I didn’t realise how much I’ve been yearning to play a god sim till I sat down with Reus 2. God sims can be a very laidback genre, for all the talk of being all-seeing, all-knowing and all-meddling – gods are notorious for being absentee landlords, after all, whereas I’ve been playing a lot of strategy games and RPGs lately that go heavy on the old micromanagement. Reus 2 is gloriously gentle, capturing Black & White at its most spaced-out. You’ve got a fully rotatable, 2D planet and three kindly giants to do your bidding. Care of these giants, you can turn sections of crust into biomes such as rainforest, ocean and desert, and place resources such as fruit trees and crystal deposits. Then you sit back to watch nascent humans scurry about foraging, raising towns, herding, or just cooling their heels in the surf.

That’s the early game, anyway. There’s a war component later, and a perfectionist alchemical undertow in the shape of combining specific believer communities with specific resources to produce a flourishing civilisation. But the machine of history only advances when your giants act, with historical time represented as purple points that add up into changes of era. Everything the little people do on the surface takes place in a blissful purgatory, and watching them go about their lives is a balm. Back in 2013, Alec Meer called the first Reus “my ideal screensaver”. Here in the grim salvages of 2024, I nod my head in agreement.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Crow Country


A horrible monster with long limbs chases a woman in Crow Country
Image credit: SFB Games

Katharine: If you have a hankering for some olde Resident Evil spookings with chunky PS1-Final Fantasy VII-style characters to tank around in, get thyself to Crow Country, one of two upcoming games this year from the devs behind Tangle Tower. You play Mara Forest as you investigate the mysterious disappearance of Edward Crow, the owner of the eponymous theme park, at said eponymous theme park. Only this isn’t a happy, haha fun times kind of joint anymore. This rundown maze of buildings is thick with a yellow-green smog, and not at all kosher trails of gibs and garbage bags strewn across the floor. Yes, something terrible clearly went down in this place, and it doesn’t take long for you to find out exactly what it is. Just mind your health bar, as you can only check on how you’re doing from within the menu screen. Just like the good old days, eh?

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Duck Detective


A duck detective holds a book on a rainy pavement in Duck Detective
Image credit: Happy Broccoli Games

Alice Bee: I was expecting Duck Detective to be a cutesy, cartoony puzzle game – and it is, indeed, that. As the Duck Detective, you investigate a charming and whimsical crime: an anthropomorphic animal is stealing the lunches of the other animals at the bus company they work at, right out of the office fridge. The Duck Detective gathers evidence from a scene and can then fit the right verbs and nouns in the right gaps of a deduction he’s written in his notebook (in a sort of My First Golden Idol). Some things he can look at in more detail, for more specific clues, like a calendar that can tell you what day it is and what events are coming up during the week.

The animation and art style is lovely, like a kid’s sticker book. But the little spike on this otherwise conventional volleyball is that the trope of a washed up, bitter private investigator is played extremely straight. The first thing the Duck Detective says, in a gravelly drawl, is that he’s a “freshly divorced duck” who can’t afford his rent. This is, to me, extremely conceptually funny. It’s like the “one human actor in a cast of Muppets” thing except the human is still also a Muppet, somehow. Excellent.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Death Of A Wish


A young boy battles a large man in a cloak in Death Of A Wish
Image credit: Syndicate Atomic

Alice0: Top-down Bloodborne violence with a wildly over-the-top edgy MS Paint webcomic art style? I’m in. I’m very in. Death Of A Wish sees you off to destroy the cult you once called home by bashing strange enemies to bits with your supernatural powers. The action’s a bit like a top-down Bloodborne. Left-click for fast attack, right-click for heavy, charge for escalating attacking chains, switch elements mid-combo for different attacks, dodge to zip about, middle-click unleash your to Nier: Automata pod, parry by dodging into attacks, yes, yes, I like this. You even get an abootility granting that Blooborne-esque window to recover health after taking damage by attacking. And to me, this is the perfect amount of angst about family and religion. If you’re going to play in that field, lean all the way in and make your character say things like “Now I must commit the sin no one will forgive. Utter Annihilation.”

Download the demo on Steam right here.


RAM: Random Access Mayhem


Several robots battle it out on an industrial platform in RAM: Random Access Mayhem
Image credit: Xylem Studios

Katharine: Keen-eyed readers will remember RAM: Random Access Mayhem is one of this year’s IGF nominees for the best student game category, and cor, this top-down roguelike shooter is quite something, lemme tell ya. With its twinstick controls and bevy of robot opponents to mow down, this is a fast-paced action game that doesn’t pull any punches. Then again, maybe you do want to pull at least some of your punches here, as this is a game about mind-jumping from one robot shell to another rather than simply trying to stick with the same character you chose at the start. You see, each robot you come across will maybe only last a couple of rounds going toe to toe with other enemies, so you’ll need to think fast to keep yourself alive. Plus, because you’re an apparently rather sadistic form of AI, you’ll earn more points for destroying your old discard bodies in the flashiest way possible – such as an immediate shotgun to the face, or booting them off a cliff. Add in class-specific bot abilities and upgrades along the way and this has all the makings of the next great moreish roguelike. One to keep an eye on, for sure.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Spring Dash


The player is rushing through an aerial vortex in an abstract snowy landscape in Spring Dash
Image credit: Dillon Steyl

James: What if Neon White, but with vegetable magic instead of gun cards? That’s Spring Dash, a first-person speedrunner that demands various feats of verdant wizardry to propel yourself through its dreamy floating obstacle courses. At first, that just means sprouting bouncy leaves to boing up walls and across chasms, but later additions of vine grappling and windy air dashes promise to make you the zippiest of zippy forest mages. Provided you put the effort in with them, anyway. Successfully zooming between islands is a great time, and there’s a nicely realised sense of momentum, but Spring Dash’s speedrunning is as unforgiving as it is fantastical. Still, there are regular checkpoints and retrying is instant, so it’s not fist-through-the-wall frustrating either.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Backpack Battles


Two hooded girls do battle with the items in their backpack in Backpack Battles
Image credit: PlayWithFurcifer/IndieArk

Ollie: Backpack Battles scratches the same autobattling itch that compelled me to play endless hours of Super Auto Pets a couple years back. But this time around there’s the extra lure of some very satisfying inventory management. In Backpack Battles, your character’s attacks and abilities are determined by what items you manage to shoehorn into your limited backpack space. After each fight, you get to buy and sell new gear, most of which have synergistic bonuses with other items in your backpack. The items start off fairly innocuously, with shortswords, shields, and the like. But as your backpack fills and expands, it becomes a tapestry of ridiculous items ranging from baby dragons to lightsabers. It’s moreish and challenging, and I regret the time away from playing more Backpack Battles that it took me to write this paragraph.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Mouthwashing


A bandaged head emerges from the darkness with one eye and their mouth visible in Mouthwashing
Image credit: Wrong Organ

Ed: I’ve not played How Fish Is Made by the folks over at Wrong Organ, but Mouthwashing seems to be of a similar variety: surreal, haunted, and with a pinch of humour. The demo provides the sort of horror that’s not, say, absolutely terrifying. But it oozes an unsettling atmosphere, as you navigate the innards of a crashed space freighter in an attempt to piece together what led to the crash and how your crew are getting along (not well). It’s little things for me that lend it weight, like the clunk of your steps as they ring off metal. Opening up someone’s jaw to feed them pills. Tactile buttons and dials. And each scene presented almost like a quick vignette in a story that flits between a carefree past and horrifying present. I am desperate to prize open that interim and see whether the true enemy all along was plaque.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Normal Fishing


Two pixel people sit round a campfire near a lake in Normal Fishing
Image credit: The Bworg

Alice Bee: I normally play a bunch of horror demos around Next Fest, but didn’t get tickled by many this time (and Ed beat me to Mouthwashing). Normal Fishing is a retro-inspired game in which you and your incredibly strange wife have moved to a lakeside community where, to maintain her lifestyle, you must fish. Get fish of increasing size and rarity and exchange for money at the fish shack, where you can exchange that money back for better equipment. There’s a cast of characters including an old woman and a fellow fisherman, and the fishing mini game is a fun one. You do have the “press button at right time to reel fish in” bit, but before that you do a 2D side-scrolling shmup, where you fire food pellets at your quarry and dodge old boots. Good stuff. Then some toxic waste falls in the lake and you have to shotgun a giant crab to death. Things get worse from there. One for Daniel Mullins Games fans to take a peek at.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Berserk Boy


A purple haired hero ziplines across a city in Berserk Boy
Image credit: BerserkBoy Games

Katharine: It’s been a long time coming, but after years of (somewhat mysterious) turmoil, the fact-paced Mega Man-inspired platformer Berserk Boy is finally powering up for a full release. It’s coming quite soon – in just a few weeks’ time, in fact – and its Next Fest demo lets you get to grips with some good old fashioned runnin’ and gunnin’ in its opening couple of levels. Its platforming makes a strong first impression, too. Berserk Boy’s anime-inspired pixel visuals give our hero a well-defined silhouette as he zips across the screen dashing and zapping enemy robots, and the desire to collect every last energy orb quickly butts up against, well, simply staying alive amid the chaos of enemy projectiles, exploding missiles and everything else. Still, I was pleased to see two difficulty options present here: a more retro-focused limited number of lives affair, and a more modern and approachable ‘infinite restarts’ setting, too. I have no shame: I opted for the latter, and had a whale of a time.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Antipaint


Several coloured blocks with eyes rush around a canvas in Antipaint
Image credit: Vilius Prakapas

James: Antipaint is a roguelite twin-stick shooter where the battlefield is your canvas. Vanquished blobs of paint explode into streaks, splats, and Cubist patterns, with each completed stage leaving a finished artwork you can view later. All your creations are given names, too – I think The Horrendous Vibe will become my most famous work, even if my real opus is The Absolute Computer. The bosses, meanwhile, are a gang of angry (and conveniently public domain) portraits from the annals of painting legend. I got past the Mona Lisa without much trouble, though Napoleon Crossing The Alps kicked my head in. Daft? Yes. But funny daft.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Raw Metal


A miner sneaks up on a miner bot in the dark in Raw Metal
Image credit: Team Crucible

Edwin: “Metal Gear Raw, morelike!” he brilliantly quips, except that this isn’t just a stealth game, Edwin, you perfect dolt. It’s also a fairly technical beat-em up. In Raw Metal you’re a rangy scavenger infiltrating an exoplanetary mining facility, made up of dungeon floors full of baton-wielding guards. You must rove the shadows in top-down view, using noisemakers to lure people off and shattering light fittings with darts, Thief-style. Don’t worry too much if you’re caught, however, because Raw Metal is possibly more fun as a brawler. The bread-and-butter basics are light and heavy punches and kicks, a parry and a dodge – more advanced techniques include wall slams, slides and gadgetry such as electric traps. I get an ever-so-slight Absolver vibe despite the starkly shaded aesthetics. There’s a similar crispness to the combat animations.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Abiotic Factor


A scientist prods a reptile-alien creature with a sharp pole, while the player prepares to snare it in a net inside an office setting in Abiotic Factor
Image credit: Playstack

Alice0: While survival games are not usually my genre, I am smitten with the premise of Abiotic Factor: what if you were a regular Black Mesa employee when everything went wrong? Not a nascent superhero like Gordon Freeman, just a regular old employee, the type who’s only good for screaming, opening doors, and vanishing into vents before being spat out as a shower of gibs. How would you survive in your workplace when another dimension comes calling? You can find out in this non-copyright-infringing research facility in Australia. You (and optionally your pals in online co-op) will sneak about, craft tools and weird gadgets, cook food, build bases, attempt to bash baddies as best a nerd can, lay traps, feast from vending machines, crawl through vents, and so on, all within the sprawl of a place which is definitely not Black Mesa. It’s delightful and makes me wish I had pals who played survival games.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Botany Manor


A huge glass house surrounded by trees and plants in Botany Manor
Image credit: Whitethorn Games

Alice Bee: Described by a colleague as “Alice-bait”, Botany Manor is a lush 3D puzzle game where the puzzle is to make weird plants bloom. So, yes. You play as a retired botanist and victim of nominative determinism Arabella Greene, pottering around Botany Manor and collecting the information you need to propagate a flower that spins like a pinwheel and cleans the local atmosphere, or maybe a larger plant that only produces flowers in a thunderstorm. Similar to a detective game, you examine the environment to collect clues that apply to each plant, and put them together to find what conditions are needed and how to create them. Take the thunderstorm flower, for example. How would you recreate that in a drawing room? Ah, it seems someone was doing a lot of flash photography. But you’re out of the flash powder! There’s probably something around here that’ll let you mix up a new batch… It’s a very charming, brain-massaging demo.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


Synergy


A flourishing settlement near a green pool of water in Synergy
Image credit: Goblinz Publishing

Katharine: What if Frostpunk looked like a Moebius painting and was set during an apocalyptic drought instead of a future ice age? Well, it would probably look a lot like Synergy, a game whose terrible name hides what is actually a very cool and engaging citybuilder. It’s also a lot more laidback than Frostpunk, ditching the moral quandaries of child labour and using hospitals to experiment on some, err, less than savoury workarounds for your dwindling food supplies, and just letting you get on with building a functioning little caravan. Houses need to be in range of food tents, hospitals and warehouses, for example, and some citizens need to be kept free so they can courier supplies to new building locations. At times, you can almost forget it’s set during a full-on climate crisis! Though the demo tutorial does also give you the benefit of several temperate seasons in a row, rather than chuck sizzling heatwaves at you to really test how much clean water you’ve been saving. Still, lots of promising stuff here, especially if the thought of more grim decisions to make in Frostpunk 2 gives you the shivers.

Download the demo on Steam right here.


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