Ian puts 10 Steam Next Fest VR demos through their paces

Happy Steam Next Fest, Helmet-heads! I hope you’ve all been having a lovely time discovering exciting new games, both VR and in flat!

To celebrate this season of Steam-y goodness, I decided to try out ten Steam Next Fest demos of upcoming VR games to see what the future holds for PC VR. I was fairly random with my picks but I tried to include a few different genres in there so it wasn’t all zombie shooting – but did I find anything worth getting majorly excited about?

Find out in this week’s VR Corner (below) where you can watch me dip my toes into a gaggle of games that range from kayaking through some stunning scenery to cacking yourself in a pitch black living room!

As a quick aside, all the demos I picked were for today’s video were from offical VR games but, thanks to Praydog’s recent UEVR mod, there’s a fair few flat Unreal Engine demos out now that can also be played in VR. A great example of this is the demo for Pacific Drive, which I tested out in VR during a recent Eurogamer live stream.


Cover image for YouTube videoLet’s Play 10 Steam Next Fest VR Demos – ARE THERE ANY HIDDEN GEMS? – Ian’s VR Corner


Please enjoy 42 minutes worth of demo discovery, courtesy of the most handsome man in VR content creation (me).

And for those of you who hate video, and/or are secretly checking out this article at work, here’s a quick rundown of each game that I played in the video.


Sushi Ben

Sushi Ben has a beautifully simple Manga inspired art style that works really well with the premise – you’re a visitor to a small seaside town in Japan who needs to help the local Sushi bar owner, Ben, sort out his business. By doing lots of weird stuff…

The gameplay seems to be a mixture of Visual Novel and fishing game mechanics, plus an assortment of other mini-game style goings-ons, like table tennis, ghost hunting and bug catching.

Unfortunately I only really got to experience a bit of the fishing mini-game as a real-life bug got me stuck in the scenery and limited time meant that I had to move on to the next demo. Still, Sushi Ben shows promise, it has a lot of personality and comfort wise it seems like a game that would be great for all experience levels.

Oh and it’s also set to release on PSVR2 as well, which is nice.


Z.O.N.A: Origin

As one of the most visually impressive demos that I tried, Z.O.N.A: Origin will push your PC to the limits – but it’s worth it!

The tiny sandbox that you’re given to explore is more of tech demo than anything, intended to show off the visuals and gameplay mechanics rather than to showcase a slice of the actual finished game, but it does show a lot of promise.

There’s a heavy S.T.A.L.K.E.R. vibe here and this should appeal to those of you who enjoy survival games that focus on ammo conservation and stealth over chopping down trees and crafting axes out of sticks and stones.

The guns are nice to fire, the scenery looks properly realistic at times despite a weird grittiness to the graphics but, to be fair, this is probably intentional as it does add to the creepy, radioactive wasteland vibe.


Brazen Blaze

One of the characters in Brazen Blaze has an extremely pronounced Geordie accent and, for the first few times I heard her speak, it made my brain collapse in on itself. No offence to Geordies but it sounded so out of place in an anime-inspired brawler that I couldn’t take the dialogue seriously.

Brazen Blaze is a 3v3, PvP action game that combines close-range melee combat with gunplay and super-speedy movement across a destructible battleground and it’s currently in open-beta thanks to Steam Next Fest.

Sadly an open-beta doesn’t guarantee players and I struggled to find a match and, when I finally did get one, I was in a team of three against a team of one. And that singular person understandably quit shortly after getting utterly owned.

If you like hero shooters or brawlers like Smash Bros. or Overwatch then maybe keep an eye on this one as you can do an amazing finishing move that lets you punch people into space. But being able to do that does depend on people actually playing the game so hopefully this demo will drum up interest in the full release.


Escape Simulator VR

The flat version of Escape Simulator has been out since 2021, and this upcoming VR version of the game takes the previously released pancake puzzlers and ports them to VR.

Cheapo VR Escape room games are ten a penny on Steam but the space-based mission I played in the Escape Simulator VR Next Fest demo felt polished and precise in everything from its motion controls through to its visuals.

It didn’t offer the most challenging of puzzles so this one seems like it’ll be a good fit for all the family. Plus the flat version has loads of excellent little rooms to escape from so this port is definitely worth putting on your list if you enjoy this genre of game.


The Obsessive Shadow

Horror is one of my favourite genres in VR thanks to the way that the immersion heightens the tension and ratchets up the scares but, as in the case of The Obsessive Shadow here, the game still needs to be good for me to enjoy it.

It has a cool premise, there’s a stalker outside your house and the power’s just gone out so you need to protect yourself with a torch that rapidly runs out of charge, but in practice it’s a scruffy game of ‘Pop Up Monster’ that has little else going for it.

The house design is fairly nice but the cheap, unavoidable, one jump-scare-and-you’re-dead gameplay loop is too frustrating to be fun so for now at least, I won’t spend much time obsessing over it.


Whitewater VR: Extreme Kayaking Adventure

Whitewater VR: Extreme Kayaking Adventure takes the chill kayaking adventures of Kayak VR: Mirage and adds some excellently realised river rapids to them, turning a gentle paddle into a rush of whitewater-induced adrenaline.

Just like Kayak VR: Mirage, Whitewate VR features photorealistic graphics which bring with them some stunning views and some incredibly immersive kayaking action. The visuals don’t quite have the same polish as Mirage just yet, but it’s close, and I also feel like Whitewater VR’s controls are less precise when it comes to things like tight turning. Even with these criticisms though, Whitewater VR is undoutably a beauty and it adds some much needed excitment to the kayaking genre of VR games.

The best thing about it though is easily the water itself, the way it flows and undulates as it pulls you down river towards jagged rocks and sharp turns is wonderful and a real triumph of programming. If you enjoyed the visuals of Mirage but found the gameplay a little too relaxed, you should definitely give this one a go.


BlackForge VR

A blacksmithing simulator in VR sounds like an excellent idea and, to be fair to BlackForge VR, its Next Fest demo does hint at a lot of potential for creating wonderful weapons in its mystical forge.

Unfortunately though, the presentation here is severely lacking and, while the motion controls work well, BlackForge VR is easily one of the ugliest VR games I have ever seen. I’ve honestly drawn better backdrops in Microsoft Paint.

The game does get top marks for allowing you to pet the cute Fire Spirit that lives in your forge and there’s this wonderful wood shaving mechanic which allows you too turn a log on a lathe and chisel it down to whatever shape you want, so it’s definitely got something going for it.

If the developers are able to completely rework the visuals then maybe I’ll take a second look but they’re just so off-putting at the moment. Especially when it comes to the annoying, un-blinking, sad-eyed merchant character who delivers your missions.


Archery RED

What do you get if you cross C-Smash VRS with SuperHot and then give it a bow? Well, something like Archery RED here is my guess!

It’s a fast-paced, score-attack archery game with oodles of arcadey elements thrown in such as buttons and switches to shoot and enemy arrows to dodge.

The visuals are as simple as the gameplay, but they’re stylish and, if you’re into archery games in VR, you’ll be pleased to know that the arrows fly accurately and easily. Definitely a demo to try out if you’ve ever fancied yourself as Legolas from Lord of the Rings.


Space Drop

Space Drop is one of those games where you just fall down and have to avoid hitting things but, instead of falling, here you’re flying forwards through space avoiding asteroids and lasers.

The demo comes with three levels, but the gameplay is so one-note and uninspired that the only difference between each one seems to be what genre of music is playing in the background as you mindlessly hurtle towards countless copy and paste obstacles.

If you play the demo you’ll have played the full game by the looks of things so you can probably ‘drop’ this one from your wishlist if you’ve been keeping an eye on it.


Farcaster

What do you get if you take Pistol Whip and remove the awesome soundtrack and the ‘shoot-to-the-beat’ gameplay that makes it so compelling? You get Farcaster, that’s what.

As I say in my video, it feels like the Pistol Whip you have at home and, while it’s a lot more action packed than Pistol Whip, featuring loads of different enemy types and more detailed levels, it still stands firmly in the shadow of Cloudhead’s awesome rhythm action game.

If you’re really itching for an on-rails, VR shooter game with a fairly challenging difficulty level then you should make some time to give the demo a go but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just wish you were whipping pistols instead.


So, there we go – a bit of a mixed bag, which could possibly be blamed on my choices as I only picked 10 VR games out of a potential 26, but still there’s a couple there that show some promise.

If you’ve played any decent VR demos in Steam’s Next Fest do let me know what they were in the comments below so I can check them out too. Ta!


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