The Steam Autumn Festival has returned for another season. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down pretty much every gaming event across the world, developers and publishers alike have turned to digital exhibitions in order to show off their latest software releases.
As we covered the Summer festival back in June, it’s only fair that we also gave the same attention to the latest in a long line of online-only games trade shows. The Steam Autumn Festival ran from the 7th October to the 13th, and features hundreds of free demos for all players to try. To put it frankly, I don’t think these online events have the same kind of comfort as going to them in person does, but it’s wholly a lot more accessible to everyone so I have no problem if they were to continue existing once things return to a new normal.
Anyway, I’ve picked out ten games that I feel were the strongest points of the whole festival. They’re listed below in no particular order.
Developer Sander Ambroos
Publisher Sander Ambroos
Release Q3 – Q4 2020
I really liked Sizeable for how it felt quite pint-sized to begin with. It’s a game about rearranging objects in small dioramas by adjusting their size; growing and shrinking them between big, medium and small, and this can affect other variables around them. For example, one level features a sun which you can manipulate, causing the seasons to change from a scorching summer to a frosty winter, allowing new things to happen in the rest of the stage depending on the season.
Another one involved shrinking or growing the moon, which changed the gravity affecting a seafront’s tide, allowing you to access the items that were submerged beneath the water. I love the concept for Sizeable. It feels a bit like mini golf, with so many crazy ideas consolidated into a set of courses that have huge potential. It’ll work out well for those who like short play sessions, and it’s certainly going to be a fun little time waster.
Publisher Future Friends Games
Release Coming Soon
If there’s anything to say about Exo One’s presentation alone, it’s that its portrayal of an alien spacecraft that can manipulate gravity is more of a meditative experience than anything else, and it works so well as an exercise in achieving just that. Using these mystifying powers, you can manipulate the craft’s shape and mass to allow it to roll fast along the ground, or soar high through the air.
It’s best to say the game’s demonstration is stunning though, with absolutely beautiful empty dunes baked in dusty sunlight, with feathery rainstorms tapping gently against the craft’s surface as it glides across this barren wasteland. It’s not just a rolling simulator though, as you need to use the game’s gravity system to solve puzzles by knowing how to manoeuvre the craft through some of its trickier terrain.
Developer Bit Loom Games
My first thought playing through the PHOGS! demo had me reeling to check out and see if Keita Takahashi was involved in this. While he’s best known for creating the Katamari franchise, there’s so much I found in PHOGS! that reminded me of that same sense of humour Takahashi employed in Noby Noby Boy on the PS3, a game where you played as a boy who could stretch his body in a myriad of ways, and you’d control him almost like an ever-growing worm.
PHOGS! has a similar concept, where you play as two dogs conjoined at the waist and use a twin-stick function to move them through each level. The idea is bonkers enough that I kind of love it, as you need to stretch each dog and manipulate them in such ways that they can make it to the end of each stage by working in tandem with each other. It’s totally playable alone, but the idea of controlling both characters with each half of the gamepad also means it converts well to a local co-op mode, which may actually help you get used to the controls when you’re not having to worry about keeping both characters under control.
Developer Noisy Valley Studios
Publisher Noisy Valley Studios
Release Q4 2020
A homage to classic PS2 survival horror, Summerford is set on a small island off the UK coastline that is also the site of the country’s first nuclear power station. The whole region is currently under a 30-year quarantine after a catastrophic event at the power station resulted in a botched evacuation attempt. You play as a group of young urban explorers who have come to the island to explore it and learn more about the incident that left the place frozen in time.
Noisy Valley Studios is the family-run developer working on Summerford, which is wearing its inspirations on its sleeve as it features fixed-camera perspectives and a good mix of puzzle-solving, combat and exploration. Its terrifying atmosphere is what stood out to me the most, with a whole plethora of creepy visual and auditory effects creating a looming sense of dread as your character sneaks down the empty country lanes or tiptoes through an abandoned suburban home. Summerford is going to scratch the itch of players who grew up on the likes of PS2 horror games such as Silent Hill, Forbidden Siren and Obscure. It’s a solid homage but also has enough girth to stand well on its own two feet.
Developer Sunhead Games
Publisher Humble Games
Release Oct 27, 2020
I felt like Carto was just one of those instances where a simple mechanic can go a really long way. In it you play as the aforementioned Carto, a young girl who uses her expert mapping skills to explore the island she lives on and manipulate it as she maps it out. You’re initially only able to move around a small portion of the island, but as you find new map pieces it gradually opens up and allows you to discover more of it.
The real hook of Carto is you can enter a map screen that provides an overview of everywhere you’ve discovered so far, and can take each piece of the map and rearrange it to unlock new paths and solve puzzles that you come across. Characters may give you a clue such as “I live west of the village,” prompting you to reposition the map pieces to fit it according to their description. The demo was a small taste of how far this mechanic could go, but I believe the full game is going to take it to some interesting extremes.
Developer Nicolas Meyssonnier
Release 23 Oct, 2020
I’m sure by now it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the MediEvil series, and Pumpkin Jack certainly doesn’t shy away from its Burton-esque inspirations. In a medieval fantasy world, the Devil has grown tired of eternal boredom and starts inflicting havoc on the kingdom by raising an army of the undead. In the process he also resurrects Jack, a mythical pumpkin lord, to do his bidding and shake down the strongest fighters of the human populace.
Pumpkin Jack puts you into various levels that involve a mix of platforming, combat and basic puzzle solving. Although the stage in the demo didn’t necessarily feel like it brought anything new to the table, its PS1-era throwbacks were enough to hook me as it adopts a soft fairy tale art style with a wicked sense of humour. I’m keen to know more about Jack, and especially wanting to see what other themes the developer could tackle for each of the levels it’s created. The controls are a little blocky and the camera too floaty, but it’s worth a go just for the nostalgia and kid-friendly makeup.
Release 7 Dec, 2020
At first, I assumed this would be one of those games that looks decent on paper but plays awfully, and yet I stepped away from Hellish Quart’s demo extremely pleased with what I’d seen. It’s a fighting game set in the 17th century, a time of warriors and violence, with the premise closely resembling that.
The combat in Hellish Quart is entirely physics-based, meaning you need to align your attacks to land perfectly because where it lands on your opponent’s body is crucial to winning the duel. Even if you’re just a fraction of an inch off with your attack, it won’t count and you end up leaving yourself open to a lethal counterattack. The game’s hitboxes are perfect, with there being so many moments during a fight where I assumed engine limitations would void certain actions but it ended up working just like you’d expect it to in real life. You swipe a guy in the knee and he collapses realistically, whereas you stab him in the face and he immediately goes down without any further objection. I just loved how much it felt like real sword fighting, and it’s amazing to see how well it was being employed into a traditional fighting game formula.
Raji: An Ancient Epic
Developer Nodding Heads Games
Release 15 Oct, 2020
Set in historical India and inspired by Hindu and Balinese mythology, Raji: An Ancient Epic puts you on a path of war as gods and demons are locked in eternal battle. Threatened with extinction as collateral for this war, humanity turns to Raji to be their sole defender, who wields strong divine weapons to protect her people.
Raji: An Ancient Epic utilises a beautiful graphics style inspired by minimalist adventure games such as Journey or RiME, and has you platforming through ancient ruins and fortresses and battling demonic enemies as you set out to find Raji’s brother who has been separated from her. A lot of it draws upon the Pahari art style, an umbrella term used for Indian paintings that originated from the Himalayas during the 17th century. Its visuals are soft, but the combination of colour and lighting makes everything significantly pop out.
Developer Witch Beam
Publisher Witch Beam
I’m a big fan of order and just being able to put everything in its rightful place. I think I must tidy and reorganise my house every couple of weeks, finding new ways to arrange my possessions and create a comfortable atmosphere for myself and those around me. When I’m organising everything, I love being able to fit different objects together perfectly, which is probably a testament to how much time I spent in Resident Evil 4’s inventory screen.
Unpacking is the perfect game for this. It’s all about moving into new homes and finding a place for each of your possessions in a way that developer Witch Beam describes as “Item Tetris”. The more you unpack, the more you learn about the character you’re unpacking for. You learn they like sports, but they also hold onto teddy bears and action figures as they grow up into an adult. You get a sense for the items that hold sentimental value to the protagonist, as they keep cropping up every time they’ve moved into a new home. To me, Unpacking knows you can tell a lot about a person from the possessions they own, and that’s a crucial storytelling device.
Unbound: Worlds Apart
Developer Alien Pixel Studios
Publisher Alien Pixel Studios
Release Q2 2021
I’m a sucker for a good Metroidvania, and it looks like Unbound: Worlds Apart scratches the same itch. You play as Soli, a mystical hooded figure who conjures up magic portals that he can use to travel between different dimensions. You use these portals to solve puzzles and move throughout the world. In one such instance, opening a portal removes an obstacle that’s in your path, allowing you to cross through. Meanwhile, another portal would invert your gravity, letting you walk along the ceiling and avoiding any potential hazards that are located on the floor.
Of course, these portals only work in small bubbles and so you must keep resetting its position, which can make larger areas extremely dangerous when you need to pay attention to timing. In true Metroidvania fashion, there’s nonlinear story and gameplay present, meaning you can access different areas in multiple ways with more options opening up to you as you collect more portal types. And of course, there are many secret areas to discover too. It’s a lot more stripped down than other modern Metroidvanias such as Hollow Knight, but its charm holds the same spirit.