Let’s Celebrate Some Demos!

Today’s the third day of the recent Steam Next Fest, and I’m having a blast sorting through delicious demos of highly promising (and not-so-promising) games. Here are six titles that deserve to keep an eye on in the future. I’m sure that at least one of them is destined to become the next indie darling, but time will tell.

My focus is primarily on strategy-adjacent genres. Although I’ve played some action games, they didn’t make the cut yet.

Galaxy Pass Station
Planned Release Date: April 2023

Galaxy Pass Station is a charming fusion of space station management and border control simulation. Basically, it’s a mix of Startopia and Papers, Please, and I genuinely dig this concept. You’re in control of the space station through which most of the traffic to and out of the Solar System flows. You’ll have to check the passports while keeping in mind that each species has different bureaucratic intricacies.

But there’s a catch—the intergalactic alien council is testing humanity, and you are the control group. So if your station gets too many negative reviews, humanity will be wiped out. So yeah, never mind the pixelated cuteness—prepare for a pretty stressful experience. The station has to be clean, visitors have to be fed and entertained, robotic bureaucrats’ batteries must always be charged, etc. Frankly, it should have been expected—being inspired by Papers, Please comes bundled with stress, and the game embraces it full-time. UI bombards you with shiny and abundant visual information that highlights the sheer amount of things you must constantly keep in mind.

There are still some minor technicalities that I hope shall be fixed by the time of the release, like pixel-hunting for the specific character when the station is crowded, but nothing serious.

King’s Orders
Planned Release Date: TBD

King’s Orders is a grand strategy game with a bold and interesting twist—almost every player’s action is performed by initiating an official royal order. If you want to see what’s going on in the specific province, you send an official request to the relevant steward with a demand to prepare a report. If you want to infiltrate a spy somewhere behind the enemy lines, you write this spy a letter with specific orders and receive the report when everything’s done. When battles are finished, your generals prepare detailed reports with everything that happened on the battlefield. Almost everything is presented strictly in the epistolary form. You even can sometimes intercept your adversary’s messengers and shed light on their plans.

This is a hazardous concept. On the one hand, I love it! It intensifies immersion and, combined with schematic art direction, really makes you feel like you are sitting in a safe and cozy palace with a crown on your head.
On the other hand, there are many extra clicks—eventually, it becomes quite burdensome. It reminded me of the UI philosophy of the strategy games from the ‘90s: 90% style and 10% usability. I don’t know if it can be fixed, but I really hope the developers will figure something out.

Planned Release Date: 09/02/2023 (It’s tomorrow!) Edit: July 2023 (Sorry! I missed this announcement.)

Typical RTS. So typical that it actually feels refreshing. It’s also obviously a mix between Dune 2000 and C&C Generals. UI comes from the latter, and everything else from the former. Only one of three factions is playable in the demo, but it’s pretty evident that they are basically Harkonnen (“powerful and heavy troops”), Ordos (“sophisticated devices and stealth technology”), and Atreides (“speed and lethality”). There are also sand worms, which are called sand snakes here. And the word barkhan literally means dune.

The game will hardly surprise anybody, but it is so straightforward and… well, typical, that I found it very enjoyable.
There are some technical problems, though—pathfinding is hardly the best I’ve ever seen, and you can’t put on hold or cancel the production of buildings and units, which is at least strange. Oh, and you can’t crash infantry with heavy vehicles! Seriously? Developers, you have a day to patch it in! Tick-tock!

Lakeburg Legacies
Planned Release Date: Q2 2023

Lakeburg Legacies seems like a town builder with production chains and all, but it’s practically a matchmaking dating sim. On the one hand, you build a town and produce goods; on the other hand, you’re all into matchmaking your townsfolk. Remember Cultures? You need babies for your town to grow. But Lakeburg Legacies focuses mainly on the love chemistry between people, leaving the town management on the fringes of attention.

I don’t know if we should consider Lakeburg Legacies a strategy game. It’s more like a resource management and visual novel. But the certain thing is that this game is charming as hell and very pleasant to play. I’m sure that my heart is merely one of the thousands this game will conquer.

And remember, all people are different, and it’s okay that relationships don’t always work out. It’s just awesome when there’s something that gives you both pleasure—who told you that there’s nothing romantic in public executions?

Planned Release Date: Q1 2023

Oxygen is a town-building game with a popular surviving aspect of it. A natural disaster struck the Earth, depriving the planet’s atmosphere of most of the oxygen. Now a handful of survivors must continue surviving in this hostile and dangerous world.

I won’t go into details about this game—it’s Banished in a dystopian sci-fi setting. If it’s your thing—you’ll find it enjoyable.

Oxygen needs some tweaking, though. For far too long (for my taste), I’ve sped up the time in-game while just waiting for things to be done. The game’s setting implies far more challenge and stressfulness during the gameplay than I’d practically experienced.

Phantom Brigade
Planned Release Date: 28/02/2023

Squad tactics game with giant robots from developers of Crypt of the Necrodancer?


Turns are simultaneous—there is a planning phase when you determine your squad’s actions in segments of 5 real-time seconds. Like a passionate choreographer, you feel the joy of witnessing the dance of destruction unraveling before your eyes after scrupulous planning.

Of course, tactical battles are framed by the macro-management strategical mode with base management and everything like that, like in every X-com-like game that respects itself. And, of course, you can customize your mechs! Sorry, your giant robots.

This game is excellent. I can’t wait to buy it at play the hell out of it.

The list of demos I downloaded with a clear intention to try out is still not over. Far from it! But I should rest now. A couple of hours of sleep will be sufficient enough to stay alive. I hope…

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