Steam Next Fest 2024 is here! We'll be covering a handful of demos for games big and small that we think you should be watching closely. As with every Steam Next Fest, we encourage you to wishlist the games we cover and try some out for yourself from February 5 - 12.
Yes, I’m on a vampire kick right now. No, I’m not sorry.
Here I was, thinking we were done with our February 2024 Steam Next Fest coverage... until I played the 90-minute demo for Cabernet. In my final sprint to play all of the demos I've downloaded during Next Fest, or as many as possible before they evaporate from Steam on February 12, I'm feeling remarkably grateful that I uncorked this tasty teaser of Cabernet.
The vampire narrative adventure game, set for a 2024 release, comes to us from indie developer Party for Introverts.
The story follows Liza, a newborn vampire in 19th-century Eastern Europe. She awakens in a creepy, dark basement, only to learn that she’s fresh from the grave and part of a mysterious undead world — a vampiric aristocratic society guided by the enigmatic Countess.
The game’s interactive, choices-matter narrative plays like a cross between a point-and-click adventure and a visual novel, and has you influencing Liza's skills, morality, and conversations with her new supernatural peers.
I was intrigued from the start. Cabernet’s demo opens rather uniquely… by having you guide the direction of your protagonist’s eulogy, delivered by her family members. Whatever choices you make here are part of the character creation process, and dictate where Liza’s starting skill points land — in arts, literature, science, and politics.
What reeled me in from there was the game’s worldbuilding and storytelling, which felt superbly paced and waxed a little bit poetic (as all vampire tales should, if you ask me).
We soon meet Liza as she wakes up feeble and confused, describing what she thinks is a horrible dream. But we as the player know it’s actually what it felt like for her to die, the moment her soul was tugged agonizingly from her body. It paints a haunting picture of simultaneous discomfort and relief, fear and yet total blissful ignorance.
I was captivated by the writing here and knew we were off to a good start. As I guided Liza toward an escape from the dark basement and into the shocking brightness and warmth of the manor’s ballroom upstairs, I was equally enthralled with Cabernet’s writing. In this luxurious room, it appears nobody gives a damn that a young woman in a dirt-covered nightgown just appeared out of nowhere — but they do remark on how bold she is to show her face in high society in such nasty garb. It quickly turns your stomach and tells you something’s not right.
You begin to overhear the conversations of the vampire cliques around the room, which gives you subtle exposition about the world, but it succeeds in not feeling like an info dump. I also appreciated that it didn’t undermine the protagonist’s intelligence by making the formal reveal of her vampirism a shock. Yes, she’s appalled and confused that this is real, but she’s also like, “Yeah, I kind of read the room.”
Liza encounters Countess Orlova, the lady of the house, who shows some mercy, offering a change of clean (and fancy) clothes and a refreshing sip from a glass of something red and thick that vampires in this world call “cabernet” as a euphemism but that definitely didn’t come from grapes.
Properly dressed, she begins to make the rounds and discovers the fate that has befallen her.
She meets Alisa, a vampire so bored with her dull immortality that she makes questionable decisions for the sake of entertainment, and Petya, a caring dollmaker — and human (invited as one of Alisa’s jokes). She meets Arban, who values honesty, gives great advice, and operates a literary salon. She gets lessons in your vampire RPG elements, like bat transformation and flying, hypnosis, and feeding on humans, from Hussar, a military man and the Countess’s right-hand man.
Each of the characters is fully voiced, which helps suck you into the world and is a rare treat for dialogue-driven indie games like this. Its caliber is increased by talent the likes of Samantha Béart and Brian David Gilbert.
As you talk and make decisions, you gain either humanity or nihilism points that allow you to appeal to people’s better nature or their more twisted side. For example, in your first experiment in hypnosis, you can guide the Countess’s human serf into either cutting down on his excessive drinking (humanity) or stealing from the Countess (nihilism). Although I tend to play games like these as a proper Good Egg, not every choice was so cut and dry. So, even if you're playing nice, you'll stumble your way into nihilism on occasion. For those who prefer to embrace the more demonic side of life, you'll enjoy making Liza into cutting words and coldness incarnate.
One detail that piqued my interest as I spun Liza around the room and into high society conversations was the game's glossary section, which you can look at in your menu alongside your character sheet and relationship page. In Cabernet, sometimes you'll read an unfamiliar word, phrase, or concept and be able to gain more context about it — for example, when Countess said Liza looked like a domovoi, or when Liza remarked on the covered mirrors in the house, a superstition that prevents the souls of the dead from getting lost.
There are categories for names and nicknames, cultural customs, phrases, folklore, and noteworthy people. This tells me that, along with satiating my curiosities and showing the depth of the developers' supernatural research, these terms are probably being clocked for a reason: to recall and whip out in later conversations as Liza continues to try to impress (and eventually consider romancing) those in her new aristocratic circle. Everyone knows rich people love to share the room with people who sound smart.
The “ethical” vampire has long been a concept ripe for exploration, and Cabernet’s morality system and metaphorical themes of vampirism as a stand-in for alcoholism take things straight to the source. While your feed meter stays full after just one drink during the demo, in the full game, you’ll have to drink blood regularly to survive. It’s up to the player to dictate how... and whether to fully embrace Liza’s monstrous new nature without concern for how it harms others.
I came away from this demo thinking that, for a game about vampires grappling with the shadows of immortality and bloodlust, Cabernet is a surprisingly human game.
Your response to an offhand question about whether human life is as important as vampire existence can have surprising consequences later.
Even Alisa, the vampire who gives off a commanding and eccentrically uncaring attitude, offers a glimpse of vulnerability as she probes you unexpectedly about the last time you watched a sunrise and felt the warm rays on your face.
What first caught my eye was Cabernet’s beautiful style, a 2D hand-drawn look with a unique grainy texture that gives the art a more analog feel, as if the elegantly dressed characters were lifted straight from an artist’s drawing paper. Seeing it in motion and paired with its impressive narrative and vampire RPG depth, it felt even more alive and ornate.
Give it a try while the demo is out during Steam Next Fest and get it on your wishlist while it ages to a full release, estimated for 2024.
Read more February 2024 Steam Next Fest demo impressions.