It looks like Steam has quietly added a new feature: timed free game trials. While once upon a time (like a week ago), getting a 'free trial' of a game generally meant buying it, trying it out, and returning it before Steam's 2-hour refund window closed, it appears that publishers will now be able to offer time-limited demos in a more structured, formal way.
The first game to make use of the feature is this year's Dead Space remake (opens in new tab), which you can play for an hour and a half, but I imagine more will follow. It's all rather simple: You just pop over to the game's store page and hit Play Now, which will kick off the download in your Steam client and let you enjoy 1.5 hours of a very unhappy space station.
The trial seems to run alongside Dead Space's current sale, suggesting it'll only be available until May 29 (opens in new tab).
The speedrun record for 2023's Dead Space, by the way, is 1 hour 44 minutes (opens in new tab). Perhaps you can take in the entire game and set a new record in the process if you really blitz it. That sounds like an enjoyable way to play.
There's no word on if or when the free trial feature will be extended to other games, but I'd be baffled if it didn't crop up elsewhere down the line. The demo is a bit of a lost art in these digital-first days, but I think there's still a hunger on the part of many to try before they buy. With any luck, a Steam-supported free trial system could see demo versions become standard practice again, or at least more common than they are now.
That Dead Space remake is worth trying out, by the way. In his Dead Space review (opens in new tab) for PCG, our own Sean Martin scored the game 84% and praised it as a great example of "what Dead Space has always been: an intense, momentum-driven experience". Now you can easily experience that momentum for yourself, albeit for one and a half hours.