Developer: Cosmo D
This week I'm turning to a slightly older title and a genre of game (if it even is a genre) that I haven't explored before. Off-Peak is a short surreal first-person game where you explore an eclectic train station in a strange future world. Your goal is to collect pieces of a ripped-up ticket so you can catch a ride on the train, meeting some suspicious and ridiculous characters and exploring this abnormal station along the way.
It's not clear exactly where you're going with this train ticket or why you need to go there, but nonetheless the goal is to collect all of pieces of this train ticket. The train station has decorations ranging from creepy colorful skulls, to a giant aquarium, to real-life colorful ads. It's a truly bizarre collection of so many clashing items in one place. Some of the people you meet seem to have an eye on you and your actions, while some are just trying to move about their life. You learn through listening and through conversations that there's some sort of connection to the circus, which is why there are these "giants" that hang out in the train station. Off-Peak is an excellent preview of what a surreal game genre would be, since there's not a ton of games that fall into that category just yet. Despite it not quite being horror, the screenshot below even gives me vibes of Annihilation, a 2018 cosmic horror film.
Off-Peak is a free game, not due to of it's length or quality, but because it uses a good bit of trademarked content to create a mixed-up world with realistic references. It also clearly uses generic assets for some of it's items and characters, leading to often wonky and disproportionate art. However, this isn't so much a weakness as it is an important part of the feel of the game. Off-Peak feels very much like a deep dream: the details are pieces of real life places and recollections, thrown together, and the faces you see are familiar but yet don't seem quite right.
I don't care much for morality reward systems that treat give you some sort of judgement for how you play the game. Off-Peak gives you the freedom to behave as you choose in this station, but the repercussions for this are so comedic and quirky that it doesn't really feel like you're mean to play it any specific way. Of course, I had a whole run through the game where I did every chaotic thing I could because, you know, why not (and you may or may not get some achievements for it).
Off-Peak's soundtrack is completely unlike any game soundtrack I've heard. It's jazzy and relaxing, but at times abstract and electronic. It's such a combination of sounds but it really encapsulates the changing atmosphere of the station, especially the creeping unwelcome feeling. The OST by Archie Pelago is available on Bandcamp, I highly recommend this one even if you haven't played the game yet. It's incredible how much there is to this soundtrack for a game that only take about 45 minutes to play through.
It's difficult to describe what exactly this game is, but I can say it's a worthwhile and trippy experience. It's free and it will probably take less than an hour to play through. I decided to play it multiple times just because I wanted to dive back into this world and try doing things differently and be more observant to specific details. Off-Peak is just the type of art that is genuinely weird and a bit discomforting, without any explanation of what it's trying to say. It's an unusually fun, limitless, and creative experience of playing through what feels like a psychedelic dream.
Played on: PC (Steam)
Playtime: 2 hrs
How I heard about this game: Recommended by friend