Do you ever dream about a place you know well? It could be your house, your school, your job, anywhere. The place is familiar, but there’s always something… off. A hallway will be where it doesn’t exist in real life, or windows and doors will be in the wrong places. You know exactly where you are, but your subconscious garbles it and mixes it together with other locations. Playing Off Peak felt exactly like a one of those dreams to me.
Dream or Reality?
Before we go into that heady stuff let’s throw down the facts. Off Peak’s goal, as its given to you, is to get a train ticket and catch your train to Rowayton. To do this you have to scour a large, cathedral-like train station for the shredded pieces of said ticket, utilizing simple first-person controls and interactions. Fairly easy, and a familiar goal of just about every indie horror game since Slender. While this game lacks for the same thrills, its not the gameplay that is meant to draw you in, but the concept of exploration.
What really, really hits home for me with Off Peak is the environment and atmosphere. Even using the lower quality Unity settings, the massive train station is a wonder to look at. Art is displayed on billboards like advertisements, the walls are covered in sculptures of skulls and fantastic graffiti. There’s an entire stairwell that might as well only exist to display the art on each landing, and a hump-back whale hangs from the main room’s ceiling of stars and galaxies. I felt like I was walking through a virtual modern art gallery.
Exploration, Visuals & Sound
Off Peak‘s terminal itself seems to be a replica of New York City’s Grand Central Station, and this is where I relate the game to a dream. The place looks so much like GCT, but also so different from it, with platform entrances in the wrong places and the stairs on the wrong sides. Having traveled through the terminal many times a week in the past, I can bet this is almost exactly what a dream about the place would actually look like. That your point-of-view is so small and low to the ground enhances this dream-like quality, like everything and everyone are just a bit too big. It’s like getting to explore a lucid dream without the fear of missing any details by waking up.
Pair the strange visuals and environment with the chill soundtrack, and you get a perfect soup of exploratory atmosphere. The creator of the game Cosmo D is the cellist for the band Archie Pelago, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that they did the score. I have a hard time describing the genre outside of “experimental,” but I thoroughly enjoyed how different parts of the terminal have different tracks that fade into one another as you approach. It’s a musical detail I can’t recall hearing since the likes of Rare’s N64 platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. You even get a free sample of the OST when you download the game’s .zip file!
There aren’t a ton of characters to interact with, but they’re interesting to listen to. A ramen stand owner describes the process of cooking like he’s conducting an orchestra, an old women giving away cookies talks about the echo of train cars long forgotten in the subway tunnels. Almost all the characters seem to be artists, who one way or another have their artistic prospects put on hold or are desperately clinging to them. If there’s a message, which there very well may be, it must be discerned by one’s self.
Final Thoughts on Off Peak
I could see many people becoming bored of Off Peak quickly if they’re not in the right head-space, or perhaps just aren’t into this kind of game. I would classify it as an “art game”, something that doesn’t really care that its supposed to be a game, and is more of an interactive experience. I’d say anyone who’s into that kind of strange, Jazzpunk-like weirdness should give it a go. It’s freeware that can be completed in less than an hour if you wanted, so why not give it a try?