There’s nothing to be ashamed about here, but I love the so-called “walking simulators,” a sub-genre dubbed during the Gone Home debates of 2013 over whether such-and-such was worthy of being called a videogame. I get that these more methodical, gun-less experiences are not every gamer’s cup of button-pushing tea. I can understand that, but for me, plopping me down in some new and untouched world and asking me to simply walk around it, slowly, and see how it ticks is one of the greatest joys videogames can give me. Heck, for most of my many early hours in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, I just walked from town to town via the king’s road, scouring houses and bookshelves and talking to citizens, avoiding fights at all cost. I didn’t actually want to be a wizard or warrior, simply a man or woman (or cat being) with plenty of curiosity and the means to travel the world.
That said, not all walking simulators are equal, as I found Dear Esther beautiful but boring. Seems like I need either a lot of things to examine in close detail as in Gone Home or something zany to happen every three footsteps like in Jazzpunk to keep me actively engaged. Off-Peak from Archie Pelago cellist Cosmo D is more of the former than the latter of that previous statement, but the stuff you are examining is so bizarre and jarring that you can’t help but walk around in a daze–eyes wide, mouth agape, brain nearly breaking. It instantly reminded me of the first time, as a wee boy, I got my hands on a book of paintings by Salvador Dalí, the Spanish artist and Surrealist movement leader best known for his depictions of melting clocks. I was young, a dedicated reader to all things cute, cuddly, and in the comics section of the Sunday newspaper, and then suddenly I was slept away into a foreign land, where the common quickly became uncommon.
Off-Peak is a short first-person adventure game, centered around a train station. You, whoever you are, must gather up pieces of a torn train ticket and move on with your life; as you search this giant area and its subsequent nooks, crannies, and hidden passageways, you’ll run into a number of colorful characters, as well as witness equally as colorful art, whether in statue, painting, or graffiti form. What’s really nice is that this world is yours to explore at your own speed, in any direction–the ticket pieces can be collected in any order. Quickly, you’ll discover that things in Off-Peak are a bit…off (peak), a world where the fate of musicians and artists is unclear, but their tools are highly praised and desired. Meanwhile, the sprawling train station provides a handful of food and entertainment spots for every kind of commuter to help pass the time between rides. Naturally, someone is reaping the benefits of such a money-making hub, and you’ll end up crossing paths with this element before the end.
I did not understand the story, nor the dressings around it, but it all remained fascinating nonetheless. The board game room, the ramen noodle shop, the Chinese garden filled with strange shapes and statues…I couldn’t help but drink it all in. Even the part where you climb a set of stairs for seemingly forever with nothing much to see, only a smooth electronica jazz soundtrack to pepper your footsteps. Considering the game was made by a musician, music plays a vital part to both the narrative and exploration, and I found nothing to dislike.
Undoubtedly, Off-Peak is not for everyone. It is a collage of sights and sounds, with nothing traditional to it, unless you believe walking around a space to be a standard classic of the industry. Um, which I do. The game’s conclusion didn’t satisfy me from a story perspective, but again, that wasn’t what I was digging for here from step one. However, if any of what I’ve written about has got you all tingly on the inside, then do yourself a favor, grab a copy of the game over at itch.io, and lose yourself in another realm for an hour or so. Wall art will never be the same afterwards.