Weirder Than Wonderland
Tales From Off-Peak City is the weirdest game I've ever played. If you ever wondered what an acid trip around Harlem was like but were too scared to take drugs, have I got something for you.
The game, or at least this first volume, has a plot. It’s just very hard to describe, much like trying to read a book looking through a kaleidoscope. You might get bits and pieces, but it’s very, very confusing. The basic gist involves getting dropped off in a neighborhood of Off-Peak City and requesting a job at the pizza parlor so you can steal the owner’s prize saxophone from his basement. I realize this sounds like a basic, if slightly odd, heist story, perfect for a stealth or adventure game, but hold on to your pants, it gets real weird real fast.
Your character is never given any background, nor a reason why this sax is so important it's worthy of being stolen, and you have no idea who your employers are. The game also includes several sentient buildings, including one that can eat a pizza, space lion statues, synthetic brain matter as a pizza topping, a man taking a bath in a tub full of olive oil and a riff off of Red Bull where the company workers swim in vats of their product that also have unexplained giant deer skulls floating around in them. By the time I finished, I was so confused that I promptly went back and replayed the original Off-Peak, then played The Norwood Suite, to see if I had missed some sort of major plot development in the series. I had not, making Tales from Off-Peak as accessible to newcomers as it is to longtime fans.
Gameplay is straightforward and explained to you right at the start. You will want to use a mouse for the optional photographs around town, but everything else works with whatever you throw at it. Ironically, there’s not a whole lot of complexity in the gameplay, and it takes no time to get the hang of. The most complicated part is the photography, and I use that word loosely even though all of the camera settings are labeled.
An episode of The Mighty Boosh once had its protagonists purport to discover a new musical note between B and C by taking a note, regenning it through itself, looping it back and then mixing it with the sound of a crab committing suicide, letting it stew in its own reverb for 3 hours and then pumping it out through an old leather shoe. I would like to present the theory that this note was used for the entirety of Tales from Off-Peak’s musical compositions. It’s not that it’s a bad soundtrack but it sounds a bit like jazz that’s gone wrong and you’re not quite sure how it did nor how to fix it.
Same as its predecessors, Tales from Off-Peak has a very unusual art style. It’s 3D animated and very classically blocky, with extremely artistic backgrounds, minimal details, and terrifyingly creepy characters. Everyone has faces, but they don’t look quite right and will often veer off into uncanny valley territory, almost as if someone took a real human face and plastered it over a minimally detailed carving of a head. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charm, but the style can take a little while to get used to. On the other hand, the backgrounds are amazing, and the level of details fading in and out as your distance from something changes is top-notch. It’s always sunset in Off-Peak City apparently, and that suits the game’s atmosphere just fine.
For those who have played previous entries in the series, the plot still doesn’t make sense, but there are a fun few little easter eggs you can find as you play through. Additionally, some characters from The Norwood Suite do make an appearance, confirming that this game is indeed set at a later time, but it’s not entirely clear how much time has elapsed in between.
Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1 is a fun, nonsensical romp through a bizarre world. If you’re looking for something with no real puzzles but plenty of atmosphere and weirdness, or if you’ve enjoyed the previous games in the Off-Peak series, it’s definitely one to add to your list. Clocking in at about 2 or 3 hours total playtime, Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1 is at least reliably weirder than the world we live in right now.
TechRaptor reviewed Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1 on Steam with a code provided by the developer.
- Bizarre Plot and Premise
- Wonderfully Weird Art and World Design
- Confusing At Every Turn