Review: Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1

15 May 2020

I love the indie scene, positively adore it. It’s an endless stream of ideas too off the wall for mainstream publication. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but more often than not they leave something with you.

Tales from Off-Peak City Vol. 1 comes from the same creator as The Norwood Suite and Off-Peak, and takes place in the same universe, but if you haven’t played either don’t worry, they’re not required to enjoy the game. It releases May 15th, 2020 on Steam.

Dinner and a Show

Tales from Off-Peak City opens interestingly enough. You’re on a boat tasked with stealing a saxophone from the local pizzeria owner Caetano, but everything is just a bit… off. The tunnel you go through at the beginning just sinks behind you as you pass behind it. Several buildings have giant talking heads. Everyone moves oddly. Something about the color of everything is just slightly wrong.

You’re given the most glowing of recommendations and find yourself hired on the spot, making pizzas for the residents of the city while conducting your own research into what’s going on and how to delve deeper into Caetano’s apartment and ultimately make off with the saxophone.

Even as you get to intimately know the intersection of July and Yam, there are more questions for every answer, most dealing with the mysterious corporations that have a stranglehold on the town. There’s a real sense of getting just a small taste of a bigger picture here, and I really dig it.

Tales from Off-Peak City does something I love about indie titles as well: It really dives into the mind of its creator. Early on you can pick up a camera and find rolls of film scattered about that apply different filters to the pictures you take… it’s never needed, and it feels like it was added solely because the developer, Cosmo D, wished it to be there. Likewise there’s the setting itself which, despite being utterly bizarre, manages to capture the feel of a poor urban environment. And lastly there’s the emphasis on music, from the initial quest of tracking down a saxophone, to the game’s soundtrack itself coming from various speakers and boomboxes throughout the world.

It feels less like something created with the intent of making a fun product and more like something crafted out of someone’s individual experiences.

Any Way You Slice It

For better or worse there’s not a lot of gameplay in Tales from Off-Peak City. You explore the city finding optional collectibles, talk to people to find out more about what’s going on, collect items to open up new areas, and make pizzas for your clients.

It’s largely like a first-person take on the point-and-click adventure genre, but figuring out where to go next is often pretty trivial. Poke around the latest area you’ve opened up, usually with a delivery, for new items and use the funds from your delivery job to purchase whatever only item you can afford to unlock another door.

That said, it’s still a story that I feel is made better by being interactive. The surreal nature of the environment is enhanced by putting you in the main character’s shoes, and it’s ultimately up to the player how in-depth they decide to investigate. One could theoretically run through the game without any knowledge of the larger narrative by just running past the NPCs, delivering whatever pizzas need delivering and buying whatever they can find that looks like it’d fit a puzzle lock. There’s also a noticeable difference between my first playthrough where I mostly focused on pushing forward, and my second playthrough where I took the time to check in with everyone at each story beat and ask them about various items, getting myself some vital clues in the process.

That said, I do have to criticize the lack of choice overall. That’s not to say there are no choices, but what few you have don’t appear to matter. You can make pizzas however you wish, even as just toasted bread, but you’ll still get paid the same and they’ll usually have a mix of positive and negative things to say regardless. There’s a point where you can decide which order to take next, but you’ll need to do both before you can proceed to the next step anyway. There’s items you can purchase, but only the camera and a single pizza ingredient are actually optional, and outside of those you only have the one thing you can afford at any time: Whatever you need next.

A Perfect Pie

Honestly, the aesthetics are what sells this game. It’s not high fidelity graphics, but that’s also not what it’s trying to go for. It has an artistic vision it’s going for, and it jumps in feet first. It’s surreal, oddly nostalgic, and fits well with a world that’s not all what it seems at first glance.

The soundtrack is phenomenal. Simple catchy beats conveying the mood of each part of the town, all portrayed in a diagetic way that reminded me of my own childhood in a large city and its background of street musicians and boomboxes.

It’s a surreal world of talking buildings, blatantly evil corporations, and the shattered remnants of a once-thriving music scene crushed under the weight of said corporations. Every choice in the art and music serves to emphasize these, letting you sink into the experience.

A Small Dish

I’m a big advocate for saying that longer games are not necessarily better games. This game is exceptionally short, at about an hour for a playthrough, but it spends that hour well. You’re given enough time to get to know the cast, explore the city, and leave once the city’s secrets have been laid bare and the remaining answers lie beyond in a later volume.

At $10, I think it’s a worthwhile hour spent. It definitely left an impact on me.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Cosmo D Studios for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.