Cookies Review – Definitely Lost My Deposit After That
Developed by Stef Pinto
Published by Penquin Games
Available on PC
MSRP: Pay what you want
Cookies is insane. I want to start off by letting you know, that Cookies is probably one of the wildest games I’ve played this year. You play as an unnamed resident of a huge apartment block in Darby, Florida. You start your journey by seeing that your drug hookup is being arrested. You console yourself with the fact that you still have shrooms in your apartment. As you enter the grimy, dingy, downright disgusting building, you’re immediately hit with a feeling. That feeling is best described as, “wow, Silent Hill, Twin Peaks, and The Wire made messy love all over Candyman while watching reruns of Bozo the Clown.” That’s a bit crass, but it’s really the feel that Cookies is bringing to the table.
Whereas Manhunt had you doing murders for a sick snuff auteur, Cookies has you just trying to enjoy your day in a not-so-sunny Florida. There is a video filter over the visuals that gives the whole game the look of a weird bit of found footage that you might find floating around the weird part of YouTube. To me it looks like nostalgia. The dilapidated hallways and rows of apartment doors feel like opportunity. You can go up to your apartment and get your shrooms, which will lead to some shenanigans involving a talking rat and the downfall of humanity, but that would put a damper on the other activities happening in the building.
Cookies is open-ended in how you progress. Different items can unlock other items on top of other items all in service to what the game calls “threads”. These story threads can, like all good loose threads, be pulled to create different outcomes in the drug-ravaged weave of Cookies. While you might be content to feed the rat king and bring about the end of humanity, that would only be the pull of one thread. There are 10 total threads to follow in Cookies, and as you progress they just get wilder and wilder. Do you want to trade some human flesh to exiled Russian separatists to get a designer drug made of bug killer so that you can become higher than any human being has ever been? Go for it. Do you want to join a UFO cult and meet their celestial god? Go for it.
This open-ended style of exploration lends itself well to Cookies. At the cost of pay what you want, the replay value alone is worth as much as a full blown commercial release. I’ve been playing for hours and haven’t pulled all the threads. I did notice that some threads unlock permanent items that persist throughout playthroughs, which comes in handy with things like the “three piece”, a pistol that can be unlocked for use in all subsequent playthroughs. You’ll need that pistol. I’m talking a lot about the weirdness, and I bet you’re wondering if Cookies is scary. Yes. It is absolutely unnerving at points.
There is what could be generously referred to as a shop on one of the floors of the apartment block. It’s essentially a desiccated hand springing forth from a box, but money talks and it’d be happy to sell you some cool stuff. One of the things you can buy is a circus ticket. You might think that would be useless in a game about drugs and madness, and you’d be wrong. On the third floor of the apartments there is a door festooned with streamers and surrounded by balloons and presents. I’ll spoil you a bit and let you know that a circus ticket will get you in. Once you get in, you might not like what you find. It might send you screaming in blind terror to a…less festive part of the apartments.
Cookies excels in making you uncomfortable. The dim lighting and VHS filter will set you on edge. I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack. It’s an ugly and brutal thing’ demented slowed down calliopes, driving beats, and I think I even heard an emergency weather alert sound in there. There are keening wails and the sound of static playing most of the time: the sounds of a decaying apartment block. You would think it would get tiring, but in the way it’s used, it just adds to the overall air of desperation and dread that permeates this little slice of paradise. The times I felt especially on edge were unexpected sounds. Stuff like a squeaky honking noise coming from a certain circused-up apartment on the third floor.
If you decide to dive into Cookies, and you should, you’ll find a love note to urban squalor. It’s a strange thing to write a love note about, but it works. Developer Stef Pinto has an unmistakable flair for this type of thing and it shows. I’m frankly amazed that this is their first big project. If you feel like tripping out on some weirdness, you can pick up Cookies here.