Available On: Xbox One, PC
Where To Buy: Steam, Xbox Live
Oxenfree is a tale about friendship encompassed by a supernatural thriller. However, instead of having one theme dictate the other, Oxenfree seamlessly fuses these two ideas to produce an incredibly poignant story. Over the course of 6-8 hours, you will create a bond with these characters, discover who these people are and how they feel about one another. Oxenfree accomplishes this ambitious feat by utilizing great writing, intriguing characters and a revolutionary dialogue system which culminates in an impeccable experience.
Oxenfree is an adventure game and as such, the story is paramount. Without spoiling important plot points, the premise is that a group of five teenagers is sneaking off during a school break to an abandoned military outpost named Edward Island. You play as Alex and the group consists of her new half brother Jonas, Ren, Clarissa and Nora. There is a disharmony among the group that will become unveiled as the adventure progresses. A paranormal element arises when Alex, Ren, and Jonah disturb a mysterious force found deep within a strange cave. The consequence of this endeavor will have the group confronting the demons of their past, present and future whilst discovering their true identities and more importantly, their afflictions towards each other.
Oxenfree shares many similarities with the TV show Lost as the grand objective is to leave the island, however, there is a mysterious presence preventing this from occurring. The reason that Lost was such a huge success was attributed to the fact that the characters and their interactions were captivating, which is the case found here. Oxenfree’s core group and their relationships are just as compelling as the unknown. That being said, the supernatural element within Oxenfree can be terrifying and dark. You will witness some truly horrifying moments and the gameplay formula is warped when this is infused.
Equipped with a frequency radio, you are able to scan for signals wherever you are. You may tune into songs or tourist information whilst turning the dial, but occasionally stumbling across a frequency will result in a dark occurrence unfolding. ‘Hangman’ will mean something to you when you reach that moment and rest assured there are a number of equally traumatizing episodes that lie ahead.
Over the course of the game, you will not only discover who Alex is, but you will even have the opportunity the sculpt her identity. Every member of the group is fully fleshed out and contrasting from one another. The writing and voice over for each is of an extremely high standard that feels natural and enchanting. The teens can be funny too which lightens the mood when things become somewhat overwhelming. There are no weak individuals here and you may dislike some of them, however, they are all equally fascinating.
The best gameplay component in Oxenfree is simply conversing with others. Conversations occur dynamically as you explore the island. The beautiful thing about the talking options in Oxenfree is that you do not have to stop and converse, rather you can be climbing or traversing whilst sustaining a conversation. Using a controller was my preferred method as you always use the same three buttons for verbal choices and the fourth button for action commands. This makes the whole game flow seamlessly and listening to dialogue felt like second nature.
The dialogue mechanics are context sensitive. You can literally walk away from any conversation and that will be noted, on the flip side you can walk into a conversation midway through and hear something that you shouldn’t. You genuinely feel as though your words carry weight and the others listen when you retort. These mechanics allowed me to fully inhabit Alex. Subconsciously I would face characters as they spoke to me or even turn my back on others when I did not want to hear what they had to say.
What amazed me was just how much I related to the issues that these teens were experiencing. The events here contain powerful moments and the developers do not lightly gloss over sensitive topics. Death is an important part of this journey and that is something that sadly we would all have experienced. A particularly touching moment was having the opportunity to say something to someone in the past, knowing it was the last time you would see them. If you could change a significant moment with the benefit of hindsight, would you? These are the types of questions Oxenfree will ask of you and it can be tough.
Other than a map and a frequency radio, this is the entirety of the game but despite that, it never felt empty. At times, you will need to venture to certain locations. The map is more of an artistic drawing as opposed to being informative and I often found myself struggling to plot my route. The pace with which you walk across the island can be slightly tedious and you will find yourself retreading a lot of territories. Thankfully, the flow of conversation always had me engrossed but occasionally, when the dialogue pauses, the journey can become a bore. The art design and areas look beautiful but there is a lack of interactivity with the surroundings which left with me with little to do.
Oxenfree has a number of endings and they can be obtained in different ways. There are some black and white definitive choices to be made, but the overall conclusion will stem from your relationships with the others. Your dialogue choices do not progress the main story but instead construct the entire experience. There is an achievement/trophy for having everyone like you, everyone dislike you or never saying a word throughout the entire game, this should give you an indication of how flexible this journey can be. The ending that you receive truly feels like the one that you have crafted.
When Oxenfree concluded I sat there with a number of conflicting emotions. My story was over and I had to see the outcome of that. I found myself thinking about all the choices I made… At the time, they seemed correct but I started to doubt myself. Should I have been nicer to Clarissa? Should I have asked Jonah to come with me? I had an urge to start my play through over again, yet what I had experienced was very personal to me. The only unequivocal thought I had was that Oxenfree will stay with me for a long time.
- Gameplay: Dynamic Conversations and Relationship Building
- Graphics: Beautifully Elegant Art Style
- Sound: Perfectly Executed Dialogue
- Presentation: Intuitive Control Scheme and Engrossing From The Start
- Brilliant Writing
- Interesting Characters
- Powerful Story
- Great Dialogue Mechanics
- Traversing Can Take Time
- Confusing Map