To be honest, Oxenfree is not the type of game I would normally find myself picking up and playing, but hot damn am I glad I did. Although short in length, it’s a beautiful game, filled with great visuals, crazy storylines and a sense that you could have been one of the characters at some point in your life. Despite this though, the ending does leave a little to be desired.
How we meant to listen to Triple J Hottest 100 with all this supernatural static?
Night School Studio’s debut game Oxenfree is set on an island where you play Alex, a teeny bopper high school student in the last year of school. There is a party on the island that you are attending and you are stuck bringing your new step brother Jonas along for the ride. Through a bunch of “accidental” mishaps, you and your friends on the island manage to create a rift between the living and the supernatural, and this is where Oxenfree starts to pick up the pace.
The gameplay is a general walk around and solve mysteries to advance type game, which would normally bore me half to death, but it’s the selectable dialog options that really drive this game to a different place. I would often get caught up in weird conversations with the other characters, many of which are possible conversations I could have had with friends in real life (albeit with decidedly darker undertones). Oxenfree’s dialog gameplay really makes you question your (Alex’s) relationship to everyone in the game, especially your close friend Ren, a massive stoner who you care about but can’t help blame for everything. Despite most of the creepy interactions taking place between Alex and the supernatural, some of the best dialog is between her and her friends.
The dialog usually contains three choices and although you could say they are nice, neutral and mean, I often felt like any choice could unexpectedly turn into a humourous back-handed comment and this was quite fun. Seeing how far you could push the friendship before it broke or worse was a great aspect of the game. That and the moments where you bounce back in time….that’s right…BACK IN TIME!!
Oxenfree’s writers have cleverly used time loops to replay a scene again and again and again, often with twisted and horrible outcomes. While some of these moments did seem tedious to replay and didn’t really offer anything more than some bland conversation, when they nailed it the results were sublime.
Choice plays a large part in your perspective of Oxenfree’s story. One scene plays out in a large area of the map and I was given an opportunity to determine the dark nature of the supernatural being which drives the game. This was amazing to do, but ended in a death so real and well developed that you feel gutted when it occurs. The good news is that it is completely avoidable if you play a different way and this is what Oxenfree does best, builds you up or knocks you down depending on your choices. It makes you feel that although your choices have a tangible impact, you are nonetheless helplessly subject to the whims of fickle destiny, and unforeseeable circumstances can and do arise.
How did we get up here? This isn’t Country Kitchen Buffet!!
I think the LSD has started to kick in. . .
The mix of 2D side scrolling gameplay with 3D graphical touches comes through elegantly. It’s surprising that a game which only allows you to move up, down, left and right was able to make it seem so fluid and real
Originally intending to play this on Xbox, I was sad to learn it was inexplicably unavailable in Australia on that platform. This led me to play it on PC and I am really glad I did. Moving around with keyboard and mouse really does suit the gameplay style and I really couldn’t imagine doing it with a controller.
Oxenfree certainly isn’t without its flaws though, as some of the gameplay is frustrating and sometimes just too drawn out. Traveling from one side of the island to the other without a run feature did make some parts of the story drag and although conversations are had during these sections, I often felt they weren’t as important as what was to come. There is also a period where the radio which is used to tune into the supernatural gets upgraded. This was both a blessing and a curse as the new features unlocked by the upgrade were fun but the frequency range of the radio was large and did involve a lot of mouse swiping to get through. It’s a small flaw but the length of time I spent rolling through frequencies was a touch frustrating.
Roxanne You don’t have to put on the red light
The stars are particularly square tonight. . . beautiful!
The graphics are simply beautiful in the game. The mix of 2D side-scrolling gameplay with 3D graphical touches comes through elegantly. It’s surprising that a game which only allows you to move up, down, left and right was able to make it seem so fluid and real. Be it the moving stars in the background, the shaking grass or the horrifying events unfolding, all of them are well executed visually and really add to the overall experience. The developers really paid excellent attention to how everything interacts, especially in the moments when the supernatural were appearing. The glitch time loop moments were also well accented graphically through the use of distorted displays and eerie static across the top and bottom of the screen, much like you would get on an old VHS if you had pushed pause. It was a clever touch which adds to the gameplay and overall atmosphere. My mid-tier rig was for the most part more than adequate to run Oxenfree as it isn’t too graphically demanding, but I did find small frame rate issues along the way however, especially when big scenes were occurring.
The ending to Oxenfree is interesting though it did leave me wanting more, which is good because it forced me to play the game again. Being able to understand how all my dialog choices and actions had inadvertently affected the ending did make me want to try different options. Locating all the hidden anomalies (tuned into with the radio) and hidden letters that give more flesh to the story is another enticing reason to go back and try again.
Creepy Abandoned Building. . . Sure why not?!
Oxenfree is a great debut for Night School Studios and I expect bigger indie releases from them in the future. The gameplay, visuals and storyline combine to form an engaging experience that really sucks you in. The game is let down slightly by some missed opportunities and some small nagging gameplay choices, but overall they can be excused. Oxenfree is a great indie title that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a unique, character-driven adventure game.