BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
By Sam Jones
Developer: Night School Studios
Publisher: Night School Studios
Initial release: January 15, 2016
Platforms: XBone, PS4, PC
So, this one’s perhaps a tad late, I admit. Oxenfree, for whatever reason, only just came out on PS4 the other week, which is this one’s platform of choice, so if you’re wondering why the hell it took me 5 months to review this thing, that would be why.
Also this blog didn’t technically exist back in January, so y’know, that’s something of a factor.
But I digress, I’m meant to be talking about the game. Oxenfree is a quirky little adventure game from Night School Studios that puts you in the shoes of Alex, a junior high student who takes a trip out to local tourist trap Edwards Island for a cheeky all-night kegger with her fellow schoolmates. Alex and her pals end up having a wonderful night that goes off completely without incident, and they all go home safe and sound in the morning.
(He said, with great sarcasm). Yeah, shit gets actually gets super weird, who’d of thought, right?. I would say more, but honestly, I’d kinda ruin the whole thing for you if I did, so I’m just gonna leave it at that.
And its a good thing I am leaving at that too, because Oxenfree’s story is by far and away its highlight: it’s wonderfully engaging and loaded with compelling mystery, suspense and good ol’ fashioned supernatural weirdness of the best kind: the kind that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until you’ve seen it out till the end. Seriously, this was one of the first games I’ve played in a while where once I started, I really didn’t want to stop, and even once I was “done” with it, I pretty much went back in for the next go-around straight away. Again, I would really like to go into detail about it, but in the interest of not detracting from the experience, I’m gonna abstain. Alex and her friends are also very likeable characters as well, which does all the more to draw you into the story. The dialogue and interplay between Alex and her friends is sharp, witty, and natural more often than not. Players also get to choose Alex’s responses every time the opportunity arises for her to say something, which can be as many as three different responses, or even none at all if the player so chooses. While some of these choices in responses tend to be along the same lines, the subtle differences and nuances nevertheless make these dialogue choices feel significant when they emerge, and some seemingly innocuous moments of conversation can have a big impact later down the line. That said, however, the dialogue does suffer from the oft-encountered problem that many adult writers face when writing dialogue for teenage characters: namely that they don’t exactly sound like teenagers. Being as well-written as it, however, this is a fairly minor quibble, as all the cast of Oxenfree are appealing enough in their own way that you really come to care about each of them in one way or another.
While Oxenfree is generally classified as an adventure game, its actual gameplay is fairly minimalistic in terms of what you actually do. There’s little in the way of proper puzzles or action sequences, and much of the game is simply spent wandering the island as Alex (oftentimes accompanied by her step-brother Jonas or one of her other friends), following one clue to unravelling the island’s mysteries after the next. Alex’s main tool throughout is her hand-held radio, that you’ll be using very frequently to solve what constitutes the game’s “puzzles”, which is just tuning into different frequencies on the radio till you find the right one. While there’s a couple of sequences that offer up something a little more challenging, this is the extent of the “challenges” encountered in the game in the conventional sense: the main draw is exploring the island itself, and really the fun and adventure of unravelling the island’s mysteries alongside Alex and co. while listening to their smooth, witty banter is engaging enough that throwing out perfunctory challenges or puzzles for the player to slog through would have really detracted from the sense of adventure one gets from just exploring the island.
Its should also be said that Oxenfree is a beautiful game too, both visually, and also in the audio apartment. The art style could be best described as a stylised form of cel-shading that gives everything this really appealing water-colour look: the pulled-out perspective that the game takes place from also helps to enhance the beauty of the visual design, accentuating the simple beauty its minimalist direction. The sound track is also very appealing: a mixture of slow and soft electro-synth music with a distinct 80s twinge that alone just filled me up with emotion for lost days of innocence and nostalgic adventure that I’m fairly certain doesn’t exist in my life to get emotional about, but I nevertheless felt regardless.
Oxenfree is a wonderful little game, filled to the brim with personality, beauty, and feeling. While it’s not a challenge-laden game, its well-crafted narrative and characters, and creative direction ultimately make up for it by completely sucking you and not letting you go until the end…or even beyond it. Suffice it to say, I could not recommend it more.