Oh, Oxenfree, you are the game of hide-and-seek I hope I never have to play in real life because seriously, ain’t no way I’m seeking freaky ghosts.
If you haven’t heard of Oxenfree, here I am, telling you about it now! It’s short, it’s relatively cheap, and it’s a fun and puzzling story. That’s it, that’s the review, now go play it!
…Okay, so that’s not really the review, but the point still stands. Oxenfree follows a group of teens as they participate in the annual tradition of going out to an island and partying before the start of their senior year. Unfortunately, it goes very, very wrong. The characters are interesting, the story keeps you guess long after the Game Over screen, and the game mechanics do some very interesting things.
Gameplay & Visuals
Visuals wise, there isn’t a whole lot to speak of. The game is pretty, I’m certainly not saying it isn’t. The environments look like a painted landscape, and could very well be considered a piece of art. The overall style of the game is also very unique, very fitting of the teen, hipster vibe the characters actually sort of portray. However, I don’t think it does anything off the maps in terms of graphics. There are no cut scenes, no close up of the characters other than a few pictures the characters take in game. So while pretty, I can’t honestly say it’s very exciting, and had the characters not grown on me, I’m not sure I could have sat through them for the four and a half hours it took me to beat Oxenfree.
Gameplay and mechanics wise, I feel like this game takes some risks. I also feel like those risks pay off. You interact with the world via a radio that you can tune to hear music, historical background of places you visit, and voices from the great beyond. The way the supernatural manifests in this world is pretty nifty too, without giving too much away. There’s also a pretty cool twist at the end, as far as the game mechanics go, but I will leave that to you to discover.
Story, Characters, & Atmosphere
I’ll be honest. When I started this game up, I didn’t think I would actually finish it. I thought, “Gee, what a waste of my twenty bucks.” I struggled with the interface, the graphics didn’t catch me, and the characters seemed kind of flat. Oh ho ho, I ate those words!
The characters grew on me so much! Everyone has their own distinct personalities and motivations. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all of the main character, Alex’s, friends. Because there are so many different combinations of who you can take with you at any given time, you can get to know the characters as much or as little as you’d like. By the end of the game, I really did feel like everyone had grown closer.
The story starts out meh, but it quickly evolves into something that had me unwilling to stop playing. Getting to the bottom of the mystery of the island and the strange voices and goings-ons that unfold around Alex and company became a compulsion. I was determined to solve the mystery and save all my friends, no matter the cost. However, you totally don’t have to play that way. Night School Studio creates so many options in how to play this game that you can honestly be as involved or uninvolved in the mystery as you want. You can commit yourself to saving all your friends or you can choose to go a different route. If there’s anything I love in a game, it’s different story options. These are the kind of things that will keep me coming back to a game again and again just so that I can get the full picture.
This game went for creepy, and in my opinion, it totally nailed it. Granted, static freaks me out (thanks for that, The Ring), so the constant radio tuning and effed up voices from beyond gave me the worst of the worst heeby jeebies, but even without that, there are some truly messed up things going on. It’s hard to talk about the creep factor without giving away spoilers, but I will say this – the ending gave me chills, and I may or may not have left my bedside lamp on when I went to sleep that night.
In the short span of four and a half hours, Oxenfree went from a game I thought I’d just wasted money on to a game that I couldn’t put down. I’m actually kind of chomping at the bit to find the time to play again. There seems to be a divide on how satisfactory people find the ending, and while I can totally see why, I feel like it’s done right and well. It keeps you guessing, and it keeps you thinking. The fan theories about this game are pretty cool, so I highly suggest checking those out once you finish the game.
This is one of those games I say don’t give up on if at first you aren’t sure because I only found it getting more and more intriguing as time went on. I am actually considering repurchasing it when it comes out on PS4, just so I can have it on my main system (and also a little so that I can see the beautiful landscapes on a bigger screen).