This game is aaaaaall about the narrative. Oxenfree’s story follows Alex, a teenage girl, struggling to cope with the recent death of her brother. At the same time she’s learning to accept her new stepbrother, Jonas.
The game starts with Alex, her stepbrother and her friends on a ferry to an abandoned island for a night of reminiscent fun. Soon after they arrive, Alex finds her hand-held radio is picking up strange signals and voices. After a brief interlude of teenage angst and conversation, Oxenfree dives into supernatural suspense.
Playing as Alex you explore the island and talk with friends, uncovering the secrets of Oxenfree’s characters and world as you do so.
Now for my thoughts on the game…
The game mechanics are quite simple but very cool. Your time is spent walking around a mostly 2D environment, usually with a friend or two. But the magic is in your radio that’s frequently used for clever interactions and lends itself well to the supernatural horror setting. You are also in constant conversation with a friend or two. Speech bubbles with multiple options to choose from appear over Alex’s head and you select the option or let them fade away if you choose to remain silent. You can offend other characters and change the course of the game by the selections you make.
Speaking of characters, all of the character backstories and dialogue is very realistic and interesting. You really want to get to know them, and quickly begin to translate their actions against their history.
So what didn’t I like about Oxenfree?
There was an hour or so in the middle of the game where I started to get bored of the constant chatter and seemingly useless choices to be made. Walking and talking, walking and talking and talking while walking. Also, the game map is a little tricky to use with various forks and alternative routes that can sometimes leave you frustrated (after walking for 30 minutes, only to find you went the wrong way and have to back track for screens and screens). Luckily, the story pulled me back in and I ended up finishing the game, quite content.
The only other brief annoyance was the intermittent “quizzes” towards the end of the game that depended on your knowledge of the island history. I tried my best to tune into island history points and listen read relevant plaques and signs but I think, since there are alternative routes to places, sometimes key areas are bypassed and then consequently I had no idea of correct answers. It’s not really important whether you “fail” the quiz or not, but it got on my nerves a bit.
Over all, the game made for an interesting and fun few hours. The interactive story and characters were the prize in this game. I definitely recommend everyone play it, no matter what your preference of game.