Indie Game Spotlight: Oxenfree

This may be the hardest review I’ve written yet. Partially due to not wanting to spoil any of this amazing adventure, and because I’m nearly speechless from the experience. Oxenfree is part adventure, part psychological thriller where the players’ choices change the way the game plays out.  I’d been waiting to play this game for a while and because it’s 75% off on Steam until October 10th, I’d have been foolish to wait any longer.

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Oxenfree

System:
PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer:
Night School Studio

Released:
Jan 14, 2016

Price:
$19.99 (75% off on Steam until Oct. 10, 2016)

 

Gameplay:

The player fills the shoes of a blue-haired teenage girl named Alex. Along with her best friend Ren and step-brother Jonas, Alex sets sail to Edwards Island for an overnight extravaganza. After arriving on the island and rendezvousing with a few more classmates, the teenagers decide to do a bit of exploring. While adventuring, Alex and company stumble upon a strange anomaly. With the help of her trusty portable radio, Alex attempts to investigate and accidentally unleashes dark unseen horrors upon the island. Never has a game gone from cute to creepy so quickly!

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Interactions between Alex and her friends are excellent and extremely believable. It didn’t take long for me to feel a connection with each of them. Some characters are friendlier than others. The player decides whether or not to pursue a relationship with each person, which could result in a deeper friendship or even a feud. Will you be rude to your older brother’s snobby ex-girlfriend? Will you ignore your best friend in order to forge a relationship with your new stepbrother? Will you play matchmaker and attempt to hook a friend up with the girl of their dreams. All of these choices are up to the player to decide.

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The action in Oxenfree is typical for an adventure game. Most game-play involves traveling between locations investigating and engaging in conversations. There are various puzzles to solve during your time on the island. Many are solved by using Alex’s radio to tune in particular frequencies which sometimes plays a mysterious transmission or coded message. Other times your radio may be used to unlock doors and overcome other obstacles. Sadly, most of the puzzles are relatively simple and don’t require much more than scrolling through radio stations for the proper frequency to progress the story. The most difficult part of the game for me was trying to make the right decisions in the small amount of time allotted to make them.

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Choice is everything. The style of game-play is very similar to Telltale games minus the QTEs. Making choices mostly involves choosing different dialogue options in the form of floating speech bubbles, or deciding who to travel with. Trying different approaches will have different results and most choices will influence the ending the player receives. While playing I was completely immersed. I wanted to discover every detail of these teenagers’ lives. Dealing with petty jealousy, making new friends, and trying to earn trust really brought back memories from my own high school experience.

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Storytelling is Oxenfree’s biggest strength by far. The beginning is very relaxed. I enjoyed meeting each character and learning a bit about their life and personality. The graphics are a blend of 2D environments and 3D characters. It sounds a bit strange but looks absolutely amazing. After certain events unfold and darkness covers the island, the scenery changes drastically. One moment the kids are kicked back enjoying alcoholic beverages around a campfire, and the next thing you know the island has become a dark mysterious place with danger around every corner. Alex’s pocket radio doesn’t just provide a way to manipulate doors and listen to broadcasts. As you scan the different channels you will encounter some truly terrifying voices and other scary sounds. The story is so interesting, that disclosing anymore of the plot could potentially ruin some of the experience.

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Final Judgment: 90%

Oxenfree is a wonderful game. I began playing with low expectations and was completely blown away by the amount of complexity and thought put into it. The art style is beautiful. Voice acting is top-notch. This is definitely one of the best indie games I’ve played this year and I was just as intrigued during my second play through as I was during the first. Horror fans won’t find any blood and gore but they will find plenty of intense moments and creepy situations. Best of all you will make emotional connections to the characters and really get a feeling for what they’re going through. The endings I got were a bit unsatisfying but perhaps that was due to the choices made during in my playthroughs. Regardless, the experience was extremely worthwhile and I’m still questioning the decisions I made even while typing this review. Oxenfree will make you question whether or not escape is even possible. I would recommend this game to all players who enjoy a great adventure and excellent story.

Pros:

  • Well-written story
  • Cool art style
  • Multiple endings
  • Choices matter
  • Relatable characters
  • Very spooky at times
  • Great replayability

Cons:

  • Slow walking speed
  • Not enough time to choose dialogue
  • Low difficulty
  • Mostly linear progression
  • Redundant puzzle solving

 

 

 

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