2016-01-16_00004 17 Jan

Developed by Night School Studio (a group of former Telltale Games workers), Oxenfree is an adventure game for Windows, OSX, and Xbox One. It’s a coming of age tale set on an abandoned island that seasonally acts as a tourist destination and camping site where five teenagers throw an end of school year celebration… sans parents, of course.

The five teens accidentally tear open a supernatural rift in the caves near their campsite. From there, the characters backstories and motivations are exposed while facing off against the spooky occurrences on the island.

Spooky. Nothing more. I’d never dare to say “scary.” Because at it’s core, Oxenfree is not horror, just supernatural coming of age. And it’s important to get that expectation set properly in mind before diving into Oxenfree. It’s a beautiful game but its target audience is a little more narrow than I originally anticipated. The audio and visual disturbances are always easy on the ears and eyes. They’ll unnerve, but they won’t leave you sleeping with the lights on.

Am I overall disappointed with Oxenfree? Absolutely not. I think it’s a marvelous game albeit on the short side. I wrapped up the game in around five hours which compared to the $20 pricetag is definitely a solid reason to scare some players off. Those who do decide to take the plunge (either at full price or on sale) will be wowed by a lot of what Oxenfree has to offer.

The obvious, Oxenfree is visually stunning. Each frame is like a painting brought to life.

A majority of the gameplay is discovery-based. Like an anthropologist, you unearth the location’s history and its impact on the local civilians. But the most important game mechanic is choosing what to say to your companions from the quickly disappearing dialogue trees.

The choices change the outcome of the game. Though short, I didn’t think there was enough reason for me personally to go back and try completing the game multiple ways.

But the dialogue is totally convincing. There’s no “good” or “evil” choice. It’s all very morally gray. Some characters can be totally annoying and I felt OK about not sugar coating how I treated them. I didn’t feel a need to play as the “good” character because it was the right choice the game wanted me to play. And that’s an excellent way to handle dialogue and small decisions within the game. Compared to say, a Telltale adventure game, I felt my choices mattered, rather than simply being an entertaining diversion before a predetermined ending.

There is little “skill” needed to play the game, so in a sense, it’s a relaxing experience. Most of the game’s puzzles are handled using your handy dandy radio that picks up audio anomalies in specified locations on the island. These anomalies are documented and marked by the local teens with cairned stones, which adds a wonderfully believable local mythology to the island.

I was hooked with Oxenfree from start to finish. I’d equate it to a weekend film that you randomly pulled up through Netflix recommendations you enjoy more than you thought you would. It’s not a “must-play” experience for the generation, but solid overall and I’m coming away from it delighted and fulfilled.

The game does have a few letdowns. While the vocal delivery from all the actors is solid, there are times when the game doesn’t know how to properly handle player input. The protagonist’s voice will just jump in which doesn’t sound like a natural pause or interruption in conversation. Instead it sounds like audio files suddenly starting and stopping. Even stranger, the dialogue tree can disappear before the other characters are finished talking which only exacerbates this issue.

I found this very minor blunder to be a little surprising because otherwise the audio design is one of the game’s strongest suits. The creepy sounds coming through the radio is blended very well with the overall gameplay. The types of sounds you’ll hear can be pleasantly unnerving and the soundtrack is fantastic. It’s worthy of solo-listening as it delivers ethereal, yet semi-nostalgic, and…. creepy melodies.

I also feel the game could have gone deeper in so many ways. While the game isn’t scary (and it’s OK that it’s not scary), it really could have been. The developers took the time to build large, beautiful set pieces, but each location is only used for a relatively small task or two. The locations could have been used to a fuller extent. And the story, while short and sweet, has enough meat in its lore to tell a more complex tale.

Leave them wanting more, though, right?

The 20 price tag and the short game length are what frighten me the most. All other minor problems the game has I found incredibly easy to ignore, and I found myself really satisfied wrapping this one up. Game of the Year contender? Probably not, but a pretty good diversion for anyone who is interested.

Tested on: PC
Developer: Night School Studio
Publisher: Night School Studio
Platforms: Windows, OSX, Xbox One
Relaunch Date: January 15, 2016
Review copy provided by publisher