Game Review: Oxenfree (Xbox One)

Horror movies, and supernatural ones at that, have a capacity to feed your fear and put you in a state of terror and fascination. After that jump scare of the killer attacking his victims, you laugh, albeit uneasy, and collect yourself, or you grab the arm next to you and quiver in your fear.

Oxenfree is about a group of teenagers that unleash a mysterious evil upon an island and attempt to set things right, all while trying not to die or become possessed in the meantime. The ways in which the supernatural element is presented in Oxenfree is well paced and well executed. There are moments in the game where you totally feel uneasy as you traverse through run down buildings or through forests at 2 o’clock in the morning.

At first glance, Oxenfree looked like something I wouldn’t have been interested in. Upon watching a few Twitch streams and an interview on YouTube with some of the voice cast and developers, my interest was peaked and decided to download the game.

I am so glad I did, as it’s one of the best games I have ever played.

At $20, Oxenfree is a fairly inexpensive title. At around 5-6 hours on my first play through, Oxenfree does feel a bit short even despite its low entry price. I really enjoyed the characters and situations the game gave me, but felt I could have done with a few more hours of story, and tense creepy set pieces.

I really enjoyed the characters, as they don’t really fall into the cliche teenagers that you see in every form of entertainment. These are some of the best written teens in any medium. There are 5 characters that you’ll get to know:

Alex: She is the main character who brings along Jonas, her new stepbrother. She is still dealing with the loss of her brother, Michael. She’s also trying to get used to fact she has a stepbrother now.
Ren: He is the nerdy best friend to Alex. He is very talkative and can’t quite handle his “special” brownies.
Jonas: Alex’s stepbrother who, despite meeting everyone for the first time, seems to be the groups overall voice of reason. He is just really wanting to get to know Alex better.
Clarissa: She’ll either get on your nerves, or you’ll hate her. She has a beef with everyone, especially Alex. She comes across as blunt, mean spirited and impatient.
Nona: A quiet girl who is vastly underused. She is Clarissa’s best friend, and the object of affection for Ren.

Alex and her friends visit an island near their hometown each year to get together, hang out on the beach, play campfire games and have a few drinks. This year she brings her new stepbrother Jonas. They catch the last ferry to the island with Ren, and later on they find Nona and Clarissa waiting for them, explaining that no one else could make it this year, it would just be the 5 of them.

Ren tells Alex a legend about how a simple radio can tune into the frequency of a nearby cave and give way to radio stations that just don’t exist. Using her radio, Alex attempts to tune into these stations and that’s when the game starts to get downright spooky.

There is a mystery on the island, and through the 5-6 hours you’ll discover the events that lead to what Alex and her friends are going through. There is quite a labor of love here with what is written about the lore of island and what happened to set this story in motion. I thoroughly loved the radio mechanic in the game. When you come across tourist locations and various parts of the island, with your radio on, you are treated to voiced descriptions about that area or monument.

You’ll also use the radio to detect various disturbances called anomalies, as there are 12 of these scattered around the well designed island. After getting the update to your radio midway through the game, you’re able to use it to open various locations that are radio frequency locked. Using the radio is also part of the supernatural charm the game offers, as dialing back and forth between frequencies has some eerie audio and visual distortions, as well as vibrational feedback on the Xbox One controller.

The game has a choose-your-own-adventure style dialogue system to it, as all the events in the game will change based on what you say, and in some minor ways, what you do when given a choice between one possible outcome or the other. Alex’s state of mind and the attitude towards people and the events that happen in the game are solely in your hands, and the ending will depend on those choices. Each choice you make is permanent, with no chapter select system to fall back to, so pick wisely. It is even possible to beat the game without committing to any of the dialogue choices.

The dialogue is well written, even if a bit of it is almost too witty for its own good. I love witty dialogue, but felt that there was just too much of it, that the characters were always on point with their comebacks and word play. I also wished that during some of the more explorative moments that there was more random chatter between the characters. I would have loved to learn more about their back stories, especially Nona.

I really enjoyed the spooky and creepy nature of the game, as I jumped a few times from a few moments during Alex’s journey. Throughout the adventure you’ll occasionally jump backwards in time, with Alex remembering everything. You can make different conversation choices during these moments, or choose to acknowledge the odd occurrence. In some areas this will keep happening until you explore to find another way out of the constant looping. There are radio’s set up nearby after a certain objective has been met, these are to be manipulated to leave the time loop.

Most of the game will see you teaming up with Jonas, but later on you can make a change to bring someone else with you. I felt the game never did much with the Nona character, or at least as much as I wanted, So I chose her. She’s wonderfully written, and has a great personality, I just wish she had more material to work with here.

Oxenfree’s visuals come at you like a beautiful children’s book, as the backgrounds and buildings have a soft painted look. The game’s camera is pulled back to allow the use of all the characters on the screen at once without having to move the camera back and forth. It really works as the character models themselves look great from afar. The music in the game is fantastic and really enjoyable. I may have to get the soundtrack for this game, as it’s one of my favorites in years. There are small song samples that can be found via the radio, but it’s the main games score that truly stands out.

I will point out a few issues that did affect my play through. The game crashed on me about a dozen times, mostly during the load screens. I’m sure it will be patched soon, so it’s not affecting my score. Some of the environments have invisible narrow lanes of where you can move the character, this was mostly apparent on stairs at an angle. Once you figure it out, it’s easy enough to avoid this issue. Despite these problems and just wanting a bit more length out of the game, these issues and more are incredibly minor and don’t really get in the way of enjoying what is here.

Oxenfree is both easy and hard to recommend as it’s most certainly not a game for everyone. As I said before, I didn’t think much of it when I saw it in the Xbox store, but upon checking out the game in motion, it seemed fun. It’s not an action game, there is zero combat here, and most of the time you are backtracking across the map listening to dialogue, or tuning your radio to find distortions. There is light puzzle solving here and there, and listening to the radio messages about the lore will help you in a few areas of the game as well.

The personal journey that Alex makes will stick with me for a long time. It’s a touching story that at times can pull at your heart strings. The game is wonderfully voiced, beautifully crafted, and the supernatural elements of the game are paced at just the right moments. This game deals with a lot of real mature topics and does it in such a way that it’s so easy to relate to these characters, especially Alex. This coming of age story doesn’t shy away from this and it’s all the better for it.

At $20 on the Xbox store and $22 on steam, or packaged at $28 with the soundtrack, it’s a low enough price to entice you to even just try it. A PS4 version has been talked about, but no release date has been announced as of the time of this review.

Oxenfree is just awesome and totally worth your time.

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