There are games that sometimes make us feel as if we are experiencing something entirely new. On the other hand there are also games that make us feel nostalgic in a weird way. In a way that we think we’ve done something before and yet it is the very first time we will ever get to see what the game has to offer. Oxenfree, by Night School Studio, works on that premise and delivers a to-be-remembered interactive experience that will make you keep asking for more. How does it do that you may ask? Well, I will try to explain it to you without revealing too much about the game, since, just like most other games of its kind (narrative adventure style), they have to be played in order to be fully appreciated. This is a spoiler-free review.
There is something special about a game that brings a group of friends to a deserted island, which is potentially.. “haunted.” Oxenfree brings our main character, Alex, to Edward’s Island with a group of friends that are just going there late at night to enjoy a hang-around at the beach, talking about all sorts of things and doing all kinds of teenager stuff. Straight from the start of the game, we get to see how we will be able to control our character, moving around, answering to things our co-stars discuss with us or playing with the radio that we have in our pocket. Arriving at the island, our characters start interacting with each other with the difference that this time, our answers are very different from one another, showing us that there are things we control in the development of the relationships between Alex and everyone else in the game.
The game reminiscences various feelings that we got from series like Freaks and Geeks with all the weird teenagers having all sorts of unique personalities while at the same time also making us feel as if we are in an 80s horror flick with strange phenomena that can only be explained by exploring every single nook and cranny the game has to offer. The aural background is only there to make things better by making the player indulge entirely into the atmosphere of the game with its VHS-style synthwave-ish music. You just have to love it when that happens, when, even involuntarily, it is making you feel as if every step you will take can lead you to another horrifying situation that will either be a jumpscare or a scene that will give you goosebumps. Oxenfree does that exquisitely well, due to the amazing soundtrack made by SCNTFC who put his heart and soul into making it. The music does a great job in masking the silence behind the voices that are not always around. The game calls us to explore the island while trying to explain all the strange phenomena and also puts the player in the state of confusion by throwing all sorts of things that can’t be explained in his/her path. I personally played the game with my girlfriend, and I can tell you that even with company, we both felt very terrified and alone during many parts of the game. We would see a house and we would both say “I don’t really want us to go in there right now..”
There is also a lot of walking. Like, tons upon tons of walking which amounts to at least an hour of just walking for getting through one playthrough. However, as weird as it may sound, the walking parts make up for such an important piece of the game’s big puzzle of mysteries. While walking, the characters will be discussing all sorts of things and that helps build up tension. The walking parts allow the player to also relax and take it easy from all the intense parts that happen inbetween. The game actually takes advantage of that relaxed time in the best of ways by throwing obscure incidents here and there, just to startle you again and keep you on your toes.
By the end of the game, you will most certainly have an idea of what is happening, but you will still be aching to find answers to unanswered questions. The game’s ending is so satisfying and leaves you wanting more, which you can actually have by replaying the game to see in what other ways you could have done things. I did not expect to be so satisfied by its ending, especially when it looked like a normal ending and all that. We are already looking into playing the game again, just because we miss it so much and feel like there is so much more to it.
Having said all that, regarding the technical side of things, the controls of Oxenfree allow the player to have a very easy-to-handle gameplay experience since you only use buttons for moving, interacting with things and opening your map or the radio. The most important part of the game is the dialog choice menu which pops every time you are in a conversation and Alex wants to say something. Not too many interesting things to talk about controls-wise other than the fact that sometimes you lose control of them and even that plays into how you experience the narration of the game. Can’t reveal all that much on that part so all I can say is that there are parts that you will understand only if you keep playing the game (just like most of the game, so that may just sound too abstract to say).
The game has a plethora of secrets to explore and as previously mentioned those hidden things will allow you to further understand what is going on. Exploring these secrets that sometimes might be in plain sight but can easily be missed, is also quite exhilarating since exploring the island, even outside the story’s boundaries, can result in finding sequences that you did not expect would even be there. The island is full of mysteries and it is in the player’s hands to see how he/she will handle them.
The art style of the game is nothing too amazing, but at the same time minimalistic enough to keep things interesting and pretty. You may not find amazing sights to look at for a long time, but the visuals are in calming colours that will allow you to keep playing the game without getting too tired. I personally played the game with the lights off, in order to get the maximum potential of the visuals and I strongly recommend you do the same if you are going to play it. It also enhances the horror aspect of it. The animation of the characters flows perfectly and although it is not something too extraordinary either, it is very good for what it aims to serve within the game’s overall experience.
Last but not least, the voice acting in the game is just splendid. It is yet another quality element that the game has and allows you to immerse yourself in its world. The voice actors have all done a magnificent job in giving a very unique persona to each of the characters in the game. It almost feels like watching a series from time to time with all the discussions that take place while doing various things on the island. The anxiety and stress that the characters feel is strongly reflected through their voices in all situations and in combination with the music the game manages to keep you hooked on the screen.
Oxenfree costs 19,99 euro and initially you would think “is this a title that is worth my time and money?” The answer is yes. Actually I would shout that “yes” so that everyone can hear it, because this game is worth while for anyone that loves adventure games with a narration style. Even the ones that don’t like those games because past games may have left a bad taste in their mouth, but love series of the same kind of feeling, then they will most definitely love the game. I had the chance to play the game with my girlfriend who rarely plays games and we both equally loved the game so much that we even went and bought the vinyl right after we were done with it. I only wish more games like it come out, that make up for an interactive experience that will keep you engaged without having too complex game mechanics but a straight-up good story, unique art style and an amazing music background.
+ Engaging and thrilling horror story that will keep you on your toes without needing too many jump-scares
+ Subtle and very fitting music background
+ Really good voice acting
+ Lots of hidden things to explore that will further allow you to understand what is going on
+ Unexpected replayability value (have to play to understand why)
– The price might put some people off, because they are afraid of buying in on a narrative experience. In my opinion, it is perfectly priced.
-Konstantinos “Kelfecil” Christakis