As I continue to battle the backlog of games, I found that a snowy afternoon off work was the perfect time to try and blast through the next title in one sitting. The game I chose to playthrough was Oxenfree, an adventure game which has been in my library for about a year! Developed and published by Night School Studio, the game was originally released in January 2016 on PC and Xbox One, Oxenfree later branched out onto PS4 and is now also available on the Nintendo Switch opening the title up to a wider audience.
Oxenfree is a 2.5D adventure game with a story that follows Alex, who along with her friends and new step brother are on a weekend getaway on a local island who get more than they bargained for when they play around with a radio. By accidentally unleashing a paranormal force which they now need to try and stop, Alex will also have to try and keep her friends (and friendships) safe.
The first thought I had about the game was that the graphical mix of 3D characters in a two dimensional space was interesting if not occasionally tricky to navigate just in those moments when Alex gets suck on a corner or won’t quite line up properly. Other than this, I quite liked exploring the levels the space provided and trying to work out the best path to get to the next area. In addition to this, the narrative choices the player is offered are also intriguing as Alex receives three speech bubbles above her head which will determine how conversations with Ren, Nona, Jonas and Clarissa go, but will also lay out how these characters feel towards you by the end of the game. I quite liked this way of storytelling and the game only gives you a few seconds to make a choice but you have to think carefully before you decide.
The story moves from one of a party weekend gone wrong to trying to stop the paranormal force which has separated and taken over Alex’s friends. You’ll trek around the island coming across time loops, flashbacks and anomalies as you try to get to the bottom of things. The game offers you an old fashioned analog way of communicating (through the radios) but also throws in the more modern day digital interference with the graphical effects utilised to show that things are most certainly out of the ordinary. This was what originally caught my eye when I spotted the trailer for the game and while it does become a little overused after a while, it is still an effective method of developing a sensation of unease or disorientation.
The characters are mildly annoying which is the only drawback of the game. Alex isn’t too bad, I actually found myself feeling for her as you have the option to make her open up about her family, her past and her late brother Michael. Jonas, Alex’s new step-brother is worth talking to as you get this time to get to know each other better. Ren is the annoying stoner who made the suggestion which got you into this mess in the first place, but he’s an ok guy really. Nona is a bit flaky but she actually turns out to not be so bad but Clarissa is the difficult one who Alex has never got on with and there are some complications which will make it a bumpy road. Conversations offer an opportunity to try and strengthen these friendships but poor choices could lead to these breaking. It’s up to you how you want these to pan out.
The feature I like the most in this game is the use of the radio throughout. You can tune it to different frequencies to learn about the island, the paranormal force which you have unwittingly unleashed and unlock secrets as you explore. Even if you just pull the radio out for a few seconds to see if anything is around, you’ll pick up snippets of songs, transmissions, Morse code and of course, the presence which you are chasing around. While some might find it tedious, playing around while having conversations was useful if not a little spooky at times and a different means of progressing the story.
Overall, I did enjoy the game and actually couldn’t put it down which resulted in a successful completion in 3-4 hours. I wouldn’t say I was compelled by it but I wanted to find out if the group could overcome this paranormal force and whether they would all make it to the end. All of the elements work well together and there are little additional touches which all become clear in the end which also turned out to be a nice surprise. I would actually like to find the time to play through again to see what happens and whether there will be any further surprises which would impact future playthroughs. There are no jump scares or horrifying scenes but there is a sense of disorientation which means you have to react quickly but try not to make a mistake in the mean time. This was what I enjoyed most about the game and is probably the reason I wanted to keep playing, so if you haven’t thought about picking up Oxenfree yet, you should probably give it a go!