Review

Oxenfree is a character-driven adventure game with dialogue options and a spooky setting. While the gameplay stumbles at times, the narrative and realistic characters make up for it all the way through it’s manic conclusion.

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Gameplay:

In Oxenfree the player controls Alex, a high school student as she explores an island looking for clues about the odd happenings going on. The island is large with over a dozen different areas to explore. Beyond that, there is also a mechanic centered around a portable radio that Alex carries with her at all times. She can tune in to different stations depending on what she is doing including the tourist spots around the island to learn more about its history. It is an interesting mechanic that works well to add to the foreboding atmosphere of the game.

The other major aspect of gameplay is dialogue choice. Characters will speak to you resulting in speech bubbles appearing over Alex’s head. You can pick whichever you like but know that there might be consequences in the form of multiple outcomes for characters and different endings. The dialogue tree works fantastically and is, arguably, the best part of the game since the characters are so well developed.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues. The island is a large place to explore and Alex’s movement speed is slow. Backtracking is a common occurrence which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when it takes forever to do so, it becomes tedious. Also, the Xbox One version that I played crashed multiple times. Luckily, the autosaves are generous, but when the game crashes six or seven times, it becomes irritating.

Story and Modes:

This is a narrative-driven game so there is the story mode and that’s it which is perfect. The story revolves around the protagonist, Alex who was invited by her best friend Ren to the yearly party on Edwards Island. Along with three other characters, Jonas, Nona and Clarissa, they have to deal with supernatural events and try to figure out the island’s mysteries. While the story here is solid and interesting until the credits hit, the character interactions are what blew me away.

The dialogue feels so natural and the relationships that the characters have make them feel real. Alex and Ren have been best friends since they were children and that comes across so well not only through the actual dialogue, but the voice performances as well. There is obviously some history between Clarissa and Alex that have them at each other’s throats and, again, it feels authentic. Beyond this I don’t want to dive any deeper as the narrative elements are the main draw of the game.

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Visuals and Sound:

Oxenfree has a gorgeous hand-painted artstyle with stylized characters. Moving from area to area whether it is Main Street of the tourist town or the cave where the story kicks off, the design is eye candy. Some of the screen effects when supernatural things start to happen look awesome and are things not seen often in games.

As I mentioned earlier, the voice talent cast is immaculate. All five characters feel like living breathing people all dealing with difficult things in realistic ways. Whether that is handling the loss of a loved one or adjusting to a new family situation, I fell in love with these characters, especially Alex and Jonas. If I had my own video game awards show, this cast would win every award that it could. Their performances coupled with the excellent writing left me with a massive smile on my face.

The music in the game is mostly subdued atmospheric tracks. They work well within the context of the game and add an element of additional madness that benefits the game.

Originality:

The teen drama genre in video games saw a major bump in popularity with last year’s Life is Strange (which I absolutely adore) and Oxenfree is the latest in the trend. But how they handle characters and some of the gameplay mechanics involving the radio are interesting and work really well and help to set it apart. More than anything what is most original is how believable and well-executed all of the characters are.

Value:

Oxenfree will take people anywhere from four to seven hours to complete. Everyone’s value to gameplay time is different, but the length of this felt perfect. I spent extra time seeking out all of the collectible letters scattered around the island which not only added context and backstory to everything that was going on around Edward’s Island, but also opened up new dialogue choices at the end of the game which wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Even with the tedium of a slow movement speed while backtracking (and no fast travel system) everything else more than makes up for and surpasses what small issues I had with the game. Multiple endings encourage multiple playthroughs which I know I will be doing. Oxenfree surprised me and I’m very happy that I picked it up.

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About the Author

Ross
A recent college grad who just loves playing games. Hopefully I can help you save some money (and possibly spend more than you would like).