Oxenfree (2016)



Oxenfree (2016), published and developed by Night School Studio

Alex is on her way to Edwards Island with her best friend Ren and a new stepbrother Jonas. The idea is to meet some other friends, Mona and Clarissa, there and spend the night drinking and whatever. After some small talk and walking, Alex and Jonas go to the mysterious caves on the island, where Alex tunes her radio, causing something odd to happen that whisks the duo on another part of the island. From this starts a kind of a horror mystery story, revolving around ghosts trying to break free and the old mysteries and secrets of the Edwards Island.

Oxenfree is a sidescrolling 2D-adventure, where you control Alex on her quest of trying to figure out what is going on in the Edwards Island. Most of the time you have a person following you, so there's a decent amount of chatter going on while you search the island and try to find your way around. This chatter is about the island or the other people and depending on how you respond, the effects on your relationships sway on one direction or another.

The controls are pretty simple. You have direct control over Alex with either keyboard or a control pad. Besides walking and talking, you meet some little puzzles here and there, where you need to use your radio to tune in to right frequency or do a simple motion puzzle to make a tape run in the right direction. As fat the puzzles go, Oxenfree is a pretty simple game, it is mostly about the story and the story flow more than challenging puzzles.


The biggest flaw of the game is really the controls. As the island itself is fairly large, most of the game is walking all over the place. From time to time you need to climb stairs, ladders or walls or jump over chasms and what not. Nothing of this is really tasking but it's not really very interesting either as far gameplay goes, especially because at times the movement is fairly slow.

Luckily enough the story itself is interesting enough and manages to carry the experience over the 4 or so hours you need to spend with the game. There are additional goals you can try to achieve, like collecting letters of the last occupant of the island and finding her secret broadcast locations in order to reveal all of the hidden secrets.

For some additional replayability, there are the alternative relationship routes you can aim by either keeping it civil with your friends or pissing them off. I don't know how much the choices affect in the end, but there was a summary of how many other players chose what you did.

 If a story about teens and ghosts in a radio rift sounds like something you might dig, then Oxenfree is a pretty decent experience. The voice acting is good and the atmosphere is solid. For a sidescrolling 2D game, Oxenfree manages to be surprisingly cinematic with a small amount of camera movement tied to well-built soundscape and music.



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