We are quickly getting closer to Halloween which each passing day. This week I will be talking about Oxenfree, a quirky supernatural thriller with strong story elements and impressive design. If you didn’t already know, this is a continuation of my month-long review of eerie horror games. If you missed last weeks on September 1999, you can find that here.
is a stunning visual experience with an engaging story to drive you through seamlessly. Being released in early 2016, I’m not sure why I never came across this game earlier. Night School Studio did a wonder in capturing my attention. The visual style alone was appealing enough for me to pick this game up. I stashed it away in my Steam library and held onto it so that I could play it during the spookiest time of the year… October 20th. That’s right, this game is a teenage melodrama in the streets but a supernatural thriller in the sheets.
You take the frame of Alex. A blue-haired teenage girl who is stricken with the loss of her brother in a tragic accident a year prior. Before setting off to college, Alex and her new stepbrother, Jonas, are on the last ferry to visit Edward Islands. The secluded island hosted many weekends for Alex and her friends over the years. This year happens to be the group’s last hurrah before heading off to find a better life at school.
All is well until Alex and Jonas accompany Ren, Alex’s notable stoner friend, in exploring local caves down by the shoreline. Rumors explain of a radio frequency that provokes some sort of supernatural force near the mouth of a cave. After exacerbating all the frequency hotspots, Jonas decides to venture further into the cave. Following suit, you find an anomalous object that responds to specific frequencies on your radio. Through your rash actions, a rift containing unspeakable evil has opened up and began to terrorize your friends. Your goal is to find out what this rift has drawn into your world and how to prevent it from taking everything you hold dear.
From a gameplay standpoint, there isn’t much game here. But don’t let that fool you. One of the game’s developers had prior experience at Telltale before the whole recent debacle, of course, and that is about what you can expect out of gameplay for Oxenfree. You can fiddle around with stuff on the screen and hear an excerpt about it or tune into the radio while walking around to unlock doors or hear some secret messages. Other than that it is mostly just walking to progress with the story. Don’t worry because, in the same Telltale fashion, you get to choose your responses. While the scenes where you are just walking back and forth can be boring and frankly annoying at times, The witty dialog can make the walking seem less like a buffer and more of a chance to understand who you are as a person/player. Since the developers just throw you into the middle of an ongoing narrative, they drop hints to you through the choices you can choose to respond with. For crying out loud, the first real conversation you have with any character lays out the huge plot element of your brother being dead for you without even needing to use it as a dialog choice. So if you like the casual gameplay and a story-rich narrative Oxenfree is a uniquely eerie game to try during Spooktember.
Oxenfree has powerful moments that are supported through rich visuals and effective sound design. A game with limited gameplay needs to attain a level of immersion and that is most easily done through having these two elements and Oxenfree does not disappoint. The Island turns from slightly eerie to full-on thriller at the drop of a hat. The elegant framing is complemented with a pleasant soundtrack that assists the attractiveness or strengthens the tension. The music has a synthetic late 80s early 90s kind of feel while the visuals remind you of slasher films. I would recommend listening to the soundtrack[Against the Rocks and Cold Comfort are great ones!] to get an idea of what the game has to offer.
The 2.5-D Thriller understands how to really make you feel uneasy. Though it’s gameplay can be tedious, the visuals and sounds keep you tethered to the experience from beginning to end. The game also does a great job at giving you enough story to understand what is happening but not enough to understand what happened. Once you draw closer to the end of the game, you begin to realize the choices that you made granted you this outcome. The decisions can be tough but lead you to always side on the decision You want to take rather than what “Alex” would take. There are also some really impressive mind-@%^#s that take a while to set in before you realize what they signify. I am overall impressed with Oxenfree, I typically stray away from narrative games like this but its 4-hour runtime allows a player to experience a strong story without asking too much of them.