Oxenfree really came out of the middle of nowhere for me. There I was, being a new dad again with a sick baby in the hospital, when I received the email with the code to review Oxenfree.
I tried to hand it off to another writer thanks to my recent time crunch, but no one else was available. That meant the game would have to wait until I got back home and settled in.
So, here we are, a few days late. I’ve beaten Oxenfree, and it was so much more than I expected. This game is fantastic, and it’s already an early contender for my favorites of 2016.
This is an adventure game with dialogue trees and a radio that interacts with something very dark and scary. It stars a group of five teens during an overnight stay on an abandoned island.
Oh, one thing very quickly. Oxenfree‘s soundtrack is phenomenal. You can snag it on Bandcamp for $7. Why not listen to it while you read this review?
Playing? Cool. Here we go.
Pitch-perfect voice acting meets fantastic art
The things that I noticed first and wound up loving most about Oxenfree are the vocal work and the artistic style of the game.
The entire world looks painted, and the characters are done up in this almost cel-shaded 3D. You never get too close to them, so the effect is actually really nice in motion. They look like they belong in the world instead of mobile characters in a static background.
The voice acting here is wonderful. Each character sounds like a kid from an 80s movie. Maybe, say, The Breakfast Club. However, the archetypes never get in their own way. That is, the burnout is never larger than he needs to be. His drug use operates as a part of the story and a nuisance for the group, but it never becomes the focal point.
You can apply that to each of the characters here. They all exist, they all have their own concise personalities, but they only serve to make the story work better. When the story works, it’s on point, too.
There’s something wrong with this island
Oxenfree starts off as the main character, Alex, brings a small radio onto a boat. She, her step brother Jonas and her friend Ren are on a boat making their way to an abandoned island that’s home to only a recently deceased old woman and an old military fort. They’re supposed to be going to a massive beach party with their friends.
When they get there, they find only Nona and Clarissa waiting. The party’s a bust, and that leaves this group of five on an island overnight with nothing to do. You take Alex into a cave, fire up your radio, physically tune it to specific stations and, essentially, unleash something very nasty.
That’s how the story starts. Without giving away the twists and turns, you’ll need to explore the island, investigate these odd disturbances with your radio and, at times, rescue your friends.
Oxenfree does a great job when it comes to toying with the player. Whether it’s through time loops in the games, sudden jump scares (which happen sporadically enough to work) and mood altering dialogue, this game is perfect at keeping the pace rolling. The adventure is rather short, but it’s so tight with its mystery and fun that it plays really well.
Clearly, ghosts cause glitches. Right?
I played Oxenfree on the Xbox One. Perhaps if I’d played it on the PC, I wouldn’t have had these problems. The game, unfortunately, crashed a few times during play for me. It never happened while I was walking around small scenes. Instead, it would happen right as I’d exit one area and wait to load into another.
I’d say Oxenfree completely stalled three times. Each time, the loading screen would appear, not move and be accompanied by a glitching sound. Thanks to the nature of the game, I thought maybe the island was playing tricks on me like Metal Gear used to do. Not so, it was frozen.
This experience is so small and tight that these glitches work a bit extra against the game. Were this an 80 hours experience, I don’t think I’d be as bummed by freezes. However, when Oxenfree does such an amazing job of establishing mood and tone through voice work and pacing, the need to reboot thanks to a glitch is pretty awful.
Not game-breaking, mind you, but this is something that should be addressed.
Oxenfree is a tight, well-paced thriller with characters that make you want to explore every inch of its creepy island.
While I’m sure that the thought of another adventure game might have some out there thinking twice about picking up Oxenfree, I assure you that this package is trimmed up enough to squeeze past the genre’s limitations.
Oxenfree may be an adventure game in the strict sense of narrative choice and world interaction, but that’s where the comparisons stop. This is a suspenseful, creepy game that works incredibly well. It’s smaller, sure, but it welcomes multiple playthroughs thanks to its changing endings and solid writing.
Plus, man, that soundtrack. Are you still listening? I am.
Oxenfree is out now on PC and Xbox One. It’s set to hit the PS4, too. If you dig compact, entertaining games with an extra level of creep, get it.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Oxenfree on the Xbox One. We completed the game before starting this review.