Game Review: Oxenfree

After April’s Indie World Showcase featured a trailer for Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, I realized I still hadn’t played the original game. Oxenfree is one of many titles sitting in my backlog, and it was the time to finally fire it up.

Oxenfree is a supernatural adventure game surrounding Alex and her friends who spend a spooky weekend at Edwards Island. It was initially released in January 2016 by Night School Studio. It’s currently available on almost every known platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC/Mac, and on your phone.

One of the first things that players will notice is the art-style and gameplay. You navigate Alex around a 2.5D environment–most of which is dark, but the game is generous with its beautiful watercolor palette. As you traverse the island, the game fills travel time with conversations between characters, and you’re provided several options on how you’d like to reply. These interactions could play a role on determining the ending you’ll receive.

The gameplay is light and easy; however, you’ll notice the latter half of the game may involve backtracking, and there are less conversations between characters…which could slow the pacing. I also found out the hard way that if you wait too long, your dialogue choices will vanish. There were a few moments where I didn’t want to interrupt another character, but as a result, I lost my chance to select my reply.

The story of Oxenfree is compelling and pairs well with the gameplay and art-style. Each character felt fleshed out. We have Alex, the main character, who is snarky and rebellious; however, she has a soft spot and struggles with the loss of her brother, Michael. She meets her new step-brother, Jonas, as she brings him to meet the rest of the group: a close friend named Ren, a soft-spoken Nona, and Clarissa. The player can sense immediate tension between Alex and Clarissa due to their connection with Michael. After everyone meets on the beach, Alex uses her radio to tune into frequencies. This creates a rift, triggering a series of paranormal events. People vanish, get possessed, and trapped in time loops.

There are several endings available, most of them focused on Alex’s relationship with Jonas and her friends by the end of the game. Oxenfree also offers two collectable/side-quests. Near the end of the game, you can explore Edwards Island in search for other radio anomalies and letters written by Maggie Adler. Because the island isn’t massive, these side-quests don’t take too much time; however, I wished there was a run or sprint option. Slowly trudging across the map, with conversations between friends now exhausted, soon frustrated me. I didn’t have the patience to collect everything during the first play-through, but I’m interested enough to return and collect them all next time. Maggie Adler’s notes behave like puzzle pieces to the history of the island and the sunken USS Kanaloa not too far from shore, and this game succeeded in making me interested in learning more about this island.

Oxenfree is an enjoyable indie game due to its strong identity and story. The voice acting is smooth and natural. I’ve read complaints that some dialogue appeared “too mature” for how teens really speak; however, it wasn’t bothersome. The unique mechanic of tuning into radio frequencies made my play-through exciting–I didn’t want to put it down. It also established a creepy vibe without treading into true horror.

I highly recommend Oxenfree to most gamers. While no one game will appease everyone, this title is enjoyable and has considerable replay value. I know I’m looking forward to the sequel, set to release sometime later this year.

If you missed the Oxenfree II: Lost Signals trailer, check it out:

Once you play through Oxenfree, please share your thoughts with us on the Boss Rush Discord!

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