It’s a good thing that I was an unpopular kid who never left the house during my teenage years. One thing that horror movies and Until Dawn have taught me is that going out to party is a recipe for disaster. Case in point Oxenfree, which is presently available to download off the PlayStation Store. In this indie-developed adventure, a group of five schoolyard chums catch a ferry bound for Edwards Island – an uninhabited isle where they plan to spend the night partaking in some unsupervised beachside drinking and potential hanky panky. Unfortunately for the aforementioned quintet, their decision to play a radio inside a creepy cavern awakens a sinister entity that is capable of possessing bodies and distorting the fabric of time.
Oxenfree is a walking simulator created by Night School Studio, whose development team includes staff that has previously worked at Disney and Telltale Games. The creators’ background should come as no surprise given that most of Oxenfree’s gameplay, much like a Telltale title, revolves around influencing the story through dialogue choices. Despite the script’s spooky premise the game is also relatively kid friendly, akin to a Disney product. Sure, some chilling moments do occur during Oxenfree’s five hour long running time, but thanks to the cartoony visuals things are nowhere near as terrifying as they could be had the programmers opted to use photo realistic FPS graphics instead. Just as well, because I am too much of a coward to play stuff like Slender.
Players assume the role of a high school girl named Alex, who is coming to terms with the recent divorce of her parents. Joining the pigtailed teen on her journey are Ren, Jonas, Nona and Clarissa. Ren is Alex’s childhood friend, the comic relief and a gluttonous devourer of hash brownies. He has a crush on Nona that may or may not develop into romance depending on what actions the player takes. Go on play matchmaker, it will make you feel warm and fuzzy… plus you’ll get a trophy as a reward. Jonas, who is Alex’s new stepbrother, accompanies his new sis for much of Oxenfree’s trials and tribulations. The least friendly of the bunch is Clarrisa who is constantly at loggerheads with the protagonist. There is hostility between the two, stemming back from the time when Clarissa dated Alex’s brother. Can the two patch things up or will Clarissa get what she deserves? It’s all in the hands of the person holding the controller.
My rating for Oxenfree is five stars. Despite the limited gameplay, which boils down to hiking across terrain and using a portable radio to overcome obstacles, I couldn’t help but get absorbed by the story. What exactly is stalking Alex’s group? Aliens? Spooks? Perhaps a military experiment that went awry? I became so invested in the mystery that I couldn’t resist going on a scavenger hunt for clues, which is surprising as I usually have no patience for optional collectibles (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed.) Thankfully the layout of Edwards Island ensures that unnecessary ambling is kept to a minimum and to be honest the treks are fun thanks to the constant chatter between characters. Writer Adam Hines (who has previously worked on the excellent Tales from the Borderlands) should be commended for penning such convincing adolescent banter.
Given that the conversations are so great it is somewhat annoying when they prematurely stop due to player input. Be forewarned that selecting a reply or walking ahead too quickly may cause an interesting discussion to cease. Thankfully that is my only gripe with what is an otherwise marvellous game. At the time of writing I have completed Oxenfree twice and I am planning a third run to snag a platinum trophy for my digital collection. Repeated playthroughs are encouraged, as there are multiple endings on offer, and I like how the new game plus mechanic is incorporated into Oxenfree’s timey wimey narrative. Let the cool kids go off on their life threatening shindigs I say. As long as quality video games like Oxenfree keep coming out I am content to be the shunned chap who stays indoors where it’s safe.