Did you grow up on movies like The Goonies, Stephen King’s It, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors? Did you love last year’s sleeper hit It Follows? If you answered yes to any of those, then Oxenfree is the game for you.
Developed by former Telltale developers, Oxenfree tells the story of five teenagers spending the night on an island where they plan to drink, party, and do as teenagers do until something goes very wrong. Alex, the blue-haired heroine of the story, uses her radio to listen to broadcasts that apparently don’t exist, and by doing so in a cave, she unleashes something supernatural. Alex and her friends are thrown into a dangerous game, dealing with a being that communicates via radio waves whose motives aren’t entirely clear right away.
Those looking for a spooky and deep narrative with multilayered characters who reveal more about themselves over time will be pleased; Oxenfree has some of the most interesting and realistic dialogue of any game I’ve ever experienced. The writing is especially important because the majority of the game involves walking and talking at the same time. Don’t let that discourage you though, because you’ll find yourself constantly unveiling new information and advancing the story the entire time.
Playing as Alex, you’ll react to conversations had between characters ranging from your new stepbrother, your best friend your best friend’s crush, and your deceased brother’s ex-girlfriend. You have the option to pick one of three responses or to stay silent, depending on the situation. Each decision will have some impact on your relationship with the characters around you and the story itself. Because of this, players can view various endings depending on how Alex’s relationships end up.
Conversations feel extremely natural, with dialogue options that reflect how most people would think. You can be sarcastic or make jokes in tense situations or you can encourage characters to stay serious. Other times you’ll be snapping people back to reality from the horrors they are experiencing. One way in which Oxenfree delivers backstory without forcing it down players throats is by optionally revealing information Alex may know that the player wouldn’t necessarily know yet, by the dialogue options provided. For example, Alex and friends stay on the island yearly, as a kind of tradition, but this is the first time her stepbrother Jonas has been there. Jonas will ask Alex questions about the island, and one of the selections will make it clear that if selected, you’ll be revealing new information from Alex’s memory.
While searching for clues about the spooky things happening around Alex and friends, you’ll be wandering across beautifully illustrated pseudo two-dimensional settings, while an amazing “VHS synth-pop” soundtrack scored by SCNTFC plays in the background. The music, setting and characters makes the whole experience very reminiscent of last year’s indie horror film darling It Follows, offering a modern twist on a 1980’s aesthetic, which is in no way a bad thing.
What I think sets Oxenfree apart from the likes of Telltale’s other games is that it isn’t based on an existing IP, which allows the developers to create something all their own. This freedom makes for a more interesting story that kept me on the edge of my seat till the very end. Meanwhile, I’ve yet to be able to finish a Telltale game because of a lack of caring about the characters based on the IPs involved.
I can’t stress enough how much I loved Oxenfree from start to finish and subsequent playthroughs. The mysterious supernatural story is enthralling, the soundtrack is haunting, the graphical style is gorgeous, and the writing is some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Even if you don’t usually play dialogue and story driven games, like myself, I urge you to give Oxenfree a try, especially if you love the 1980’s “teenagers versus supernatural forces” flicks as much as I do. Oxenfree will surely be one of my top games of 2016 as it has already earned itself a place as one of my favourite games of all time.