Indie Review: Oxenfree

Amy Gildert takes a look at Night School Studio's indie gem.

Amy Gildert
20th November 2017

Oxenfree is a wonderful coming of age story, which utilizes a choose your own adventure dialogue system to truly involve you in the creepiness of the story. You play as a young girl named Alex, as she and her friends spend the night camping on a local island. The interactions with these friends initially establishes the tone of a teen film, until they venture into a cave with a radio that picks up signals from stations that don’t exist. From that point on, the game dances with supernatural elements that become increasingly disturbing as the story progresses.

From the beginning to the end of the game, the player gets to choose what Alex says almost all of the time, meaning that the script is 1,800 pages long. This makes you an active participant in the game and immerses you in the story. The downside to this freedom of dialogue however, is that in order to mimic the realism of real speech you are never given very long to read through your options, and the moment you decide which option to say, Alex will cut off the other character in a decidedly nonrealistic way. But for the most part at least, the dialogue manages to capture the realistic feel of a conversation between friends.

Oxenfree’s design alone is reason enough to want to play this game.

Oxenfree’s design alone is reason enough to want to play this game. A huge emphasis is placed on the background art, to the point where the characters only take up a very small fragment of the screen. The backgrounds are all stunning, most often done in muted shades that work well with the lighting design. The sound design is an essential feature in creating that sense of creepiness that develops in the game, and you can tell while playing that the developers placed just as much importance in the sound as they did with the aesthetics. Like a film, the music fits perfectly with each scene, and the noise of tuning Alex’s radio is strangely satisfying, effectively building the unsettling static and humming noises to mirror the drama. At later points in the story, the layering of voices provides an additional sense of creepiness that had me switching on all the lights in the room.

While the design aspects of Oxenfree make it stand out, there were a few aspects of gameplay that fell flat. There’s a series of optional collectable letters in the game that aid in the telling of the story, but the game does not do a good job of explaining this or helping you traverse the island to find them. Some of the letters were so confusing to find that I had to progress in the story without them, meaning that I felt I didn’t have the full picture. There were also times where I would have appreciated a closer view of the characters rather than continually showcasing the background design, no matter how pretty it is.

In my playthrough, I found there is a difference between a valiant ending and a happy ending.

In my playthrough, I found there is a difference between a valiant ending and a happy ending. However the beauty of this game is the variety of different endings you can have depending on your actions throughout the game. Oxenfree is not a fast paced game, and there aren’t a lot of puzzles to solve. But what it does have is a compelling story that will leave you wondering once the credits roll.

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