Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Mac
We played on: Xbox One
I like games that give me the heebie-jeebies. What are these heebie-jeebies, you say? The heebie-jeebies are the creeping, prickling sense of dread that starts in your spine and slowly works itself into your chest and throat. Or at least, that’s what I think they are. Whatever the heebie-jeebies are, I can say with certainty that Oxenfree is full of them.
In this game from Night School Studio you play as sharp-witted, teenaged Alex, a blue-haired girl joining her friends for a forbidden overnight campout on an abandoned island. The game does an excellent job of capturing the wild and topsy-turvy feeling of those often turbulent teen years; the whole island beach party seems like exactly the kind of poorly thought through adventure I myself would have taken part in. Things get real spooky real quick, but Oxenfree never loses its sense of humor or adventure, despite everything going terribly, terribly wrong. The way characters respond to stress and fear makes them seem like real people you might have known (or even been) in your high school and college years.
My favorite aspect of the game was the main mechanic of the whole thing: the dialogue options. Usually in games where you have a dialogue tree with multiple choices of what to say, you can sit there for as long as you want debating the pros and cons of each one. In Oxenfree, however, you must choose something to say in a timely manner or the option to add to the conversation will pass. Just as in real life, you have to speak when it’s appropriate, and you can’t just wait an eternity to respond to something someone says. If you speak when someone else is still talking, you’ll cut them off. This mechanic forced me to respond much more naturally to everything rather than deliberate at length over which dialogue choice was “best.” You also have the option to say nothing at all, which I thought was just as important. Oxenfree contains probably the most fluid, life-like conversations I’ve seen in a game yet, and it really made the game an immersive, engaging experience.
Besides the dialogue that drives the fascinating story, there isn’t much there. The few puzzles barely take a moment’s thought to solve, and the collectibles don’t make you go out of your way to find them. This isn’t a mark against Oxenfree; on the contrary, I think to change this would have felt forced and would have broken up the flow of the game. You’re playing as a high-schooler, not Indiana Jones.
The Age Range
Given the few brief moments of drug- and sex-related content and the Twin Peaks-like creepiness, this is probably a game for high school age and over. There’s nothing graphic, but many of the themes carry a weight that younger children may have trouble grasping. They may find the game to be quite frightening as well.
My only true complaint was that the game crashed several times during my playthrough. Most of the time it didn’t matter, I just loaded the game back up from the Xbox home and continued without losing any progress. Once, however, it crashed towards the end of the game and I ended up having to play a whole long section over again.
That particular frustration aside, Oxenfree was a really enjoyable game to play. It stood on the edge of horror without falling in, yet maintained its suspense far better than most horror games do. Oxenfree is many things: charming, eerie, poignant, and, most importantly, worth your time.