Oxenfree – One Tree Hill Meets Paranormal Activity
by – James Fenn
The characters in Oxenfree speak like they are people. This might seem like a strange compliment (it is a compliment) but I feel that dialogue in games at the moment is rarely good. There are good stories and great characters but rarely do people actually talk how… people talk. This can range from frustrating to downright ruining my immersion. The fact that it is so well done here is incredibly important because the entire game is dialogue and the phrase choices that you, the player makes propels the story and ultimately the path to your ending.
‘Oxenfree is a highly atmospheric, chilling adventure set in a terrible situation with even more terrible choices’
In the words of creators, Night School Studios ‘Oxenfree is a supernatural teen thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift’ On paper, this tells you what the game is about but it doesn’t do justice to what you see on screen. Oxenfree is a highly atmospheric, chilling adventure set in a terrible situation with even more terrible choices. The art style, the music and the discourse combine to create something that immerses you so deeply that you have to play a few races of Mario Kart with your Dog before bed just to wind down…
You play as Alex, a high school girl who travels to an old, deserted Navy island for a beach party with her friends and new step-brother, Jonah. The idea was simply to get drunk, a little high and sleep on the beach. Here the gang discusses life, school and relationships with things getting a bit out of hand and teenagery. The different personalities of the group start to unfold and some old secrets are teased, later to be revealed if you make certain choices along the way.
‘This is where the game shifts from ‘One Tree Hill’ moves to ‘Paranormal Activity’
From the beach, Alex, Jonah and Ren decide to break away and explore an old cave. This is where the music and the art style really kicks in. Traversing a 2d but creepy cave system in the dark with what I think is a Theremin playing in the background building the tension. You know that you’re walking into something but what? This is where the game shifts from ‘One Tree Hill’ moves to ‘Paranormal Activity’
Alex carries around an old radio which will become the main instrument of the game. Something odd happening? Open your radio. A red light flickering above you? Open your radio. Haven’t opened your radio for a few minutes? Open your radio. It’s crucial to the story and the puzzle solving aspects of Oxenfree.
The gang are now split up all over the island and we spend most our time as Alex, walking with Jonah trying to find the others. The supernatural starts to crank up a notch or two with Alexs’ reflections in water and mirrors start talking to her, footballs moving around by themselves and ever increasingly frustrating time loops which grow in importance and mystery.
‘I was annoyed at climbing but I was still in a state of unease about the situation’
My only gripe with the game is the clunky movement controls and how long it takes to walk around the island, it’s a bit of a petty gripe because this isn’t what the game is about but I did find myself getting annoyed at times when climbing, for instance. But that doesn’t take anything away from Oxenfree, I was annoyed at climbing but I was still in a state of unease about the situation whilst marveling at the painted woods in the scenery that looked like a children’s book I would have read as a kid.
It’s very difficult to explain the actual gameplay after the beginning because it’s something that needs to unfold for you and also you may have completely different dialogue to my two (and counting) playthroughs. But it’s also a short game, I don’t want to give too much away outside of the main points. You will find yourself in a harrowing game show and a version of Hangman though. Which is actually quite stressful because they’re on a timer and you have no game over condition, so if you screw up, then you screw up and your future path is changed.
‘It culminates into 1 of 7 (I think) endings that you work your way towards which I have to say is very impressive’
That’s basically what the game boils down to in its absolute fundamentals, a hugely complex and scary flow chart where your actions have real consequences in your current game and also if you re-play it with the same save file. It culminates into 1 of 7 (I think) endings that you work your way towards which I have to say is very impressive and promotes a lot of replayability. Which I would recommend you do.
I don’t have much of a nostalgic story about Oxenfree but I had to share and I feel like being proactive because this will become a nostalgic story for me in a few years. It also made me become a fan Night School Studios and I’m very much looking forward to their next game, Afterparty.