Some months back, I watched a friend livestream Oxenfree over the course of a couple nights. I had never heard of the game beforehand, but it intrigued me. So much so, in fact, that I resolved to buy and play through the game myself, even though I’d already seen all of it via her livestream.
Oxenfree is a difficult game to define. It’s part of the new generation of highly story-driven games with little to no substantive gameplay.
The story is about a small group of sometimes troubled teenagers holding a beach party on an abandoned island. The island is famous for its mysterious radio signals that seem to come from nowhere at all, and while investigating those signals, the main character (Alex) accidentally opens a bizarre rift in space.
There are definite shades of Life Is Strange here, right down to having a teenage girl with blue hair, but there’s less lesbian romance and more surreal creepiness. There’s are also very strong echoes of The Secret World, especially its Halloween mission The Broadcast. Personally I think The Broadcast is one of TSW’s best moments, so any comparison to it is a very good thing.
If I had to put a label on Oxenfree, I’d call it horror, but it doesn’t fit any genre particularly well. It’s closest to horror, but it’s not a particularly scary game, really. Don’t expect to be jumping in your seat or yelping in terror. It’s more strange and creepy than genuinely frightening.
The graphics are unusual, but interesting. I’m normally not a fan of the whole 2.5D thing, but the art here has a really nice style to it, and overall Oxenfree is a nice game to look at, even if it was clearly done on a budget.
Taking a cue from The Secret World, Oxenfree also likes to mess with its own graphics, blurring, shifting, and turning things upside down, among other things. It helps sell the surrealism of the game quite well.
Something else Oxenfree shares with TSW is fantastic sound design. The soundtrack is very ambient but sells the spooky atmosphere excellently, and the sound effects and voice acting are strong.
One thing I couldn’t see from watching my friend’s livestream is that Oxenfree’s gameplay has some minor hiccups, though nothing too frustrating. Movement, for example, can be a little finicky. Alex doesn’t handle corners very well.
Somewhat more troublesome is that your dialogue choices have a tendency to time out, sometimes very quickly. In a story-driven game, that can get irritating. I’m used to Bioware dialogue wheels, where you can puzzle over what to say for as long as you like.
Oxenfree offers a lot of choices to the player, but they don’t seem to matter very much. I made a lot of different choices from my friend, but the end results seemed to be almost entirely the same. You can get slightly different endings, but that’s about it.
Ultimately a game like Oxenfree lives or dies by the strength of its story, and the good news is Oxenfree’s storytelling is quite strong. It’s a very surreal experience, but it’s fascinating and compelling in its oddness, and the ambiance is, again, excellent.
It doesn’t have quite the same emotional punch of Life Is Strange, but that might be a good thing. Life Is Strange got a bit over the top after a while. To put it mildly.
The consensus seems to be that all of Oxenfree’s characters are likable except one, but not everyone agrees on who the exception is. My friend hated Clarissa, but I like her just fine. It’s Ren I can’t stand.
Anyway, the point is Oxenfree’s cast is pretty strong.
The one significant gripe I’d have with Oxenfree is its recently added new game plus mode (for lack of a better term). You can now replay the game for a slightly different experience with some new or modified scenes and an extended ending.
It’s a free update, which is nice, but it doesn’t really change much, so mostly you’re just playing the same stuff all over again. And while the new ending is theoretically more conclusive, I honestly liked the original ending better.
It’s hard to explain without going into major spoiler territory, but basically they solved one problem by creating a bunch of new ones and kind of invalidating the rest of the game. It feels like adding something just for the sake of being able to say they added something. I think I’m going to recommend just skipping the new game plus mode entirely.
But the base game is great.
Overall rating: 8.7/10