Oxenfree Review - A Supernatural Thriller to Remember

2015 was characterized by the gaming industry suddenly embracing independent games. More so than any prior-year. Undertale, Her Story, Axiom Verge and other gems were received by the mainstream, generating critical acclaim and big revenue. What makes these indies special is their uniqueness, heart, and the passion every single pixel displays. After multiple playthroughts, I believe Oxenfree deserves to be in that list.

So...what is Oxenfree all about? Well, it's an adventure game developed by Night School. In it, you play as Alex. A teenage girl, you bring your new step-brother Jonas to an overnight party with a group of mostly friendly folks. Said festivities take place on a decommissioned military island;as you can imagine, things quickly go horribly wrong.

I instantly knew I was in for an engaging experience as soon as I saw the graphics. They instantly captured me. Performance is flawless, with steady framerate and no stuttering. But the real stars are the beautifully drawn environments. Everything is extremely charming. Forests, caves, skies, fire and lighting. It's like a painting in motion. I typically don't stop to admire the view when playing smaller games, but my laptop currently has a carpet with a couple of screenshot pulled straight from Edward Island. When it comes to character models, I was slightly worried. The screenshot showed lifeless, bland bodies. Superficially, it holds true. However, said bodies are turned into so much more as a result of the fantastic plot and dialog.

Now, I didn't know what to expect from Oxenfree. Would it be an adventure game? A Horror festival? An Exploration journey? In the end, it's a combination of the three. Gameplay wise, I would describe it as a 2.5D walking simulator. The storyline constantly takes you from point A to B. As you move from location to location, a dialog tree enables you to learn more about your friends and the island. The choices never seem to have critical consequences (like we see in Telltale franchises), but ultimately lead to different endings. A cool portable radio mechanic allows you to discover collectibles and deal with the monsters that hide within the shadows. This genre truly lets game makers dive in the story, and Night School takes advantage of the format.

I sincerely enjoyed the characters in here. The clique of teenagers is full of stereotypes. The quiet, reserved girl. The goofy, nerdy friend. The mean, sexy drama queen. Nevertheless, everyone has deeper layers as you converse with them. Oxenfree handles with a very important theme: death. The devastation of losing a loved one, and the difficulty of letting go. Said topics are covered both explicitly and implicitly, in rather riveting fashion. Later on, we're introduced to a supernatural element. I'm not spoiling it, but it's treated with an amount of care that makes it feel grounded. Also, it produces a couple of heart-shattering jump scares.

Lastly, the use of sound is fantastic. When the game wants you to relax and calm down, you'll hear soft flutes and piano melodies. Nonetheless, if it's time to scream, these intense, aggressive songs full of synthesizers will begin playing, slowly building tension up. As a whole, the music perfectly matches the pace and actions taking place.

As far as negatives, I only have two minor issues. The first one is the final resolution. Again, no spoilers. Like previously mentioned, the game offers multiple ending. Some of them are good, and some of them not so much. However, before the credits roll, you get a final plot twist that drastically changes everything (no matter what ending you get). So to an extent, you lose interest in replaying the tale because you know how it all ends. I respect the developers for sticking to their vision, but I wish there was an alternative conclusion.

Still, there are many incentives to give Oxenfree a second (and perhaps third) run. Different choices, short length (4-5 hours), finding letters and pictures that further add depth, etc. That's where my second problem comes from. There is a lot of backtracking to do, and the lack of a run button is highly noticeable. You're forced to walk at all times, and the long strolls can occupationally feel like a chore.

Verdict: Oxenfree presents a captivating location, spine-chilling narrative, and one versatile set of characters. Luckily it all comes together to deliver one of the most unique gaming experiences I've had this year.

The Good
- Charming Visuals
- Fascinating Story
- Well-Crafted Characters
- Unique Mechanics
- Replayability

The Bad
- Unsatisfying Ending
- Lack of a Run Button

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