Let’s cut to the chase – in a year of excellent indie titles, Oxenfree is 2016’s best so far. If you have a platform that will run it, you’ll be doing yourself no harm in downloading this emotionally engaged, smartly written supernatural adventure. Read on to know why…
The first thing to note is that Oxenfree’s developers, Night School Studio, have real pedigree. Made up of former Telltale Games and Disney staffers, the teams talent for story and art-direction is clear to see from the beginning of this twistingly (and twisted) entertaining game. We won’t go into any spoilers in this review as a big part of the enjoyment of Oxenfree is to be had by going in cold. Concurrently vibrant and foreboding, heart-warming and wrenching, Oxenfree begins as a story of old friends trying to make new beginnings and explores the difficulty of letting go. It’s rare to see a videogame treat a subject matter with such maturity and nuance, as well as merging these themes in the sci-fi/paranormal genre.
While the story and art-direction take the (much-deserved) plaudits, Oxenfree is genuinely fun to play. Night School Studio have distinguished themselves from Telltale in crafting their game in the style of the classic LucasArts adventure games of the early to mid 90s, instead of the more current in-vogue interactive movies. That’s not to say that Oxenfree is a relic, it really isn’t. The narrative encourages back tracking and exploration, whilst allowing freedom in how you approach crucial decisions; you’re relationships with your friends have a heavy bearing on the story and the game subtly acknowledges your choices without telling you if you’ve done something right or wrong – a choice or comment might make a friend think of someone in a different light, but you won’t know this explicitly. It’s refreshing after being hit over the head with “They Will Remember That” or instant save icons after you’ve come to a crossroad in other games of Oxenfree’s ilk.
Another superior aspect of Oxenfree is its use of radio – both as a gameplay mechanic and as a way to create a unique atmosphere. You’re able to change the frequency on your radio at will, sometimes picking up samples of old-timey music, snatches of conversations, unsettling static and, alarmingly, distress signals. At one point, we picked up a news broadcast of teenagers going missing and were convinced it was about my group – try as we might, we could never get that news bulletin again. It’s these things that help set the game apart and make it special, rivalling the likes of Alan Wake, Silent Hill 2 and The Witcher 3 in atmosphere and world-building.
Oxenfree doesn’t hold you by the hand and isn’t on the nose. It trusts the player to understand it’s messages and objectives and invites you to put your own interpretation on events. It’s refreshing to come across such a confident effort that is willing to treat its audience as an adult, and though you’re playing as a group of teenagers aiming to (initially) get drunk at a beach party, it brings a level of maturity and integrity to a story that easily could have been over-explained and heavy-handed. While this might frustrate some, we found this to be one of Oxenfree’s strengths and a reason we’ll be discussing it for some time to come.
We cannot recommend Oxenfree enough. Gorgeous to look at, and just as beautiful to play, Oxenfree is a masterclass in story, sound, atmosphere and gameplay. For a first time effort, we genuinely can’t wait to see what Night School Studio do next, and with Oxenfree, they’ve created a world where the possibilities are endless – this isn’t a game we’re willing to let go of just yet.
9.0 out of 10
Oxenfree is out now for PC and Xbox One, and will be released on PS4 at a later date.