Oxenfree Review

Dan Webb

All it takes is a solitary, coherent, compelling idea and a cohesive team to make a great game. Whatever the team size is, as long as you have those, you’re onto a winner. Of course, the smaller the team, the easier it can be to nail those two elements. Oxenfree is an example of just that. One simple but effective idea conveyed almost perfectly by a small group of ex-Telltale and Disney developers, now known as Night School Studio.

Oxenfree is a coming of age adventure game that throws a group of teenagers – some friends, some complete strangers – into a paranormal mystery on a remote island. You play as Alex, a teenager with a troubled past and an uncertain future, thrust to the head of the group when things start to go drastically wrong. Edwards Island, once home to a military instalment, now home to miscreant teenagers and small novelty gift stores, isn’t as plain as it seems, and the teenagers find themselves wrapped up in the mysteries of the island. No, there are no smoke monsters here, just intrigue and a cast of wonderfully written characters.

As an adventure game, your time is mostly spent searching for clues on Edwards Island, trying to get to the bottom of the mystery that the five teenagers find themselves in. It’s a relatively simple game, in truth, with the odd puzzle thrown in for good measure, but it’s all about the story here. All about the journey. All about the voyage of discovery.

Oxenfree is almost like a Telltale game, but with a lot more choice, although on the surface it might not seem that way. With its branching dialogue system, your interactions with characters can vastly differ depending on your choices; and on top of that, there’s even multiple endings. If you don’t like a character, you can choose to reflect that in the dialogue, and even further down the line, in some of the later decisions. From a storytelling perspective, the game is beautifully crafted. The voice actors’ stellar performances, the stunningly executed script, the intricately woven story and the unique and effective storytelling mechanics all come together to create what is undoubtedly one of the indie darlings of the year.

Granted, it’s a relatively short game, but that isn’t where the criticism should fall. In fact, most of the criticism falls on its technical merits. Sometimes the controls can be finicky, sometimes the AI characters can get stuck on scenery, sometimes they'd get permanently stuck there preventing me from progressing the story, meaning I'd have to load an earlier save, losing 20-minutes of progress. They’re all mild annoyances. The big stickler though is the amount of time the game crashes. No word of a lie, it must have crashed 20 plus times on me from start to finish. The checkpoints are fairly decent, so it’s not a huge issue, it’s just a mild inconvenience, one that mars an otherwise wonderful experience.

Achievement-wise, Oxenfree has a decent little list. They’re mostly collectible achievements – but they’re relatively easy – and ending achievements on the whole, but there’s a couple of unique ones thrown in for good measure. A good list for a good little game, but you do have to play it through three times. Yes, three times.

Oxenfree is evidence that you don’t need big budgets to make great games. Its cohesive vision, coupled with an engaging script, a fantastic cast and a riveting narrative, is the perfect recipe for the perfect adventure. Had it not been for the game’s technical issues, Oxenfree would undoubtedly be enjoying the high life in the 90s, but because of those unfortunate and highly frustrating moments, it’s not. They’re not game breaking issues by any means, but it definitely sours what is otherwise an excellent and wholly memorable experience.

 

Oxenfree’s soundtrack is a stunner. Its funky beats hidden amid a barrage of eerie chord arrangements are delightful from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of the Drive soundtrack, in fact. Also, the voice acting is superb.

Its hand-painted and over-stylised visuals are a pleasure on the ol’ eyes.

The controls, for the most part, are functional, but can be a little fiddly at times.

The story and the actual game itself are a wonderful experience; really one to behold, but it suffers from frequent crashes. And when we say frequent, we really mean it.

There’s a really good list here. Our only qualm: having to play through the game three times.

Oxenfree just goes to show that you don’t need vast wads of cash to make great games. You can make one with a strong enough idea and a solid and unwavering vision. With its engaging story, its excellent voice-acting and enthralling dialogue, Oxenfree is a game to remember, marred only by its constant crashes, which is less than ideal.

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