Level Up: Review of Oxenfree

By Samual Cale on September 28, 2017 from Level Up via Connect-Bridgeport.com

I often find myself seeking games with a story I have not yet experienced, and the bimonthly free games that come with Xbox Live Gold sometimes introduce me to what I’m looking for. One recent example is Oxenfree, whichis a story-driven single player horror adventure, developed and published by Night School Studio. While not particularly terrifying, Oxenfree produces a rather tense atmosphere and can be quite disturbing at times.
In Oxenfree, you are a teenage girl named Alex, going to a light night beach party on an abandoned island with her best friend, Ren, and her new stepbrother, Jonas. Once there, you meet with Nona and Clarissa. You quickly learn that this (fictional) island, Edwards Island, was once home to a military base and a communications training academy. Ren tells you about legends that at the mouth of a certain cave, you can tune a radio to a certain station and some sort of creepy supernatural phenomenon will occur, and being reckless teenagers, you and Jonas decide to investigate his claims. Sure enough, a strange light and noise appears when you tune in outside the cave, and Jonas insists that you come with him deeper into the cave to investigate further. You find a strange floating triangle of light, and tuning your radio causes a beam to extend, and make another small triangle, followed by a third, which connects to the first, forming some sort of rift in space-time. You and the other teens pass out and awaken scattered across the island, having seen visions. It is now up to you to find your friends, solve the mystery behind these bizarre occurrences, and escape Edwards Island.
The gameplay of Oxenfree is simple in concept, yet requires much thought on the player’s part. You move in a mostly two-dimensional environment, which you usually influence using a single button. You must interact with your friends to gain their trust or hatred, and you generally must be quick to speak, as the conversation will move on without you if you are too slow, much like it does in the real world.
You will have between two and four options in conversation, one of which is always silence. One complaint I have on the topic of speech is that, like many other games with a large social interaction aspect, your options are sometimes misleading. By misleading, I mean that the player may interpret what the summary says one way, but Alex will take it in the exact opposite direction of what you thought it meant when you chose it. While there are a myriad of social conundrums, there are also challenging puzzles.
More than once in my play through, I found myself referencing YouTube guides to make sure I got it right, fearing dire consequences if I were to make a mistake. Your primary tool for obtaining background information, uncovering the mysteries of Edwards Island, and dealing with its supernatural phenomenon is your handheld radio. For example, next to the historical plaques on the island, you can tune into 102.3 to hear about the significance of the building you stand before. Oxenfree is a relatively short game, which I can appreciate, surprisingly. Some games that are extremely long begin to feel like a drag, as you wonder when it will finally conclude, but not Oxenfree, which is long enough to be immersive but short enough to avoid becoming boring.
On the topic of graphics, Oxenfree has its own style, which is quite different from most mainstream games. Instead of being realistically drawn, it is more artistic and cartoon-like. The backgrounds are often quite beautiful, even if they are a bit dark and foreboding. The music will often foreshadow what comes next, as it will change from being peaceful and serene to a more suspenseful tune when danger draws near.
Overall, I give Oxenfree a seven out of ten. It provides a story of mystery and suspense, and illustrates how such events can put friendships under tension. It offers thought-provoking gameplay that will leave some of the brightest of us scratching our heads for a time, and all of this is delivered in a deceptively cute and artistic graphical scheme. If you seek mystery and a tense evening, I recommend Oxenfree.

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