Story Game Corner- Oxenfree
Oxenfree is the game of my childhood. No, neither of my parents died nor divorced. I was not a rebellious teen who went to beach parties for some underage drinking shenanigans. I did not even dye my hair blue though not for lack of wanting.
But Oxenfree is about friendship and it’s the sort of adventure my friends and I craved growing up. We consumed every episode of X-files the moment they aired and quoted them much to the annoyance of our peers. We loved the idea of secluded islands with rich and tragic histories, big, mysterious houses holding dark secrets from the past, caves full of whispers and supernatural phenomena and a group of quirky friends who must discover the key to solving the mystery.
All this is to say that Oxenfree hit me in all the right spots in so many ways. It may not be a perfect game (no game is) but as a lover of spooky supernatural coming of age stories, good writing AND innovative mechanics this satisfied my every desire.
The main character of the game is Alex, a teen girl who recently lost her brother Michael to a horrible accident. She is travelling with her new step-brother Jonas to Edwards Island, a secluded island that used to be a centre of military operations now turned tourist attraction. The purpose? To have an illegal beach party with her long-time friends. Oh and to explore a spooky cave rumoured to have ghosts in it. Like you do.
Naturally playing around with supernatural forces has some adverse affects and the teens suddenly find themselves trapped on an island fighting for their lives with nothing but a radio to help them out. This is because teens are dumb when it comes to any logical decision.
The big thing that Oxenfree nails perfectly is tone. The dark imagery, tense synth soundtrack and sense of isolation all contribute to the creepy atmosphere that permeates the game. I felt like I was in a 90’s coming of age sci-fi drama written by Joss Whedon. It was perfect in every way.
Speaking of the writing, that’s the other strong aspect of the game. I barely scratched the surface of the backstory available in the game which is revealed through exploration. On my first playthrough (and I fully intend to play again) I mostly focused on getting from plot point to plot point and did not stray far from the path but it soon became apparent that I was clearly missing out on some deep and engaging history.
The commendable aspect of this though was even without all of the backstory to explain every single bit there was just enough to feel like I had a full experience. I cannot wait to go back and explore every corner of that island to find out as much as I can but at the same time I appreciate that not every answer is spelled out to the player. The best mysteries are those that still have questions at the end.
Can I just say how refreshing it is to have well written teenagers in a game? Ones that are not annoying or too selfish? I mean, of course they are a little selfish almost everyone is. But Oxenfree manages to balance that with some truly likeable and relatable personalities. Even the “antagonist” of the group has some great moments and you can see where she is coming from when it comes to her dislike of Alex.
Which brings me to the main mechanic of the game: the dialogue system. This has to be some of the most interesting implementation I have seen in an adventure game so far. Much like Telltale, you have multiple choices of answers to give another character and a time limit in which to say them. Unlike Telltale it is much more naturally integrated.
If your answer interrupts another characters dialogue it sounds like an interruption. Sometimes the other character will even pick up their conversation after the interruption preceding it with an “Anyway, as I was saying” before getting back on topic. Sometimes what you say affects how they think of other characters though it is not immediately apparent how this is important.
It does not always entirely work. At times I wanted to hear what the other characters had to say in its entirety but almost all dialogue choices had me interrupting the other characters before my time ran out and it was never predictable when they would pick up the conversation when it left off or when they would move on to something else.
Exploring can also get a bit tedious through the island which was part of the reason I did not find every nook and cranny. I was simply eager to find out just what the heck was going on and travelling across the island took a lot of time.
Regardless of these factors I still had a ton of fun with this. I would go on and on with all the game has to offer but I dare not spoil the very unique story that Oxenfree has to offer. Play this game. Play it twice. This is one that I hope will get the appreciation it deserves.