So I just finished a pretty great game on the X-Box One. I played Oxenfree, the first game from Night School Studio, a collection of former Disney and Telltale Games employees. This game was also backed in some part by Robert Kirkman’s Skybound Entertainment, who is adapting the game into a film and web series apparently.
In this game you play as Alex who — with her friend Ren, her new step brother Jonas, and two classmates named Nona and Clarissa — unleashes supernatural forces on a semi abandoned island. This island used to host a now-decommissioned military base; not to mention it was the site of several deadly accidents, most notably the sinking of a submarine. Alex and her friends must use her trusty radio and knowledge of the island to survive the night. From the very start, Oxenfree’s story was pretty solid. Which is important, it being a plot-driven game and all.
Alex, the main character (voiced by Erin Yvette), is a young girl who is dealing with the death of her brother, her parents divorce, and her mother’s remarriage. Throughout the game you are paired with Jonas, played by voice actor Gavin Hammon, who is your new step brother. The game opens with Alex and Jonas on a ferry with Ren, Alex’s best friend, on their way to a high-school party on an abandoned island. When you get to the island you find that there are only 2 other people there: Nona, the girl that Ren has a crush on, and her friend Clarissa, your dead brother’s ex girlfriend.
After playing a brief game of “Truth or Slap,” you, Ren and Jonas go into the nearby caves with your radio and basically awaken ghosts who are trying to possess you and your friends. The rest of the game you are trying to figure out ways off of the island and a way to fix your friends. The story seems fairly straightforward but it gets creepy while not being terrifying, and manages to be emotional without getting sappy. The interactive narrative is thrilling as much as it is intriguing and, since you have choices to make, will play out a little different for everyone.
The game itself was also fun to play. The main gameplay mechanic is choice. You often have three options available for what can be said to people around you, and these decisions alter both the story and how your friends see you. My only issue with how they implemented this mechanic is that, instead of using the d-pad, they use the X, Y, and B buttons to chose what you say. For some reason I found this unnatural, often having to rush to pick a response and occasionally picking something I didn’t intend.
The thing I really enjoyed though was that, unlike a lot of other choice-based games, I had a lot of freedom and movement options. I could run around and climb stuff while still picking what I am going to say. The other really cool feature was the radio tuner. You use a radio to activate the ghosts, unlock doors and fix strange time loops that are caused by the ghosts (or perhaps something else). This radio is also used to unlock collectibles, called Anomalies, which are super creepy.
There are two things I didn’t really care for though. The first is how the game saves. The game only saves when you move to a new area, which can be very frustrating. I had to repeat a few sections because the game crashed or was turned off after all the dialogue and everything was completed, but before I moved to a new section of the map. This was not that bad of a thing, just mildly irritating.
The second thing I didn’t like was that the game takes some really unexpected turns in tone. It suddenly becomes a horror game then suddenly a mystery game then suddenly an emotional game about grief. To be honest It had me reeling a few times, just because I was caught off-guard by how harsh and violent it could be and how truly creepy it was. But at the end of the day it hit each of the elements it was going for really well and didn’t cause the story to become incoherent. It just never let me get settled, which I am not used to.
Overall this game is a really fun and kind of scary game. The story is fantastic, the art is mind blowing and the mechanics are really fun. 5/5 for this game. I absolutely loved it.
As a side note, if you are going to play this game, make sure that you turn the volume up as it has one of the best sound tracks I have ever heard in a videogame ever!