I recently played through Oxenfree, yet another game set in my Cascadian home that plays to the sinister magic of the region; whatever keeps the Californians from moving here, I suppose.
Like most of the single-player games I enjoy, Oxenfree is heavily invested in its narrative. The title is fairly gameplay light; I’d almost go so far as to call it a walking simulator, if that didn’t seem to be such a weird characterization for what’s effectively a 3-D sidescroller. Still, the gameplay will mostly be comprised of exploring the game’s island as you progress through the plot, using your handheld radio to tune into anomalies found throughout the map.
Oxenfree draws its clearest inspirations from teen horror flicks of the 80s and 90s, centering on a group of teens who venture to an empty island to enjoy a night of fun. As you’d expect, it doesn’t take long before their plans are upended and the weirdness sets in.
The game would best be categorized as a psychological horror title, relying on the strength of its characters to build tension instead of cheap jump scares. Featuring a team of veteran voice actors, the dialogue delivery is some of the best I’ve experienced in a game, notable in particular for the timing of characters’ lines. The flow of interaction finds realism through the ways characters constantly interrupt and talk over each other like actual people, something I’d never known I was missing in video games until now. Beyond the quality, dialogue delivers on the quantity front as well; there’s hardly a moment where someone isn’t going on about something, be it the characters’ relationships with each other or the events unfolding around them. The game’s conversation system includes a choice and consequence element where your choices will decide how characters view you and the way the story progresses and eventually ends.
There are several mysteries to be unraveled as you progress through Oxenfree, and they won’t all be laid out clearly just by following the main plot. As you journey through the vacant island, you’ll find clues to its history hidden along the way, challenging the player to piece together the full story in their head.
Despite being a horror title, I wouldn’t really characterize Oxenfree as scary. It’s certainly an engaging and thrilling experience, but there was never any point in this game where I felt like I was in danger of having a heart attack; this is likely a result of the aforementioned avoidance of jump scares. If you’re the type who usually avoids horror games, I wouldn’t rule the game out purely on that basis.
For the bottom line, Oxenfree features a solid story with excellent dialogue, engaging conversation choices, and enough mystery to keep you interested. My single-sitting playthrough of the game took around 4 hours, which does introduce a question of value for a $20 title. While I would unreservedly recommend playing the game, your personal value judgments may make this one to pick up when it goes on Steam sale.