Oxenfree (2016): Video Game Review
A gripping and genuinely scary ghost story wrapped up in an indie styled shell, while at the same time marking an impressive debut for Night School Entertainment. It’s Oxenfree.
A supernatural thriller of a puzzle game set on an abandoned military island where Alex and her friends, along with new stepbrother Jonas, plan to hold an overnight party while she also attempts to deal with the fallout from her brother’s death. Things however soon take a turn for the worst when the friends accidentally open a portal to the spirit world as the group soon find themselves forced to confront ghosts from the islands past while trying to make it through the night.
The game meanwhile sees you guiding Alex around the island as she attempt solve the mystery of the ghostly apparitions which continue to plague her and her friends, this is very much a dialogue and puzzle driven game which is more about building tension and a sense of creeping dread than it is about big action sequences. Players are able to control Alex’s dialogue options by selecting one of the colour coded speech bubbles which appear above her head. At the same time she also carries with her a radio which can not only be tuned into nearby spirits but also be used to pick up old radio broadcasts and even snippits of information relating to the buildings and locations on the island as well as providing clues to secrets hidden in the varies locations which Alex discovers on her journey across the island.
Developed and published by Night School Entertainment, a studio made up of former “Disney” and “Telltale Games” alumni with Oxenfree being scripted by Adam Hines who previously worked as the head writer for “Tales From The Borderland” its unsurprising that this game very much has the same feel as the “Telltale Games” especially with your choices once more effecting the outcome of the game as well as more keyly the relationship which Alex has with the various group members. The link to Telltale can also be found in the fantastic voice cast which includes Erin Yvette (The Wolf Amongst Us / Tales From The Borderlands) and Gavin Hamnon (The Walking Dead / Wolf Amongst Us) which will no doubt be greeted with much delight by the established fan base much like Britanni Johnson who previously voiced Angel in Borderlands 1 + 2.
Using a distinctive artistic styling alongside original art by Heather Gross it makes the game reminiscent of “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World” something only further added to by the sharp dialogue throughout the game which regardless of the path you choose to take it. However when it comes to the dialogue while the speech bubble options are a nice touch over the traditional bottom bar of dialogue options the timing of the dialogue can at times feel that your speaking over characters lines rather than adding to the conversation leaving it coming off more awkward that it should. Interestingly the game can also be played with Alex not saying anything throughout the game as the other characters talk between themselves. Perhaps not the most engaging gaming experience if you choose to go this route but it will however earn you an achievement point / trophy.
However, when it comes to the dialogue nothing is hinted at for the player, with many of the puzzles throughout the game requiring players to remember pieces of information they have gathered from each area. At the same time it’s a game which avoids going for an info dump ending instead slowly revealing the truth behind the island though snippets of information making it all the more important for the player to be constantly mindful of what any of the characters are saying as is especially true during some of the flashback scenes which enable Alex to potentially change her future depending on the player manipulating the conversation to avoid future events happening.
Still despite the pastel colour scheme and cartoonish character design under the surface this game certainly hides a much darker side, with Adam Hines crafting here a truly effective ghost story, with the game constantly able to create a creeping sense of dread and some genuinely unnerving moments throughout its runtime bringing back nostalgic memories of the early “Silent Hill” and “Resident Evil” games and all without spilling a single drop of pixilated blood. Amongst these standout moments are the scenes in which Alex is required to play games such as hangman to free one of her possessed friends while a game of hide and seek is possibly one of the more tense gaming moments of late.
While the game gives the indication of having multiple endings there really are only two and even then its more outcomes for characters than any real major difference between the two, though that being said the game does end on a rather delightful twist which for a change doesn’t feel like a crutch for the plot, like so many games / films of late. Unquestionably one of the more original titles both in terms of and an exciting debut for “Night School Entertainment” who truly mark themselves out as a studio to watch with this title which is well worth checking out.
Oxenfree (2016): Video Game Review
Developer: Night School Entertainment
Publisher: Night School Entertainment
Platform(s): Windows, Linux, PS4, Xbox One