REVIEW: Oxenfree - PS4
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Tuning into another dimension of storytelling?
This 2 ½ D paranormal choice-based game, has been on my list to play for what seems like years now. It has always slipped under the radar for some reason but with an influx of spare time on my hands now, I decided to finally give Oxenfree a go and I loved it so much that I completed it in one sitting, over a few short hours (you can watch my playthrough here!).
Released in 2016 and developed by Night School Studio, Oxenfree follows a group of teenagers who visit the mostly abandoned Edwards Island for a night of partying. Whilst relaxing on the beach, Jonas and his new step-sister Alex stumble upon a strange cavern. In the cave, Alex uses her radio to tune into a mysterious frequency that opens a dimensional rift, causing paranormal events to happen to the group. The group gets separated and players navigate Alex as she attempts to find her friends, survive the hauntings and get off the island. With this being a choice based game, the dialogue choices the player makes as well as other variables affect the ending of the story.
The most distinctive element to this game is its art style, the charming almost storybook style illustrative characters are beautifully crafted and this is highlighted during the loading screens when Polaroids that the group takes are displayed onscreen. Each character is uniquely designed with their age and personality taken into consideration. The world the characters explore is also breathtaking due to what feels like a collage-like aesthetic to it, with layers making use of light and dark to add depth to this mostly 2D world. The speech bubbles used to identify which character is speaking as well as displaying Alex's dialogue options also fit seamlessly into the world and are colour coded to each character that is speaking. All of these design choices fit perfectly with the solemn but spooky aesthetic that Night School Studios were trying to portray.
Once you're past the initial appearance of the game, it is the cinematic storytelling that is next to impress. Although this game is centred around the usual dumb teenagers who get entangled in a paranormal plot storyline, I don't think I cringed once at any dialogue or plot points. The writing in this game feels genuine and is typical of how real teenagers talk - which is rare in entertainment these days! The voice acting is also superb with each character having a unique voice (literally and figuratively), no two characters felt the same and you were able to enjoy each character's time whilst onscreen - even the unlikeable characters were difficult to hate.
Moving onto the gameplay aspect of Oxenfree, which was mostly instinctive as only minor clues given to the controls. The main mechanics include; walking, selecting dialogue, interacting with objects and controlling the radio, which were all simple and easily remembered as you delved deeper into the game. If anything, the game gave you too much freedom with the choice to interrupt characters who were talking, wait until a lull in the conversation to reply, or even not reply at all. Although this was great when you grew tired of the mundane conversation, it did make it hard to know when to continue into the next area and cut the characters off as you never knew if what they were saying would come in handy later or was just to build character. It was cool being able to just do your own thing and explore with the dialogue happening around you though, when typically you'd have to wait for cutscenes to end. With this freedom, came FOMO (fear of missing out) though. Although I finished the story, I can't help but feel like I missed out on something important in the story or could have made a better decision if I knew more backstory. I suppose this is where the replayability comes into play though as this game has 5 possible endings.
If you're looking for a horror game to shake you to your core, Oxenfree isn't that kind of game. It's cool and poignant storytelling does have some creepy scenes and quite a few tense moments that kept you on the edge of your seat, however if you go into it expecting to be scared, you may come out disappointed. You're much better off going into this game with a thriller/mystery/Sci-Fi mindset, but don't worry there are still ghosts! (If you are looking for some more spooky titles, take a look at #5 of our Lockdown Survival Guide!)
It was so easy to get sucked into Oxenfree's story, which is what lead me to play the 4-hour game in one sitting! And although, it was exploring a story that has been told numerous times in the genre, it felt refreshing and the gameplay felt innovative. I really enjoy short games that bring something new to the table and I am so happy to finally add Oxenfree to one of my favourite games of that kind. I am really looking forward to replaying this game to see what else I can uncover about Alex's past, Edwards Island and Jonas' feelings towards Alex. Oxenfree is always popping up on sale so if you get the chance and don't mind being a little spooked, I highly recommend playing it!
Oxenfree is available now on Steam, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and even iOS/Android.
For more reviews from me, see what other video games I have reviewed on Nerd Out Word Out as well as my own blog hopeelizab.co.uk