When I saw this game, I knew it would make it’s way into my collection. Ignoring the simple imagery the trailer showed, I focused much more on the promise of the unknown that permeated it. This is not the first game to draw me with this promise, and in fact the last game I reviewed came to my attention for much the same reason. However, where P.O.L.L.E.N lived up to the unknown and discovering the details in the environment itself, Oxenfree chose a different way, feeding far more into the creepy-factor of the unknown instead. So how did this work out for them? Come on inside…
Story: Kids will be kids, right? In the tradition of just about every horror-slasher movie ever, our story begins with just that as Alex invites her new step-brother Jonas with her to an overnight party on the beach of Edwards Island. But this was not the night of comradery and debauchery the teens were hoping for. For starters, only five kids showed up making for the promise of a much quieter night then originally anticipated. Then we can add a level of discomfort as old grudges between Alex and one of the girls who showed up ruins what little fun there was to be had in the party itself.
But if that was all that happened, it would simply be a bad night…tonight had something more in store. This place was chosen because right next to the beach, there is a cave known for having radio signals that just should not happen, and when the kids do this, they usually bring a radio to listen in and tell spooky tales around what they hear. This time, was a little different, however, as Jonas and Alex went a little farther into the cave then was a good idea and opened something.
Shortly after, everyone was strewn about the island but the kids were no longer alone. And from this point it will be up to you as Alex to guide her and her friends through the night and survive long enough to figure out both what is going on and just what to do about it. Sadly, explaining much more would be a disservice as well as a bit harder to do then most games. It would be a disservice because while the general idea is fairly cliché, the journey to reach that conclusion is actually very well executed with damn near perfect pacing filled with unease and details that will actually lead naturally to the final conclusion. It’s also harder to do because this particular game has a lot of potential paths that can change how things go for the kids, and yet flows so well, you don’t quite realize you made a choice in many cases until a few minutes later. Simply put, the end path may overall be the same and very much like we are used to seeing, but the journey is definitely worth your time taking.
Graphics: Oxenfree is played from relative fixed camera, capturing hand-painted backgrounds which while definitely stylized and a somewhat simplified, were skillfully painted for this game. You can clearly see the workmanship as well as the style working together to put together a convincing, if not realistic looking world for the player to explore.
But this is to be expected as the characters themselves also are made to match the style presented, but do so in a more 3D rendered form. If you played old point-and-click games from the beginning of the 3D graphic revolution where everyone had to be rendered, don’t worry. The result is not nearly so crude. Rather, the characters blend nicely and unless you pay close attention, you would not notice the extra dimension. Rather it seems to be there more because it’s easier to animate 3D models made to look 2D then create images for sprites to fit facing every possible direction and action. The illusion is good enough in fact if it wasn’t for how well the sizing the characters was done for how far they get from the camera they get or the “Unity” engine logo in the end credits, you probably wouldn’t notice a thing.
But that’s not all this game will offer in the visual department. Rather it will shine in a place that most creepy games try and fail: jump scares. Now hold up before you raise pitchforks, as I’m being serious. Most games try to use these to scare you with loud sounds and a “scary picture” of something that might make you jump the first time, but quickly wear out their welcome. The developers of this game know better, as they use them far more rarely and with imagery that was chosen to disorientate much more then make you jump. They also were smart enough to not force it to stand on it’s own, but rather play it up to an event that is happening and adding to the total atmosphere of the moment. Suffice it to say, I'm actually pleasantly surprised to see a developer do this right!
Sound: What you hear when you play this game is where it will really treat you. I'm not going to lie and tell you there is a lot of variety in the sound effects, but what is here is really good. Most of it is background you will here when you play with the radio mechanic, which we will get to when we talk about the gameplay, but it is absolutely brilliant. You will get everything from static to number stations to recordings from the past to music of the WWII era depending on where you are when you turn it on. Of course it does a few other things as well, but once again, I don’t want to spoil the game for you.
But the real star here is the voice acting. All the actors really played their parts well, but that I expect to be the case a lot more these days. Give them their due, but the guy who cut it together has to get the most credit here. The game’s conversations flow naturally despite the fact that nothing Alex says is said without the player choosing it in real-time, so there is no pause while you decide what to do, and if you were to just listen to them, you would probably think there was no outside interactions influencing it. This kind of flow is rare to put it mildly, and I have to appreciate this.
Sadly, I can not say the same about the background music. It exists, but it is completely forgettable and doesn’t really even add to the spooky atmosphere most of the time.
Gameplay: Oxenfree is a point and click adventure horror title that is going to surprise a lot of people in a lot of ways. It’s relatively simple graphic-style and interface hide a lot of what this game does best under the surface, making the genuine creepy factor of this game stand out all the more. What this game does for atmosphere, it does in spades.
And gameplay also has a similar deception to it as well. Unlike most point and click titles, there is no inventory and puzzles in the traditional sense. Rather, you will move from place to place, interacting with objects as needed to progress the story, and you will have a very easy time to do it. Any gamer looking to be challenged by this title is going to be sorely disappointed.
But those who look for world building and detail are in for a rather unique treat as the outcome of the game is primarily decided by how you choose to behave and interact with the other kids in your group. No matter what is going on, conversations will occur at any given time, as people tend to do, especially when things are too tense and they need re-assurance by the group or to hash out what to do next, and Alex’s part in this will be decided by clicking on one of up to 3 word-balloons over her head… or none at all. The conversation will continue with or without your input in real-time and what you do or do not say can and will have a heavy influence on how the game turns out.
It will also play a strong part when trying to understand the supernatural events playing out around you, giving you direct influence in how this story is going to play out and what will happen at the end, even as at that moment, you may not even be aware you are making a choice. There are few games that execute this half as well.
Bugs: This is yet another game I found no bugs in while I played.
Overall: Oxenfree lives up to most of the tropes you expect out of an indie Point-and-Click game on the surface. The graphics are fairly simple, there obvious mechanics you expect for the genre are simplified to the point that some are non-existant, and it’s about a teen-girl in generic horror situation X. But if you dig deeper, you find the horror situation is executed with extreme talent and skill, making it much more involving then you would ever expect, the obvious mechanics missing are taken over by new subtle and exceedingly well crafted ones, and the graphics while simple, are used exceptionally well along side the sound to create one hell of an eerie atmosphere that will keep you rolling.
Simply put this game is going to come out of left-field to those that look past the obvious, and in fairly refreshing way. It won’t challenge you much in the traditional sense, but you will be left wondering which choices you made and how you talked to the other characters affected your end result. If this intrigues you and you have a taste for creepy games, you might want to give this game a shot. But you still might want to wait for a sale since, like many games of this type, it is actually very short (I finished it in under 4 hours).
However, if you are looking for a challenge to finish the game rather then to see your way to the best ending (which in itself could be up to you to decide), this game is simply not made with you in mind.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- Intel i3 2.0 Ghz processor
- 2 GB RAM
- Shader Model 3.0 compatible graphic card with 1 GB VRAM (so anything remotely modern)
- Windows 7
- AMD FX 8350 (8 cores) running at 4 Ghz
- 16 GB RAM
- NVidia Geforce 960 GTX with 4GB VRAM
- Windows 10