When I first heard about Oxenfree, my interest level piqued greatly. Not only did it look unique, but its art style seemed to be beautifully visceral, and its storyline sounded great, especially for someone who’s a fan of horror and the supernatural. Then, when I saw that another outlet had referred to it as Freaks and Geeks meets Poltergeist, I was 100% in.
Although the above comparison does a great job of setting the stage for the game and what it has to offer, Oxenfree deserves more description than just one line. I say that because it’s a unique and memorable experience that deserves attention for how damn good it is.
This several hour-long campaign begins on a ferry, where three teens are passing the time while en route to a local vacation spot named Edwards Island. The trio includes best buds Alex (a blue haired female who serves as the protagonist) and Ren, the resident drug fan. They’re not alone, however, as a new friend named Jonas has entered the fray and is tagging along for what promises to be an epic night of celebratory partying. Jonas isn’t just some random guy, though, and is actually Alex’s new stepbrother, now that her mother has married his father.
The opening, itself, is perfectly fitting, and sets the tone for what’s to come without going overboard. You become invested in the characters and their personal lives, and that feeling becomes even stronger once you get to the deserted island and start looking for the other two members of your booze loving group. This isn’t a game about kids getting drunk and hallucinating, though, as shit hits the proverbial fan pretty quickly.
After getting to their beach destination, the kids begin to crack open their beverages of choice and settle in for a game of truth or dare, before becoming adventurous. It’s here where things start to open up, and the island’s whispered about secret comes into play. That is, its paranormal reach, which can be tapped into using old school radios.
When the kids begin to explore the island and its strange cave, they unwittingly awaken something that isn’t so friendly. It toys with their minds, separates them and forces them all to make some grown up choices that they hadn’t planned to face while getting ready for a night of beer and campfires. As Alex, the player must navigate through all of this and try to make sure that all of the friends survive the night, while dealing with grief over the relatively recent loss of her older brother on that very same island.
At its core, the gameplay that drives the Oxenfree bus is a mix of adventuring, platforming and decision making. I know that line doesn’t make it sound unique or wholly memorable, but that ends up being the case once all of the parts come together. Oxenfree truly is an artistic, inspired and unique game, which won’t be easy to forget. Its use of radios to tap into another realm is also noteworthy, and it’s interesting to note that that’s your only weapon, per se.
Granted, a lot of the gameplay is simple and dialogue driven, forcing you to make choices that help to determine how things play out and conclude. In fact, your choices are shown alongside those of others prior to the end credits, much like in a recent Telltale game.
Most of your time will be spent exploring the island and trying to find, help or save all of your friends in the order that you see fit. To do this, you’ll encounter light puzzles and unexpected events, but nothing ever becomes difficult. This is a game that is more about being an experience than anything else, and it doesn’t set out to stump you or make you frustrated. That said, there are some noticeable technical problems on the Xbox One, which made me yell out in anger and had me wondering if I’d ever be able to finish my campaign without hitting the restart button.
Before I got to the half-way point of the game, it abruptly crashed and sent me back to my dashboard while playing an ugly noise. This wasn’t anything new, and I recognized it as your average Xbox One game crash. I’d hoped that it would end up being the only one I’d encounter, but the game ended up crashing again near its end, without any sign or warning. It simply returned to the console’s dashboard while loading.
My plan was to play through this entire, four to five hour-long game in one sitting, and I did that despite these problems. Oxenfree didn’t make things easy for me, though, because following that second crash, I was unable to even launch the thing without it returning to dash while loading. I’d get past the developer logos, see the game’s title-based loading icon, and then I’d be staring at the Xbox One’s dashboard again. This made me wonder if I’d have to delete and reinstall the game, and had me fearing that I’d lost my progress, but I was able to resume my story and finish the game’s remaining thirty to forty-five minutes by launching another app for a few minutes before retrying.
I know that I’m not alone in experiencing such crashes and launch issues, because they’ve been mentioned on at least one message board. It’s a shame, because outside of its technical problems, Oxenfree is a very good and hard to forget game, for all of the right reasons. It’s artistic yet accessible and smart yet forgiving. These problems really put a damper on my experience with it, though.
When it runs like it’s supposed to, Oxenfree is a beautiful game to watch, listen to and play. It has a great, 80s movie-inspired atmosphere, and looks like a painting come to life, complete with music that fits like a glove. The writing is also true to its characters’ ages, yet smart and witty. And, while the supernatural didn’t turn out to be what I had hoped it would, the storyline ended in an interesting and fitting way.
Overall, Oxenfree is a flawed gem, which deserves to be experienced but also needs some work – at least on Xbox One. If you’re looking for something unique to spend a night with, it’s a great choice, so long as you’re willing to overlook some of its flaws, or wait for them to be fixed.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Oxenfree is a gorgeous and artistic adventure game, which demands attention. It is, however, kept from greatness due to some unfortunate technical problems that can lead to a lot of frustration.