Alex has no recollection of where she is or how she’s ended in tears near the shore. Slowly, she gets on her feet, and looks herself in the mouth of the river beside the sea. After washing her face she returns to her senses and notices her solitude. Without giving too much thought about her position and starts a silent walk, only disrupted by the unceasing static of her pocket radio. Pressing and scrolling through every button does nothing to turn it off so despite her endeavor to stop the unintelligible podcast she can’t quite shut it down, thus bearing with the sound becomes another annoyance in addition to her grim situation. After walking up the hill, the ceasing the clamor of her radio slowly dies off radio and is replaced by shifting shades, which devour the light of the pale moon. Anyone else would have turned around and running away from such a place was the smartest thing to do but Alex is tired of crawling and giving in to tormented voices without face. She deeply stares into the mauling shadows and in return they stared at her. After many years, the visages have lost all expression except the regret which is deeply settled on them. The forgotten shadows died miserably years ago and so they expect Alex’s fate to be like their own, to drag her into the abyss they reside. Fortunately, by looking at them Alex recognizes the many mistakes and so she will be rewarded by leading one of the greatest games of 2016: Oxenfree
Even though Oxenfree definitely doesn’t break any stereotype I must say it gets more things right than giants of the industry like Telltale or David Cage. It can also compete with games like Firewatch or The vanishing of Ethan Carter even though I feel like Oxenfree is much less known than the those. Developed by Night School Studio and released almost a year ago, May 31th 2016, Oxenfree asks the player to follow Alex and her group of friends through a whole night to unveil the mysteries of the island in which they reunite every year to party down. Edwards Island is a very enjoyable location with a lot of variety and gorgeous landscape, navigating it is surprisingly easy which really encourages a second run because somehow the player feels that there’s was another way to discover the island.
The game puts a lot of emphasis in his characters and the relationship with each other. Alex (Erin Yvette), Jonas (Gavin Hammon), Ren (Aaron Kuban), Nona (Britanni Johnson) and Clarissa (Avital Ash) may not be the most diverse or large set of characters but they have cohesion, feel emphatic (or hateful) towards each other. The voice actor strengthen even more the characters with a sublime portrayal of their personalities. They laugh, get scared and make bad puns and they make it feel real.
The art and sound department are probably the most controversial part of the game for me. As I said before indie games don’t have necessarily put much work on what they are saying but rather how they say it and art is a fundamental part of storytelling in games, they rely in narrative to make everything work. Art and sound encourage the player to engage in the game and make the game stand out what it is telling. Moreover Night School Studio has made Edward Island looks gorgeous at every single stage of the game. They are also very clever so mentioning how the camera works is a must in this review because they make the worst part of art look no so badly. Giving a far away vision of the characters may seem trivial but helps compensate how different the character models look in distinction to the environment and since the game doesn’t focus on details but on the bigger picture I’d say it gets the job done. Another good decision is that somehow, unless I’m going crazy, the environment swings and imitates the movements of a ship which adds to the weirdness of the story. Nice touch.
The music deserves praise, with awesome creepy tunes which dive between dream and reality settling the mod to enjoy the experience. It’s the perfect topping for a very good ice-cream. Besides creepiness it also offers joyful tunes and paranormal melodies. The work of the composers in that section is incredible.
Another great part of Oxenfree is how the dialogues are implemented, likewise it’s probably why the game feels so fresh. In conventional games, when any characters talks, the player has to wait until however is talking stops their speech to interact with them. After an answer is given, the flow of the conversation re starts until you have to reply again. In Oxenfree there is a twist in the conventional system: above Alex, different speech bubbles appear every time she can say something, then the player can choose if she wants Alex to listen or just interrupt the annoying character that won’t shut up. That also means that she can let the characters talk about themselves or the things they like because the game never really stops. Video games conversations usually stop the flow of the discussion to give the player time to read and answer whatever they want to reply: it feels clunky and unnatural or at least it feels after Oxenfree, because it has created a dynamic environment where the actions never actually stops.
There are also smaller part of automated platforming which offer variety even thought dying is impossible. I don’t really want to spoil other parts of the gameplay but it’s also possible to interact with the objects on the map, to grab or twist them, among other actions.
One minor complaint I have is the low customization of the controls. For a game like Oxenfree there is no excuse for not letting the player how they should use the mouse and keyboard. In my case, I wish I could select the dialog balloons with my keyboard instead of clicking with the mouse for the sake I’ve found myself missing an answer because I wasn’t holding my mouse at the moment. The radio is another of those cases because to channels you need to hold the pointer with the mouse which feels rather badly. Using the scroll wheel would make more sense to me.
Oxenfree is a short game, it will last for 4–5 hours which is absolutely the right decision in such a re playable game. It’s also extremely easy so there will be no frustrations that will stop the player from enjoying the plot. In conclusion, it’s a very solid game, with rich character and great storytelling. In a world that is polluted by walking simulators, genre that is for some reason embraced by indie studies, which makes me wonder if this genre is just the cheapest to produce or maybe indie companies are just not good enough to make a game with a story with also actual game play, games like Oxenfree suppose something to be treasured and shared with many people as possible.
Olly olly oxen free
4th entry on medium and I must said this was fun even thought it’s been sitting in my drafts for at least 2 months. I’m slowly getting there, so maybe in a few years I’ll be able to write what I really feel in an interesting way. Thanks for reading me and see you soon!