This is part 4 of my video game 52 for 52 – a full list of games played so far can be found here
Platform: PC (version played), Xbox One
The premise for Oxenfree wouldn’t seem out of place under ‘Cliché Teen Screams’ on Netflix; five friends go to a difficult-to-reach island for an all night beach party with spooky results. Such a premise doesn’t usually inspire the greatest amount of confidence in the viewer but they’ll probably watch anyway if Netflix is recommending it, Thankfully, there’s more to Oxenfree than just a generic teen horror backdrop, which puts the spotlight heavily on the characters and their relationships rather than the supernatural goings on.
One of the game’s stand-out features comes with its conversation mechanics. A key part in relationship building in exploration/adventure games, it’s nice to see general chatter flow more naturally (including interruptions, a sticking point for even the most well-scripted titles) as if they were being uttered by real-life counterparts without any stilted pauses, ‘so-and-so will remember this’-s, or awkward pop-culture references as seen in the otherwise excellent Life is Strange. As is usual, the choices you make can affect the story but the game doesn’t throw it in your face, which is a welcome change – the team behind the game (Night School Studio) have some Telltale alumni in there so its nice to see them go a slightly different path when it comes to conversation and consequence.
I must make a quick mention of the artstyle, which I found really appealing – the backdrops feel like beautiful, if moody, paintings and work well in contrast with the cartoon-y character models, as well as some good visual effects utilised when the time comes. And of course it wouldn’t be something written by me if I didn’t mention the soundtrack, which cakes the environment and backgrounds with the perfect atmosphere with just a hint of melancholy.
I was impressed by the characters on show, with each feeling like they have their own personality without fitting into expected stereotypes and it was enjoyably hearing about their relationships and backstory through the game’s focus on ‘walk and talk’ as you explore the areas for your next destination or point of interest. The story too has some nice twists from the norm and feels well paced for the amount of gameplay on offer (around 4-5 hours). Outside of dialogue and exploration, there’s not so much in the way of traditional gameplay mechanics – there aren’t a huge amount of puzzles and the one’s that are there aren’t exactly challenging – but I don’t see that as a complaint. What was a problem was a little too much backtracking and a paradoxically underused but at the same time overused radio mechanic.
However, this game is absolutely more about the characters relationships than anything else and at that it succeeds – the game doesn’t distract itself too much from its core concept and its much the better for it.