When I booted up Oxenfree for the first time, I had no idea of what to expect. The art style had intrigued me, and I had heard it was an incredibly unique game experience. Behind the simple promise of an indie adventure with supernatural themes lurked a tale of mistakes, trauma, and learning to forgive and forget. Oxenfree begins in the present day, in a northwest coast city adjacent to “Edwards Island,” where most of the game will take place.
You play as Alex, a teenage girl who boards a ferry to the aforementioned Edwards Island. You and your friend Ren are planning to go to a senior year party on the beach of the island, but you also have to bring your new step brother Jonas along, who you’ve just met today. Once arriving, you realize no one except for two others, Nona and Clarisse who have decided to show up. Deciding not to waste the evening, you decide to mess with your radio, as it is believed there are stations you can hear that don’t actually exist. After following a signal into a cave, the night takes a turn from bad to worse.
A supernatural pulse sends everyone to different locations on the island, and comes down to your leadership to survive until daybreak. As the night goes on and you learn more about the history of the island’s abandoned military base, time itself begins to work in strange and unpredictable ways. Depending on your actions and how you manipulate the strange time loops on the island, you can make or break friendships, stop a ghostly vengeance 70 years in the making, and even bring the dead back to life. But every action has a price, and in stakes such as these, make sure you understand the risks that come with dealing with the supernatural.
Oxenfree is a choose-your-own-adventure style game, with the gameplay mostly dealing with your choices, and the consequences of them. The dialogue feels well written, and genuinely feels like teenagers talking to each other. Over the course of the night on Edwards Island, you get to watch the character deal with their issues and confront their darkest fears, which leads to intense moments that build character in interesting ways.
The artstyle is interesting, with a simplistic design for the 3D characters, over a 2D background. The strangeness of its art style adds to the unnerving tone, and it didn’t clash with my taste like I thought it might. It is clear that there was a lot of effort poured into making a unique atmosphere. The soundtrack is very eerie, using soft electronic music and radio static in pieces that create an environment that feels like there’s something lurking nearby.
Overall, I think Oxenfree has a lot of really good aspects about it. Although indie games usually push the envelope in some way that you wouldn’t see from a triple-A developer, the style of choose-your-own adventure is eternal.
If I were to change anything about the game, I would add random aspects to the time looping mechanic, such as random lines or events that might occur across different playthroughs to make you want to play it more than once. But complaints aside, this game is a really interesting exploration of the time loop idea and the supernatural, with a high school twist.
You can play this on PC as well as on console, including Nintendo Switch. The current price is around $20, which I feel is asking a little much, but it is still an incredibly fun adventure if you want to tuck into a story where you can become immersed in the world and characters.
(Image source: Steam)