If Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn, Thatgamecompany’s Journey and Christopher Smith’s mind-bending psychological horror flick Triangle had a love child, it would be Night School Studio’s recently released Oxenfree. It pays homage to Until Dawn for the personal element where you’re in control of your character’s dialogue; Journey, for the beautiful, artistic graphics that made it a pleasure to view; and Triangle, for… well…
I’m a huge fan of the new cinematic gameplay made popular by The Telltale Games and, more recently, Until Dawn. Oxenfree took what we’re familiar with and expanded on the old mechanics while adding something new. In doing so, Night School Studio has created a beautiful experience that anyone who’s a fan of the above aforementioned games should play.
The story follows a group of recent high school grads on their annual getaway to an old military island, now inhabited by one family and a few kitschy shops. Upon arrival, they notice the “town” (which consists of only a Main St.) is empty, and the one woman who used to live there has passed. A great start to both a horror game and a horror movie, albeit a little predictable. Remote island, teens with booze and brownies, and a mysterious floating triangle?
You read that right. The mayhem on the island is triggered when you tune your hand radio into a certain frequency, connecting with this floating triangle, and unlocking otherworldly beings. But that’s all I’m going to say about the plot because, seriously, it’s one you should experience spoiler-free.
Like many of the other cinematic games, Oxenfree requires you to walk… a lot. The island provides handy “roads” and “paths” for you to walk on, but beyond that there is no free exploration of the entire island. Sure, you can walk to each of the specific island locations whenever you’d like, but you can only venture where the path leads you, so it’s a bit constrictive in that sense. There is no option to run (though your character sometimes chooses on her own to do so) and the sharp corners are somewhat difficult to maneuver with the A-S-W-D controls (I’m a fan of just the up-down-left-right configuration).
The shining moments in Oxenfree are when you’re required to open your hand radio and tune into specific frequencies. On a trackpad it’s a bit of a challenge to scroll through the frequencies, so I imagine this would be easier to do with a mouse. It’s also hard to find some of the stations you’re looking for. I spent quite a while on a few, which did cause my frustration to grow. But, in general, this feature of the game is genius. Radios are inherently a scary item to use—you never know who’s going to be broadcasting on the other end. Mix that with creepy stations that run on repeat, and ghostly creatures hidden within others, it really created an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.
There are some scares, which I liken more to jump scares than being actually terrifying. The fact that this is experienced through a caricature of real life—what with the graphics border lining on cartoony—makes it considerably less scary. We’re also removed from the action, viewing camera poised a good distance away from the characters and the scene. So things that were meant to be scarier are a bit diluted.
All-in-all, I wholeheartedly recommend giving Oxenfree a play through. Will you be as compelled to “beat” it multiple times like Until Dawn? Probably not. But it’s worth the three and a half ish hours of your day.
Tune in to Oxenfree
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 7/10
Design - 10/10
Beautiful graphics, predictably unpredictable story, and a new gaming mechanic make for one enjoyable experience. If you're a fan of cinematic gameplay, I think you'll like Oxenfree, too.