Time Played: 2.6 hours
As I mentioned in my goals post for this month, I had a conversation about Steam gaming the other night, which reminded me of the old Steam Challenge I issued myself over three years ago. The interesting thing is that though I actually own almost three times the number of games now than I did back then (cringe), I’ve been able to keep my percentage of games played lower than it was back then, too.
Still, it’s not enough, so I set a goal to try at least one new Steam game once a week. Last night, I decided to start with a game I’ve actually had installed on my computer for a while — Oxenfree.
I’ve heard a lot about this game, and I think I picked it up as part of a bundle sometime back. I’m glad that I decided to try it — I know for sure this is one of those shorter story games that I’m going to finish. I just need to know what happens!
What is it?
Oxenfree describes itself as:
Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. Play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenager who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on an old military island. The night takes a terrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly gate spawned from the island’s cryptic past. How you deal with these events, your peers, and the ominous creatures you’ve unleashed is up to you.
I kept telling myself that I’d just play this games for a short time, then go back to Switch gaming… but it didn’t happen that way. I picked up Oxenfree and was sucked into it for a good chunk of the night. Totally time not wasted.
I’d not call it a horror game, though there were plenty of unsettling and creepy moments throughout. The story is well-written, mostly playing out through your choice of dialogue with one or more of the group of teens who came to the island. This was the most fascinating part of the game to me — and what gives it replayability.
The game description notes: “An intelligent conversation system that changes the story and your relationships based on every decision”
I saw that sometimes, the other characters had pop-up bubbles over their heads of Alex (main character you’re playing) or the other characters. It was a very Sim-ish way to indicate that something said or done has changed their opinion of you… though the game never really indicated if that was a good or bad change.
These conversations often played out as you naturally progressed through the world. You could stop to listen and respond if you wanted, or you could just have the characters walking along since everything is voice acted (quite well).
I can’t talk about this game without lauding the art style. At first, it seems a little odd since the game is always panned way back, not affording you a close look at the characters as they interact. But the further I got into the game, the more I realized it just worked.
The backgrounds feel hand-painted 2D, with lots of lush and atmospheric locations. The characters, in contrast, seem to be 3D. But, somehow, the two styles mesh just fine due to the lighting and the animation of the character models.
Special effects are used sparingly, which calls all the more attention to when strange things do start to happen. Sometimes, it can be as subtle as an off-colored light. Sometimes it’s right up in your face as things start to warp and become really freaky.
Gameplay is mostly walking, conversing, collecting and exploring. There’s a tiny few puzzle mechanics, but these are so mild I’d toss them in the exploring bucket.
One of the cool mechanics of this game is the use of radio frequencies to communicate with, and sometimes release/control, the supernatural influences on the island. Everything from the history of the island, to saving your friends from spiritual possession, and accessing locations on the island, are locked into this mechanic, which I felt was really well designed.
I’ve read this is a pretty short game based on story alone (there are things to collect and explore, of course) – somewhere between 4-5 hours in length. This feels about right as I’m almost at 3 hours, and feel as if I’m just entering the “second half” of the game’s story, maybe even moving in on the ending.
Overall, I really appreciate what Oxenfree is trying to do through dialogue and exploration, and plan on setting aside some time to see this story through!