Are There Lesbians? No
Four teenagers are trapped on an island with the restless dead in this indie adventure game.
tw: horror and supernatural elements, possession, drug use, suicide, death, jump scares, flashing images and sudden loud noises
At the time of writing I have only completed one play-through and am planning my second as there are several different endings for Oxenfree, depending on your choices and relationships with the other characters.
If you are aware of my extreme love of Life is Strange, then you will understand my love of games that provide the opportunity for meaningful choices, the navigation of interpersonal relationships, and rich storytelling and gameplay. Oxenfree has all of this in spades, as well as the addition of some fantastic play mechanics I’ve seen in a while. The game starts by introducing the most basic mechanic – you talk with your friends by picking one of (usually) three options or by not saying anything, and how your build or destroy your relationships effects the ending of the game. The most interesting mechanic is introduced a little later – the radio. By twiddling the dials you can access different channels that tell you more about the story, or even just add a creepy atmosphere to an already pretty damn creepy abandoned building. The main use of the radio, as is revealed throughout the story, is its abilities to open portals to another realm, and speak with those angry few on the other side.
You play as Alex , a somewhat snarky girl who sometimes never gives you quite the right choice of words – because who ever has the right words? Her brother, Michael, has died and she has a new stepbrother, Jonas, who you can either reject or get closer to throughout the story. The same can be said of your relationship with best friend Ren, his crush Nona, and brother’s girlfriend Clarissa. Your relationships with the other characters determines the ending that you get, though it is well worth it to play more than once, because at the end of the first play-through, not all mysteries can be said to have been solved. Also, it’s just such a good game that it would be worth a replay for simple enjoyment factor. As I mentioned before, it is the interpersonal relationships that really win my heart in story-heavy games like this, and while I think some of the way these relationships change is a little arbitrary and fickle, overall the relationships examined are deep and complex and handled in a way that they deserve.
Choice-based games that give added incentive to replay have quickly risen to be among my favourite game genres. The fact that these games aren’t overwhelmingly long is definitely part of their appeal. Oxenfree only takes about a day to play one run-through, so the plot has to make sure that every minute counts, and it shows. Story is told in bursts as you explore the island, and there is always something a little extra to discover, providing a strong incentive to investigate carefully. For completionists like me, the second run is always the one where I have to be absolutely sure to collect every item I may have missed in the first round (usually only a few that have annoyingly slipped my notice). Mostly this is because I like to get all the achievement awards, but it is also because sometimes, depending on what you do or don’t do the story progresses in a different way, and I love to see all the different possible endings, even if they can make me distraught (here’s looking at you Life is Strange).
Oxenfree has caused the exponential growth of my love of sidescroller platforms, horror, and short indie games with gorgeous art and atmosphere. And there are quite a few around at the moment! So if you will excuse me I will be in a hole playing video games for a while. Please do not disturb.