OXENFREE Reviews

AuthorReview
Sashamorning
1,231,650 (722,120)
Sashamorning
TA Score for this game: 1,770
Posted on 25 June 16 at 21:31, Edited on 25 June 16 at 21:49
This review has 24 positive votes and 3 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
OXENFREE is a refreshing change of pace from many of the releases on the market. Character- and story-driven, it's virtually impossible not to be immersed in the game. Part of that is the story itself, which concerns a group of five teenagers experiencing a "bash on the beach" on a deserted(?) island. Part of it is a unique mechanic that Night School has introduced. The end result is an one of those rare experiences that lingers well after it's over.

Alex is a teenaged girl in the middle of family turmoil. Her parents have divorced, and her new step-brother, Jonas, goes with her to the island to meet Ren, Nona and Clarissa for what should be a relaxing evening. All that goes to pot (rather literally) when Ren suggests exploring the island's caves while tuning a portable radio to certain frequencies. The results are...unexpected. (But don't expect me to tell you why.)

Over the course of the game, Alex and Jonas travel around the island trying to find a way back to shore. However, something isn't right, and getting home might be a bit more difficult than simply waiting for the morning ferry. As they travel the island, various clues appear, shedding light on the situation in which they've found themselves.

The game is rather simple. Your map provides directions as to your next destination. You're not sent on mere scavenger hunts; there's a purpose for you to visit the various parts of the island. The puzzles that you must sometimes solve to advance aren't terribly difficult, and Night School hasn't placed obstacles in your path for no reason. Each puzzle draws you deeper into the mystery. When you're stuck, your radio will usually provide a clue about your next step. You don't need a walkthrough to play the game (except for certain achievements), and I highly recommend playing your first run without one.

Speaking of replaying the game, you will definitely need to play the game three times in order to earn the full 1k. That being said, Night School has added another level to the mystery; your second playthrough will be quite different from the first in ways that you won't expect. That keeps the experience fresh, and I enjoyed my second play as much as the first. (Yes, really!)

As expected, there are collectibles strewn around the island, but each of these actually serves a purpose by providing insight into the cause of the mystery on the island. Later in the game, a second type of collectible will become available. Rather than make you hunt and peck for them, though, your radio will provide clear clues about how to find them. These collectibles may or may not even affect the outcome of the story, depending on your decisions.

Without giving anything away, I'll admit that I admire the way that Night School has developed the game not only for multiple plays, but also to grab the player in front of the television (that's you) and draw you in. I wish I could tell you how--I really do--but I won't spoil what is quite an ingenious mechanic. Some of the elements are subtle, but a couple are quite startling. Alex is in for quite the adventure tonight, and so are you.

The game is beautiful as well. In many ways it resembles a watercolor painting that you're traveling through. The sound is also essential to the game. I often play with the sound off for many games, but OXENFREE demands that you listen to the game, the radio, the other characters. The voice acting is absolutely top notch. You have a clear idea how the characters are reacting to the situation. The characters actually feel real, not cookie-cutter types that all too often populate such games. The combination of the visuals, voices and music create an atmosphere that will leave an indelible impression well after you set the game aside.

In addition, Night School has done a fantastic job in using the achievement list to coerce you to do things that you might not otherwise do. You have to play nice in one run, and you have to be flat-out mean in another. The characters react appropriately, and I actually felt guilty forcing them to hate me. By the end, I truly felt alone. In one final playthrough, you can't say anything. This actually allows the voice actors to shine. You are forced to listen to their entire dialogue (which can be quite entertaining) in order to advance. No shortcuts here...but you'll likely be so absorbed by the experience that it won't feel onerous.

Finally, at the end, the hook brings you back in. Even if Night School let you 1k the game in one run, you won't be satisfied until you go again. There are so many details that you'll wonder what if you'd done something different. That's another facet of the game that I really admired. Whereas Telltale revolutionized the point-and-click story genre through The Walking Dead, Night School has taken a page from Dontnod's Life Is Strange, creating an authentic, organic world where your actions actually do have consequences, and they will linger.

In conclusion, I wasn't sure what to make of OXENFREE when I began, but it didn't take long before I simply couldn't put it down, and I was ready to start play #2 immediately. Trust me when I say that this is an experience you should not miss. Give in to this, and you will absolutely be rewarded. I hope that Night School builds on this, because I can't wait to see what they create next.
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Mr Velezbian
286,110 (196,578)
Mr Velezbian
TA Score for this game: 1,770
Posted on 21 February 16 at 21:25
This review has 14 positive votes and 4 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
OXNENFREE REVIEW

SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRITS

OXENFREE was a whirl of a surprise for me. With a wholly unique take on the dialogue/choice based genre, the title takes players through an emotional and chilling journey. Taking place on the fictional Edward’s Island, 5 teens embark on an overnight stay to accomplish annual student traditions that serve as a rite of passage. It’s got all the makings to be a great coming of age story, like The Breakfast Club, but things start to lean more towards Poltergeist as you find out the mysteries the island holds. You are not alone here.

You are Alex, a junior in high school that takes a trip to Edward’s Island with her best friend Ren and newly introduced step-brother Jonas. The island is known for being not only host to the aforementioned traditions but for being a decommissioned naval military base as well. It's common knowledge to the townsfolk that if you bring a radio to the island, you are bound to pick up some weird transmissions. After meeting up with Ren’s crush Nona and not-so-friendly friend Clarissa, things get awkward as teen angst arises and outings of past issues, Ren, Jonas, and Alex head off towards the caves to adventure for a bit. What started out as a harmless, pot brownie and booze filled night quickly goes south when Alex’s radio unlocks a force within the cave that seems to come from another plane of existence.

Somehow scattering your group across the island, this force plays with your emotions the whole way through as you try to find a way out. It turns out that OXENFREE has one of the coolest, most original ghost stories I have ever heard. Voices long forgotten from an undersea vessel are tearing through to the other side via radio waves, and it could not be creepier. As you use your radio throughout the game to engage in dialogue with the specters, you will immediately know what I mean as chills run down your back. Their words are cryptic, voices borrowed, and presence is staggering. You learn so much about these spirits throughout the game that I really do not want to give away much, but the story throughout is truly rewarding. Coming of age is a perfectly fitting phrase for the game, as you learn just as much about the teens involved as you do about the island’s haunting past.

Choice based games are great because how in tune and connected you can get with your character. I remember tearing up at the end of TellTale’s The Walking Dead season one finale, knowing that all my actions head led me to the situation at hand and that I had only one last one to make. In this game, you'll find a similar gripping experience, one that connected me with the characters so much so that I made correlations to my own life. Alex tragically lost her brother in the year leading up the events on the island, and it is a main focus of the game. Whether she is being shown subliminal images of him, or saying things to a vision of she wish she had said, the emotion is powerful. I lost my mother just over a year ago, and the connection I had to this fictional characters could not be realer. The connections and emotions had by both the player and the cast of characters could not have happened without the absolutely stellar voice cast and scripting.

All five voices (as well as Alex’s brother Michael) are phenomenally voiced. Alex represents your voice, and with 3 dialogue options per engagement, there is a lot of variety here. I played through it three times before writing this review, and I was extremely impressed with how dynamic and natural the transitions from choice to response were. Everything just flows so effectively that it mirrored natural banter successfully. Not only that but the team at Night School Studio really captured the essence of high schoolers and personalities in a surprisingly authentic way. Most representations of high school kids and their lives in pop culture are ripe with stereotypes and general assumptions, but in OXENFREE, you truly get the raw emotion and awkwardness that comes with growing into one’s self. It was not that long ago that I was in high school, and while I never dealt with any ghosts I did deal with loss, peer pressure, and the general idea that I did not know my place in the world, all of which are realistic themes that can be found in the game.

With about a 5-hour play through my first time around and two shorter ones that followed, I was still impressed after watching the credits roll a third time. The game is visually beautiful, using deep tones similar to watercolors that create gorgeous backdrops. The score is fantastic, featuring eerily soothing tracks that are easy to get drawn into. This game isn’t short an ambiance either as if you listen closely to both radio chatter and the general sounds around you, the noises are as detailed as the visuals. Exploring the 2-D island was a blast, and I would not call it quits till I found every collectible that gave me more to answers to the mystery at hand. OXENFREE is hauntingly cool, and if you enjoy choice based games this needs to be on your radar.

9/10
+Fantastic Scripting
+Great Cast
+Believable Characters
+Hauntingly Cool Story
-Some inconsistent lines

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kintaris
216,247 (124,852)
kintaris
TA Score for this game: 1,770
Posted on 21 July 16 at 19:59
This review has 6 positive votes and 2 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
If I tell you that OXENFREE is a narrative driven graphic adventure where every choice has a consequence, those of you with Telltale fatigue might walk away, which would be a shame. There are a few key things that make this mind- and time-bending sci-fi stand out from the crowd.

You play as Alex, a teenage girl who, with a group of friends, tries to free herself from malevolent forces, reveal an island's secrets and escape with her life. The joy of this game is unravelling the mystery for yourself, and exploring the interrelationships between these characters. I can’t think of a game that portrays a group of adolescents more naturally. Their awkward conversational style is genuine without being irritating.

How much you find out about each character is down to you. You can explore each character's past and shape their future through the actions and words you choose. You are rarely asked outright to make binary decisions, and instead situations evolve out of a series of responses as your friends’ moods towards you change obliquely. It’s one of the most accomplished and subtle pieces of dialogue branching I’ve seen on Xbox.

OXENFREE's visual palette has a sombre, hand-drawn quality which adds to the ethereality of the setting. The characters have a spindly marionette style which lends to a sense of vulnerability in the game’s darker moments. Each area you visit is one large, static environment, which sometimes makes traversal a little onerous but works better in this context than tight camera angles. Where the visuals really shine is during one of the game’s many trippy time-jumps, with your entire screen rippling and tearing like an old TV set.

At any point while wandering around the island, Alex can open up the radio (appearing as a dial above her head) and scroll through the frequencies. Not only does this drive story progression, but it can also be used to find the game’s sparse assortment of collectibles (letters and radio ‘anomalies’). Even just scanning the channels every now and again as you walk around can reveal some additional detail or atmosphere, whether it’s an old music hall tune, an ancient radio play, or just some disturbing whispers among the static. It’s genuinely unsettling to roll through, especially early on when you still don’t know what on Earth is happening, or in a subsequent playthrough when things don't quite sound the same.

This brings me on to the most impressive aspect: the meta-narrative. When playing again, OXENFREE's story continues to expand. Different timeline anomalies, objects and even entire scenes will appear, adding to a growing sense of surreality. I don't want to give away more, but trust me – it’s quite amazing. There are a few points where other players’ decisions can have an impact on what you choose to do next – sadly these are very limited, but it's an interesting twist nonetheless.

The music is limited to a couple of airy indie electronic numbers, which suit the age of the characters and the setting well but can get irritating on repeat visits. Luckily, the voice acting is stellar throughout, and your radio will be full of eerie surprises in every playthrough.

The only serious gripe I have with the game is in its simplicity. Beyond walking, talking and scanning the radio, you're not really doing an awful lot. It feels like a missed opportunity – if there had been more genuine puzzles, repeat playthroughs could have been made all the stranger through warping the solutions.

The achievements are quite crafty – you can easily get through an entire run of the game and only pop your first in the epilogue. With only 25 collectibles in the game, it seems strange that four separate achievements track your progress in finding them. Besides these, most unlocks will be related to following different narrative paths to their conclusion, including making everyone hate you. You’ll need to play through at least three times to get everything, but you really should do that anyway to experience the full story. The only irritating achievement is one for getting through the game without saying anything – in a game that hinges so much on conversation, it's a clunky way to play and occasionally leads to dialogue errors.

Overall, OXENFREE is an exceptionally well crafted game, in its unique mechanics, creepy story and impressive branching dialogue. You can’t fault Night School’s imagination when it comes to evolving a story over multiple playthroughs and really making the player feel like decisions matter, something I hope the studio builds on in future titles. The few gripes I have are tiny in comparison to the game’s strengths, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who is looking for a fresh story-driven experience. Play it, and play it again.

4.5 / 5

+ Incredible mind-bending narrative
+ Unique radio-scanning gameplay mechanic
+ Great characters and voice acting

- Music can get tedious on multiple playthroughs
- Lacks any real puzzles
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