Review: Oxenfree

Your Oxenfree blue-haired alter-ego, Alex

It’s not often I get chance to play computer games anymore. The precious few hours I get to myself most days are usually filled with trying to catch up on my OU study1. So when I do choose a game, it has to be something immersive, where I make a difference. I loved Fable when it first came out and having finished Fable 3 recently (well behind the rest of the community I know!) I was looking for something new. A game I could play for ten minutes or an hour, something that I could be absorbed into and something where it didn’t matter if I didn’t play it for a couple of weeks. My wonderful husband bought Oxenfree for me on the XBox (also available on Steam) and I was hooked from the beginning.

Oxenfree is a single player game that’s equal parts coming-of-age tale and supernatural thriller. You play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenaged girl who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on a decommissioned military island. The festivities are framed by a dangerous sneak to a forbidden beach, celebrating with friends and navigating prickly situations with enemies. But the night takes a horrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly rift 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.

This isn’t a game for people who just want to burn through content as quickly as possible. You need to listen to the dialogue, watch the landscapes you find yourself in and be ready to make decisions. From the very start, you can choose how Alex behaves and how she treats her friends. There are choices of responses to make, including staying silent if you don’t make a choice in time. All of this influences how your friends treat you and options you are given in the future. As the knight said towards the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “Choose wisely”.

Or choose recklessly and see what happens…

The game mechanics are simple – there are no complex combinations of buttons to remember. You can’t get lost and are limited in where you can go and with what you can interact so don’t be afraid to explore. And explore more than once, as the game progresses, different areas are accessible and even places you’ve been change.

What at first appears to be a teen coming of age decision tree then starts to change into the psychological horror that the game really is as indicated in the blurb’s “a horrifying turn”. This is not something for children to play. I don’t want to spoil the story so can’t really tell you anything more about it, but I do implore you to listen to everything you hear and watch closely when things happen. If you let yourself be drawn in, you will find some of it chilling, some of it jumpy and (depending on your imagination and how easily you are scared) potentially terrifying.

The look and feel of the game is beautiful. The graphics are art rather than realism, with visual effects that really do enhance the experience. The background music is atmospheric and will affect your mood. The story is impressively well thought out such that however you approach it, it all makes sense… provided you’ve been listening…

A screen shot without giving anything away is difficult!

Oxenfree doesn’t require lightening quick reflexes or high level problem solving skills, the game guides you and the fastest you have to react is to choose one of Alex’s potential responses. It’s a chilling game of consequence. Something you’ll want to play more than once to see how your choices can change things.

It’ll leave you asking questions or, as I did, laughing and saying “oh, that’s clever…”.

Well worth playing and playing again…

  1. I have no idea whether I’ll feel time rich when I finish this degree or if (inevitably) something else will take its place!

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Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.