First things first, I’m going to avoid story spoilers as far as possible due to this being such a narrative-driven game. So fear not! It does mean that this will be an odd write up as I’m going to tell you as little as possible about the story. Anyway, on with the words!
The term “walking simulator” gets thrown around a lot at the moment, mostly in a derisive way to mock games that people feel lack actual gameplay. But whether or not you feel they are truly games (lack of challenge often being cited), walking simulators can be very enjoyable narrative experiences. More often than not they will have an atmospheric environment and engaging story. You just have to look at the success of Gone Home and Firewatch to see that plenty of people, gamers or otherwise, enjoy this type of experience. Oxenfree is almost a walking simulator, but with a few more gameplay elements. It paints itself as a light adventure game with conversation elements that effect various outcomes. In that regard it’s somewhat like the Telltale games (Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, Life Is Strange etc.) but with a very different style.
You and your friends arrive on an abandoned island for a high school beach party.
This is an almost 2D side scrolling adventure with a horror/mystery theme in which you move around areas (sometimes into the area’s background, hence it being almost 2D) with one or more partners, finding objects and solving simple puzzles. Along the way, you’ll converse (or not if you feel like it!) with your companions with certain choices changing the outcome of the game. It’s these elements that I feel move the game away from walking simulator and more into the realm of the Telltale style of game. Unlike those games, though, this one is much shorter (about 4 hours) making it much easier to go back and experiment with different routes through the game.
You end up with a group of 5 characters, all are interesting and well voiced.
The story begins with you, as Alex, and your high school friends arriving on an island for a beach party. Surprisingly, your group are the only people there and so you decide to explore the island. Before long you come across a cave with some unusual markings and discover that your radio can receive strange signals which set of a chain of events that brings into question what the real history of the island actually is. You’re told that a WW2 submarine sunk just off the coast of the island, but over the course of the game you find out that not everything is as it seems. The game is as about your relationships with your friends as it is the mysteries of the island. Your choices will dictate how they react to you and how their lives will develop at the end of the story.
Your interactions tend to revolve around 3 dialogue choices, although the option to say nothing can be just as important.
The game looks good, with an art style that suits the tone of the game. The muted colours of the island makes the characters stand out and brings your attention to elements of the world that are important. The voice acting is excellent and I found each character interesting and likeable in their own way. They all have their own history and baggage that you can uncover if you spend enough time with each of them, so multiple play throughs to interact with each character is something I would encourage. Whilst the writing is mostly very good, some of the dialogue comes across as quite odd considering some of the things the characters experience on the island (not spoiling too much here). Alex in particular came across as a little too calm from time to time which broke the immersion for me a little.
The island isn’t terribly big, meaning it’s fairly quick to find your way around.
The puzzles aren’t difficult, and most are solved simply by activating the correct object in the environment. There are collectables to find though, with some (ever so) slightly more challenging puzzles that will require more exploration. I found locating these to be quite enjoyable as they add a lot of history to the island and give you a better understanding of just what is going on. You aren’t likely to be challenged in this game, but if you like a good story you should find yourself very much engaged. And once you reach the end (which is either a total cop-out or utter genius, I can’t quite decide!) and figure out just what was happening, you’ll almost certainly want to have another play through to find even more answers.
Most of the puzzles will involve using your radio to find or interact with the world in a number of ways.
Oxenfree was developed and published by Night School Studio. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend you play it if you are looking for a good story. If you enjoyed any of Telltale’s games, I would say you should look into this. There’s a lot here that improves on them and it isn’t overly long, making another try at the game to find alternative routes and endings a very real possibility. You really should give this a try.