Be Kind Rewind
Retrospection has been a common theme in our world lately. “In retrospect, I should have gotten to go to this restaurant before the pandemic closed it for good,” or “I retrospectively miss not wearing masks in grocery stores,” may be among some of the utterances you have heard recently. Here at Hardcore Droid, we are willing to acknowledge that in retrospect Night School Studio’s indie-adventure-horror game Oxenfree has long since deserved a full review from our publication. After all, we have included it in several of our “Best of…” articles. Its simple controls ported near-perfectly from PC and its suspenseful and gripping storytelling methods make it an easy contender in “Best Indie” lists. It only makes sense that we illustrate what exactly it is that makes this time-travelling teen thriller one of the best of its kind with a proper review.
Not Another Teen Graphic Adventure
The game takes place on the seemingly deserted Edwards Island, a former military territory turned teenage shining spot. A gang of five high schoolers arrive for a weekend of antics. You play as Alex, a gutsy, blue-haired adolescent with an irreverent sense of humor. Ren, your stoner childhood friend, has convinced you to attend an annual beach getaway. In an attempt to make a good first impression, your brand new step brother Jonas also accompanies. The remainder of the cast includes Nona, Ren’s laidback secret crush, and Clarissa, an antagonistic acquaintance. Their visit takes a daunting turn when they accidentally open a rift in time. This unleashes the supernatural remnants of the island’s cryptic past. These mysterious ghosts have made it their mission to keep you trapped on the island. Your objective is to investigate the island and the spirits it houses but more importantly, find a way back home.
Paragon vs Renegade
Alex’s character is so reliant on player choice that there is not much to say about it. Throughout your journey, you determine what kind of protagonist you want your Alex to be. This is done through pivotal decisions and dialogue choices. The game incorporates a walk-and-talk dialogue system. This allows the players to choose what they want Alex to say without interrupting the flow of the game. Because of this, dialogue bubbles will disappear if you do not choose an option fast enough. At first, this can make one’s playthrough feel rushed as the dialogue options are interesting and dynamic enough to make players consider which one their Alex would most likely say. Simply pausing the game to give one’s self enough time to think about which dialogue option they prefer is enough to mitigate this minor issue.
Ultimately, the dialogue is what makes this game so memorable. Games like this one oftentimes feel confining as you are simply given an objective and must carry it out to progress. In Oxenfree, the witty and motley dialogue choices are liberating as they allow the player to express their playstyle, or perhaps more so personality, through Alex.
What’s more, your group of friends will respond accordingly to whatever dialogue you choose. By the conclusion of the story, you might have created turmoil between the relationships of all your friends, or you might have strengthened the bond between them all. The result does not need to be that black-and-white of course. Perhaps, you wish to maintain your friendships with Nona and Ren, but you believe Jonas and Clarissa deserve the cold-shoulder. This and numerous other outcomes are possible. The paintbrush that is the dialogue makes Oxenfree the player’s canvas. Whether it’s by telling your new stepbrother you think he’s an idiot or by abruptly outing your best friend as a liar to be able to slap him in a game of truth-or-slap, the dialogue is truly the ingredient that adds charm to the game
Dope or Nope
On top of its grade-A writing and compelling dialogue system, Oxenfree has more than enough surface level merits to praise. Its haunting and delicate landscapes, replayability, potent OST, impeccable voice acting and eerie audio production all work to the game’s benefit. However, the question readers are concerned with more than “is it aesthetically pleasing?” is “is it fun?” As a connoisseur of story-rich games, this reviewer’s verdict would be “of course!”
However, this game may not be the right fit for hardcore gamers who desire pure action. Walking is the limited primary action in the game. You jump, scale, and push objects only when you interact with certain obstacles. Alex also carries a mobile radio, which you typically only use to tune to certain frequencies to trigger story objectives. All-in-all, the gameplay does not demand the player do anything too mechanically rigorous. This could make the game dull and unenjoyable for certain players. Personally, I believe the exploration factor makes up for the lack of action, Easter eggs and collectibles. Oxenfree truly is a world waiting to be discovered for those willing to put in the time.
Is It Hardcore?
With an engaging story, cast of characters, and conflict, Oxenfree delivers a gripping teenage ghost story that will leave players enthralled. While the controls and gameplay may be underwhelming, its charming aesthetic and spooky narrative deliver a highly-engaging experience.