Developer: Night School Studio
Publisher: Night School Studio
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, mobile, PS4, XB1, Switch [reviewed]
Genre: walk 'n talk adventure
Number of Players: 1
Regular Price: $20
Released: Jan 15, 2016
Format: Digital, limited physical release
Oxenfree is a self-proclaimed "walking and talking" game and, honestly, that's as accurate of a description as can possibly be made. It's another game in the recently popular trend of evolving the old point-and-click adventure genre that started with Telltale in the late 2000s.
Oxenfree sets itself apart from other interactive stories thanks to the aforementioned walking and talking. See, in Oxenfree you're never not doing something. Like Night in the Woods, it's a game where interacting with other characters is the game, but Oxenfree has no downtime because you won't stop what you're doing to make conversation. Characters will talk to you and you'll have a limited window of time to respond back in one of three ways, designated by one of the face buttons. I actually like this system a lot, as it flows very smoothly and makes the conversations feel natural. However, I do wish that the prompts would wait sometimes because I often had to cut other characters off to keep the conversation going when I wanted to hear what they were going to say.
Oxenfree tells the story of a group of high school seniors who sneak off to an unknowingly haunted island to get into mischief. Things go horribly wrong, as they tend to do, and the group must find a way to survive the night and escape the island. It's not the most surprising and engrossing tale ever but, again, the quality dialog and performances of the actors kept me pretty engrossed. Yes, the game is fully voiced! The cast generally does a wonderful job bringing the characters to life, with the exeption of Nona who can't seem to emote at all for some reason.
Unfortunately, the game isn't very long. Since there's not a whole lot to do besides walk around the make dialog choices, the game is really only as long as it takes for all those conversations to play out. I finished it in a day, in under five hours. If you enjoy interactive storytelling, you'll probably have a good time with Oxenfree, but for what it is I'm not sure I can recommend it for its normal price of $20 considering how short it is. Length is not something that would normally bother me, but Oxenfree's lack of gameplay is working against it here.
Walking and talking!
I try not to judge a game for what it isn't, but, again, the similar Night in the Woods is the same price and is at least twice as long (it probably took me three times as long) as Oxenfree with much more replay value. Oxenfree is apparently designed to be played more than once in a row, as some things will subtly change due to a time traveling subplot the game makes use of. However, I was able to unintentionally get the second-best ending possible my first time through and I personally don't think it's worth replaying the entire game to change a few choices and get a slightly different ending. It's a one-and-done type of story as far as I'm concerned but you may think differently depending on which ending you get.
I happened to buy the Switch version of Oxenfree on sale for $5, and for that price it's easy to recommend. Even as a fan of the genre, though, $20 seems like too much to ask. Pick this one up on sale, unless this kind of game is your favorite thing in the world.