Oxenfree: Stranger friendships
Let’s get the Stranger Things comparison out of the way; Oxenfree is very similar to Stranger Things. Are we cool? Yes? Then let’s dive in!
Oxenfree follows five teenagers on a yearly trip to the fictional Edwards Island for a weekend of partying. Alex is a rebellious but good natured teenager who is nervous about spending the weekend with her new stepbrother Jonas who is just as unsure how the night will unfold because it is his first time meeting Alex’s friends. There is Ren, a loveable (mostly) stoner who always wants to have fun, Nona is Ren’s love interest and friend of Clarissa, the girlfriend of Alex’s late brother Michael. The party starts out fairly well if not a little strained but when Alex accidently tears a hole in time (as one does) she has to prevent a strange and sinister force from taking over her friends.
The story is very basic but well told and presented; there a really nice nostalgia for the 80s and carefree teenage fun of ages past. It does not shy away from some of the unpleasant aspects of being a teenager but it does not feel half assed or manipulative, in fact it feels very real. The characters all appear real, I recognise these people and I want to see all of them survive the game; they are flawed people who have their fair share of regrets and wants which are told beautifully throughout the game. I love the dialogue, I have seen too many films, books and games that have been written by people who have never listened to a teenager speak and as a result write lines that are at best cliché and cringe inducing at worst (the jury is still out on whether the cast of the first Life is Strange episode were speaking English) Oxenfree avoids both situations by not only being well written but sounding natural, when the cast talks it is the type of things young people would say. It is also delivered well and voice acted well. I believe that Alex and all her friends are real people caught up in real problems teenagers face even without the supernatural stuff happening. I would even go as far to say that the writing alone is worth getting the game.
The game play is quite limited but works well enough. The main selling point is using Alex’s radio to tune into certain frequencies to progress or find out more about the island, this can either go really well or really badly for the five. The lack of a run button is annoying at times as there are some long walks though the island, however the game typically uses the downtime to flesh out the characters and provide more back-story to the island. You can chose what Alex can say or which sides she can take as the game continues; depending on what you say might change the way the other four think of you which in turn can give you a different ending. There is also a time limit on what Alex can say at any given time, saying nothing can also have different effect on the game.
Oxenfree has a very nice art style; it is bright and colourful with the look of an airbrush painting. While the 3d models are somewhat low quality along with lip syncing that leaves a bit to be desired but it is not a deal breaker. Graphics are solid and help create mood as well as help build the world.
The game ran fine for the most part; there were instances when I encountered bugs that forced me to restart in order for something to work. It is quite damming when I have to restart the entire level, go through the same stuff just to make sure that one thing worked right. These bugs did ruin some of the agency the level had when I have to do the same level over and over again. These are not deal breakers per say, they prevent the game from becoming more then great.
The bugs are a problem and should have been ironed out before release but Oxenfree makes up for it with charming writing and likeable characters. I would recommend it.
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