If unfamiliar with the premise, a group of teenagers head out for an outdoor party on an abandoned island. They get tipsy, only to encounter something a little deeper than Snap Chatting their sacks.
There isn’t a masked psychopath with a hook for a hand looking to kill virgins here. The island has a deeper secret unlocked by the power of the common radio; the narrative thread. The story is driven by this tool. Juxtaposed with each character’s own emotional baggage, their backgrounds are realised through the extensive dialogue throughout.
The Kids Are Alright In Oxenfree
The conversation here is a key part of the game. The protagonist, Alex, finds out about her companions and drives the narrative forward. Each conversation is pretty lengthy and one of the characters, Ren, borders on irritating at first.
From the outset, he was a bit of a nob. He was a self-aware genre nerd à la the Scream franchise and not dialogue expected from a teen. Though, the exposition is needed to cover the 4-6 hours of gameplay. It builds a bigger picture of who everyone is, without telling so much, but showing. Though Ren did talk too much.
Alex’s response to dialogue is important as her comrades will ask her opinion and confide in her – looking for some solace. Bust Ren’s balls early on, for example, and he’ll remember it and this will shape the story into one of the many paths available. On this basis, Oxenfree does offer future plays for the completist but also those who want the variety. These multiple paths allow for multiple endings – whether good or bad is subjective.
Making the transition from the PS4 to the Switch gave me the initial impression that the visuals on this game were poor, but that was a stupid way to look at it. In reality, this game is aesthetically pleasing in every way. From the character design and backdrops to the dialogue and soundtrack, everything gels, allowing the focus to be on the storytelling instead. The Switch version of Oxenfree works so well, especially with the touchscreen is – if required. Another fine example of portable play.
Is Oxenfree any good? Yes, it is. Having read through some of the reviews, while most are favourable, there are recurring criticisms of the length and the available choices. The length is ideal for a portable game and you can complete it an afternoon. I understand why some thought that the endings were a little flat.
Personally, I admire the ambiguity. Any medium that can evoke a mood and motivate me to read up on topics raised in the game is a good thing. Starting the game immediately after finishing it surely is a good thing too, right?
As for the choices in the game, while there are different routes for the story and characters to develop, there will always be the same type of ending. There seldom is a true sandbox game where you have complete autonomy and if there was, I would have thrown Ren off the boat at the start and given the beach party a miss. I’m not really that sociable and I couldn’t have listened to his monologues again and again and again… It’s a great game and suits the Switch and would recommend this to anyone with opposable thumbs.