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Oxenfree (PC) artwork

Oxenfree (PC) review

"This House Is Clear"

Oxenfree (PC) image

Oxenfree is the weird combination of PG-13 horror tropes, the unfiltered nattering of self-important teens, and walking. It has a story to tell; a tale of lingering death, lost souls and just whoís going to the senior prom with whom. It shouldn't work - it has no real right to work -- and yet, strangely, it does so anyway.

Itís a familiar tale; a group of teens stow away to a near-deserted island to guzzle down beers bought on illegal IDs and create some memories with the friends who'll soon scatter to far-flung colleges to forget just how hard they promised to stay in contact. Only, for Alex, the entire experience is a fair bit weirder than initially expected. She has a new step-brother in tow who sheís only meeting for the first time that day, and her best friendís reason for going is less about one last adventure with his BFF, and more about creeping on his new crush. The groupís rounded out by the resident socialite whose energy is laser focused on snark and bitchery.

The island exertion is a tradition of sorts, complete with exaggerated ghost stories and carefully cultivated urban myth. Edwards Island is a creepy place, resplendent in abandonment, decay and disaster. The skeletons of a military base litter the landscape, some buildings left to rot, some half-renovated in a doomed restoration project to make the entire location into a museum. The island has lore; mysterious deaths aplenty to gossip about over a campfire in a heartfelt attempt to terrify your peers on the last night youíll likely spend together as classmates. Its speciality rumour is that using a radio in certain spots allows you to tune in to weird stations that donít actually exist. And it just so happens that Alex has a radio.

Oxenfree (PC) image

That turns out to be a mistake, and Alex tunes into to something she probably shouldnít have, transforming their once innocent coming-of-age sleep-over into a coming-of-age scramble for survival. Thereís suddenly voices to be found in the static or residing a little too comfortably in the groupís heads. People are no longer where they should be, or have stopped being a reliable approximation of the person you remember them as.

Alexís radio turns out to be a vital tool in both heralding the groupís doom and their desperate attempts to escape. Whether sheís trying to find answers or just digging herself into a deeper hole is only obvious with hindsight, but sheís forced to explore the island to pick up her scattered group, and use her radio as a way to bypass otherworldly obstacles. Sometimes, itís entirely optional; explorers from previous years have left little mounds of rocks scattered about the place to pinpoint locations where a surreal signal can be picked up with a little bit of dial fiddling. Sometimes you just do it to try and make sense of the whispers floating out from the shadows.

What really makes Oxenfree is that Alex doesnít have the luxury of just worrying about herself, and is also trapped in that weird social situation you lot who donít openly shun other people have to deal with. After the first ill-advised bit of signal hacking goes horribly wrong, the group vanishes from their comfy bonfire on the beach, and itís up to Alex to hunt them down. Thereís various choices attached to this; who does she try and rescue first, who of her little gathering might she take with her, how does she shoot down or accept ideas and suggestions. Whatever she does, thereís no perfect answers and someoneís bound to get hurt or feel disincluded along the way.

Oxenfree (PC) image

You shouldnít have to really worry or care about the petulant actions of sulky teens with bruised egos while trying not to, you know, die, but itís to Night School Studioís credit that you canít help being sucked in. Jonas finds himself on an island heís never been to with a stepsister who heís never met and her group of friends who did not exist to him until half an hour previously. As such, heís more cynical and guarded, and itís up to Alex to coax him out of his distrustful shell. Renís ulterior motive is to impress Nora, but if you spend all your time with Jonas, heíll start to feel abandoned. Queen bee, Clarissa, has pre-existing issues with Alex which sheíll scornfully remind her of every half chance she gets.

The gang are all initially introduced as cliched charicatures but slowly reveal their reasons for being the way they are. Laudably, Oxenfree never really pauses to shove this exposition down your throat, and the wonderfully voiced conversations you can hold to weasel out these reasonings all take place while you explore the island, chatting away as you walk in real time. Alex doesnít have to be a meddling fence mender; she can be a hateful whirlwind of alienation or even a completely silent protagonist if the player so desires, and the cast will respond to her in their own unique way.

Should you choose to take part, then the conversations are often surprisingly natural, offering little quirks like characters getting annoyed with you if you pick your responses too soon and constantly interrupt people, to remembering seemingly innocent responses made back before you started fearing for your life to throw back in your face.

Oxenfree (PC) image

Oxenfree winds social anxiety, simmering teen drama, horror and exploration so tightly together that itís often hard to define where one aspect ends and another one starts. The tale is more Goosebumps than Silent Hill almost to the point where it can be labeled a horror-free horror game, but it doesnít stop it from being a cleverly written and excellently executed tale about five people who sneak away to an island to get drunk and goof around but instead find themselves disturbing something that would be better off left alone. Itís a story not just about getting off the island sane and alive, but what kind of person youíve allowed yourself to become by surviving it all.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (June 25, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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EmP posted December 19, 2017:

Head's up gang;'s giving this game away for free for, I dunno, a day or so?

I rather liked this game. You should get it.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 19, 2017:

I already got it cheaply through Steam, otherwise I'd get it.

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