Review: Oxenfree

Oxenfree is a 2D, walkin’ and talkin’ simulator. If you don’t like walking, and you don’t like talking, this game probably isn’t for you.

The walkin’

The game takes place on a small island. Certain areas are gated until you hit specific points in the story, but mostly you can wander freely. It’s very pretty – the environments look hand-drawn, and the overall style is really nice. The characters are 3D models on a 2D plane, and are very well animated, but look a little bit too much like those Nintendo Mii things, and don’t always fit well with the gorgeous backgrounds.

The island is quite small, but there’s a fair bit of back-and-forwarding to do throughout the four or so hours the story lasts. There’s not a huge amount of exploration, as the 2D plane limits you to very specific paths through each area. There are lots of things to examine on the island, but very little to actually interact with. Usually, examining an item or a sign will trigger some dialogue, but beyond that, there’s very little in the way of traditional gameplay. There are no puzzles to solve, no monsters to fight, and nothing that requires any element of skill to progress. For me, this wasn’t a problem however, as the main focus of the game is…

The talkin’

This is what Oxenfree is all about. It’s got one of the best dialogue systems I’ve ever seen. For most of the game, you’ll be accompanied by at least one of the handful of characters that make up the game’s cast. Conversations don’t pull you out of the game and into a cutscene; they happen naturally as you wander around. Most of the time you’ll have a few different responses to choose from – the interesting thing is that you can choose when to respond – interrupt somebody, wait until they’re finished, or just stay silent? How you choose to respond, as well as what you choose, can influence how a conversation plays out.

The cast of Oxenfree are a group of American teenagers, and not being an American teenager myself, I have no idea how ‘authentic’ the dialogue is. The voice acting is generally excellent, and it all feels less forced than something like Life is Strange. It reminds me somewhat of the early seasons of Buffy, and I can see why many reviewers have described the dialogue as ‘Whedon-esque’. It is consistently engaging, entertaining, and the real selling point of Oxenfree.

The everything-else

The overarching story is pretty good. It takes the ‘bunch-of people-in-a-place-and-weird-stuff-starts-to-happen’ trope and adds some interesting elements. Dialogue choices (of which there are many) have significant impact on how things play out too. Also, the game does a good job of hiding away some of the island’s mysteries, so you’re encouraged to explore and pay attention to get the full picture.

Sound design and music is generally excellent throughout, and the four hour length is pretty much perfect for a game of this type.

Definitely recommended if you like the idea of a light, supernatural teen drama with one of the most interesting dialogue systems I’ve ever seen in a game.

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