Mixing teen drama, ghosts, and time-travel, Oxenfree makes for a beautiful - if at times chilling - adventure. Its beautiful 2D art creates a storybook world for a tale that has you questioning what is right, what you want, and what is real.
Like any teen horror movie, Oxenfree begins with a group young adults voluntarily stranding themselves overnight on an island. It’s an odd thing to do at the best of times, but it seems even stranger here as the relationship between the five is at best… strained.
You play as Alex, a girl who recently lost her brother to drowning. With you on this trip, you have your new step brother, Jonas; your neurotic stoner best friend, Ren; your brothers ex, Clarissa; and her best friend, Nona… who Ren fancies. Perfect.
Soon after beginning you find yourself on a beach. The dynamics are like a powder keg – and with Clarissa throwing lit matches where ever she can, the situation soon blows up.
These opening moments set the scene and establish the dynamics between the characters. You use the intuitive controls to pick between responses to questions and join in with conversations. This system drives many of your discoveries - both of the people and the world - and also impacts the way the story plays out.
Looking for a way to escape from Clarissa, you and Jonas break off from the group to explore a cave, which is where things start to get… freaky. In the caves you find an odd disturbance that you can tune into with your radio. Cryptic messages start to pour through and within moments everything goes wrong.
From here you are plunged into a cryptic horror story, filled with time loops that have you reliving events - albethey slightly altered. These changes begin unnervingly, but quickly become devastating. You repeatedly witness your friends die, only to reappear in seconds possessed and with glowing eyes.
It is chilling, which is impressive considering the comic 2D look. The creepy voices of the voices on the radio send shivers down your spine as they cycle through stations to communicate. This while watching the gang of teens seemingly die over and over becomes affecting.
This is all, in no small part, down to the voice acting. While their tiny forms manage to inject personality with their animation, this is nothing compared to how much emotion their voices convey. Happiness, horror, and relief are all believable – as is the panic as they see friends drop from windows.
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Oxenfree offers more moment-to-moment control than many interactive narratives. But, while you control all of the action from its stunning 2D perspective, the focus here is a slow exploration – both of the environment and the interaction between characters. Everything here hinges on narrative, and Oxenfree does not disappoint.