By Gaven Morgan
Armed with an obsolete handheld radio, Alex makes her way across the Puget Sound with her new step-brother, Jonas, and an old friend, Ren. The boat is headed for Edwards Island, where the young trio will meet up with the rest of their classmates for a party that will span the weekend.
Oxenfree is an award-nominated indie game, developed by Night School Studio. The game brings the nostalgic feeling of “kids on bikes” into the modern era as you play the blue-haired teen, Alex. The game plays as side scrolling drama with very little to offer in game-play. Where there aren’t mechanics, there is an abundance of story. The low game-play approach is not a hindrance in the slightest, as the conversations that take place with the other characters are frequent and consistently meaningful.
The story manifests in the game as soon as you land on Edwards Island, a fictitious enigma that rests off the Washington coast. You find the island empty of all classmates save two others, Nona and Clarissa. Edwards Island is uncomfortably abandoned and dreary as you arrive, and conversation about its dark origins stir as your friend, Ren, bring up conspiracy theories surrounding the military base on the island and the missing U.S.S Kanaloa.
The game proceeds to get stranger as you use your handheld radio to tune into old military broadcasts and cryptic Morse codes that speak of the ill-fated crew of the Kanaloa. The game truly picks up when you and your friends make your way into a cave on the beach, finding strange graffiti and an armoire. As you tune your radio once more, a strange triangular rift opens and the paranormal proceeds.
The game quickly becomes full of time-loops that leave you shocked and confused (for the better). You’re continuously plagued by visions of past and future, of what Alex has experienced and what Alex could never have known. If you pay attention throughout the game, the story is full of hints at what is to come, hopefully informing your game-changing decisions that you make throughout the progression of the story and determining which of the many endings you choose.
As you play Oxenfree, pay attention to the little clues and dialog the game offers you. While the conversation can be cheesy, it typically reveals a lot about the story and the characters involved. Dialog is often divisive, pitting you between the interests of two or more of the other characters. The other characters are wrestling with the supernatural horrors that come at you throughout the story, and they lean heavily on Alex as she tries to figure it all out herself.
Oxenfree is an excellent indie game and is usually on sale. The story has great replayability and the soundtrack (by scntfc) deserves an article all by itself. If you’re looking for an emotional, story-driven game with time-loops and long dead mysteries, this is the game for you.