Guess what Backloggers, we marathoned Oxenfree for this latest Backlog Twosome! You know we don’t hide our feelings with these reviews, but did we find what we were seeking in this graphic adventure game?
I think it’s safe to say that all of us have played hide and seek at one point during our childhood. You close your eyes and count while your friends hide in their most clever spots. Maybe you find them all and loudly applaud your own wit. Or maybe in the off chance you can’t find them all, you’ll end up having to yell that time-honored phrase, “olly olly oxenfree!!!”, to let the leftover players know they can come out. Well if you take that age old game and add in some ghosts, radio signals, and a creepy-assed island, you’ll wind up with Oxenfree by Night School Studio.
We sat down and played this game start to finish in one sitting and thought it was prime for the Backlog Twosome treatment!
I’ve played plenty of story based adventure games in the past, so Oxenfree wasn’t anything new in that department. But given the many positive reviews this game has gotten, I’ve been eager for quite some time to give it a try for myself. I really enjoy games like these where you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the story. For the most part. Usually there are timed dialogue choices, and if a dev is really feeling fancy, they’ll throw in a few QTE’s just to make sure you’re paying close attention. Making “right” or “wrong” choices and seeing how the story evolves as a consequence is one of the biggest draws for me when it comes to this genre of game.
Although my personal history with Oxenfree is limited to the time Charleen and I played it recently, I had heard nothing but great things up until that point! I mean, I’ve always loved adventure games and unraveling their mysteries, so it definitely seemed like a game that would be right up our alley.
The fact that it takes a similar approach to the dialogue choice system of games like Life is Strange and the various entries from Telltale Games, had me quite excited! Especially since it seemed to be going in a more supernatural direction with its narrative.
Since Oxenfree is the first in the series and the first game from Night School Studios, there wasn’t much to compare it to. Well, other than other adventure games like it. In that regard, I think the 2D approach was a fantastic one! I mean, one thing that these types of games can always boast is that their visuals are stunning and Oxenfree is no different! Also, I’ve always found that compared to 3D adventure games, the 2D ones were much more intuitive to play.
However, one thing that I found was missing in Oxenfree was meaningful choices. It never felt like the paths you were taking were actually making a difference. Short of maybe who was mad at you in the current situation. I will say though, the voice acting was quite fantastic! Well, when it wasn’t competing with the actual dialogue flow.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve played plenty of adventure games before and they’ve all been pretty on par with one another when it comes to keeping up with the story and making timed dialogue choices. But here’s where Oxenfree kind of strayed from the path…and not in a good way. While there were plenty of fun and funky conversations to listen to, more often than not, you only got to hear a portion of it. That’s because once a timed choice popped up you were only given a split second to make your decision. Then your character would immediately cut off whomever was speaking. For a story based game that’s a huge problem. If you want me to have any sort of vested interest in the story… I’m kinda going to have to hear it first.
The obvious change would be allowing the dialogue to finish, as most other games do, before cutting in with whatever conversation choice you made. Usually I love going back through these games again and again to see how my choices affect the outcome of the game but, in the case of Oxenfree, it was just too frustrating having to listen to instance after instance of clipped dialogue. That’s a pretty detrimental flaw to this type of game if you ask me because, other than that, I would say the game was pretty flawless. The artwork was fun and interesting and the characters all perfectly embodied that special blend of teenage angst. That and the mechanic of using the radio was really unique, though underutilized in my opinion. When it came to the story, it seemed so-so, but then I really only got to hear about 70% of it so it’s hard to say. Honestly, ’d keep everything else just as it was.
Unfortunately, this was my biggest gripe. As intriguing as the story was, the dialog system kind of stunted it. Literally. Meaning most of the time when talking to the other characters, you’ll be given a limited amount of time to react and respond.
Now, this isn’t inherently bad. Most other games like Oxenfree do the same thing. But the problem is how when you make a choice, it cuts off the conversation. Like your weaseling your way into the discussion and interrupting the other characters before they can finish. It’s so frustrating! All I want is for them to finish talking. You know, before you interject, or at least give us more time to choose!
Aside from that, I really loved the radio mechanic. Although it wasn’t utilized to the extent that I would have wanted, I thought it was clever and fun. Hopefully if we see a sequel, that expands upon that whole concept.
When it comes to my recommendation, I’m kinda on the fence. On one hand, it isn’t much of a time investment and you could easily finish it in one sitting. Maybe even pop an obscene amount of popcorn and make a night of it. However, there are many other adventure games out there that’ll give you a similar experience, that perhaps are a bit more engaging. At least in my opinion. That and if you’re not a fan of angsty teenagers umming and ahhing at each other, you may want to look elsewhere.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re cool with a shortish experience that’s just ok, then give it a try! Otherwise, you won’t be missing much if you decide to skip it.
I would have a hard time recommending this game personally. There are just too many other story based adventure games that get it right where Oxenfree failed. I know I’m definitely presenting an outlier opinion with this game, but I just can’t, in good conscience, give Oxenfree high marks when it ignores the core fundamentals of storytelling. It’s disappointing to say the least, but that’s how the cookie crumbles and it gets a thumbs down from me.
Being a gamer, and even more so a review writer, means that sometimes you’re going to encounter a game that just blows your mind. The unfortunate part comes in when the mind-blowing comes wrapped in a disappointing package of…well…disappointment. Everyone you’ve spoken to has said how good this dang game is. You assumed it was a shoo-in for a nice, relaxing, easy, breezy good review. So what the heck happened? Then you realize that it’s just another age old case of different strokes for different folks. Maybe you will play it and love it, or maybe you won’t. Luckily, Oxenfree is a short enough game that you won’t have to gamble away much time to figure out which side of the fence you’re on.