Thereâs so much I enjoy about Oxenfreeâs weird story, but to spoil it would be to ruin half the fun. Suffice it to say that if you like adventure games at all, you need to play Oxenfree.Â There are a few bumps along the way, but itâs absolutely a journey worth taking.
OxenfreeÂ begins with a group of friends visiting a not-quite abandoned island to attend a party. Wait! Come back! Itâs not like that horrendous House of the Dead movie, I swear!
Shortly after arriving it becomes apparent that the shindig wonât be as well-attended as everyone was expecting. So itâs just Alex (the protagonist), her step brother Jonas, her best friend Ren, the reprehensible Clarissa (sheâs the worst), and Clarissaâs much more pleasant friend Nona. They meet up, gather âround a bonfire, dispense with some (reasonably natural) high school banter, and then itâs off to explore some nearby caves when — actually, youâre going to have to figure the rest of it out for yourself. I really donât want to spoil anything, sorry.
But I will say that the voice work, dialog, and overall story are all very well done for the most part. There are a few awkward lines here and there, a few moments that falter or donât have the impact youâd expect, but by and large itâs very impressive stuff.
Oxenfree is fundamentally a point-and-click adventure game, but not of the older hunt and peck variety. Tapping will get Alex moving (and finding her own path around obstacles) to the appropriate location, while contextual buttons will appear whenever sheâs close enough to investigate a point of interest. No clumsily sifting through different action icons here! Itâs also very much appreciated how unobtrusive icons will appear on said points of interest once Alex gets within a certain distance, letting you know thereâs a thing over there you can check out if youâre so inclined without cluttering up the screen or forcing you to meticulously scour the environment.
Much of what happens in Oxenfree is tied to Alexâs radio, which can be used at any time in order to try and âtune inâ to various signals around the island in order to solve some puzzles and… other stuff. Itâs a simple idea that yields some interesting results, and I really do like how adjusting frequencies is made easier by way of color-coding (it changes hues as you near and land on important frequencies) in case you have trouble listening to whatâs going on — say if youâre playing in a noisy area with no headphones or something.
Whatâs disappointing is how Oxenfree sometimes hobbles its own well-presented story bits. As Iâve said, the voice acting is solid, almost all of the dialog seems comfortably natural, and the overall plot is intriguing. ButÂ most of the character interactions (which are important to the story and to their own development) where you can choose Alexâs responses are awkward in their execution.
For one thing, most of the time the window for picking a response is super brief. Something that would make sense in certain situations where time is a big factor, but more often than not it obnoxiously prevents me from being able to consider my choices. I donât think getting rid of the timed response elements is necessary, but it would be nice if I had enough time to read all of my options — let alone have a few seconds to decide which one I want to go with.
Alexâs dialog often ends up interrupting everyone else, but not all the time. Wanting to hear all of what someoneâs saying has resulted in me missing out on dialog choices entirely on more than one occasion, and other times when I do manage to pick something, Alex just sort of steps over the speaking characterâs lines in a manner that comes off as awkward at best and just plain rude at worst. But the thing is, it doesnât happen consistently. Sometimes picking a response will result in Alex patiently waiting for the other person to finish their thought before she chimes in. Why canât most of the dialog options be like this? Again, I can understand that there are certain points where her interrupting someone (Iâm looking at you, Clarissa, you jerk) makes sense form a story standpoint, but most of the time it seems completely unnecessary.
Still, the main reason the dialog interruptions and too-quick option selection moments bother me is because I was so immediately drawn into Oxenfreeâs story and interested by its characters. I want to be able to take the time to absorb and enjoy everything. Pushing everything along like that so frequently only does the game a disservice. I still enjoyed the game despite these gripes, certainly, but I know Iâd enjoy it even more if they werenât as prevalent. Though I suppose being able to say âI really, really like itâ instead of âI love itâ is perfectly acceptable.