Oxenfree Review
Oxenfree Review
I very much enjoyed playing through Oxenfree but glitches and design flaws marred the experience
Posted: 02/02/16 | Category: Review | Developer: Night School Studio | Publisher: Night School Studio | Platform: Xbox one, Windows, Mac

Genre: Adventure
Release date: January 14, 2016

Stop me if you’ve heard this premise before: a group of teenagers have a party at an abandoned site full of foreboding secrets, a supernatural horror emerges to attack them and they have to think of a way to get out alive. However, although Oxenfree, Night School Studio’s 2D adventure game released for Windows, Mac OS X and Xbox One, lovingly references and even pokes fun at tropes from horror movies. It deviates from them in clever ways over the ten hours or so it took me to complete.

For one thing, there are no monsters that will jump-scare you. What's on the abandoned military base on the fictional Edwards Island is definitely very creepy though, and the clever use of several visual tricks, such as flipping the screen and reversing the controls, will keep players uneasy.

Most of your time with Oxenfree is spent clicking on items in a certain order to complete your objectives, walking around and exploring the island using simple platforming, and solving a handful of puzzles through the use of a radio that allows you to dial into particular frequencies. The beautiful watercolor backgrounds (that look almost like paintings one would find hanging in beach houses) keep exploration interesting, and none of the puzzles became tiresome or stumped me for very long.

But Oxenfree’s most surprising departure from horror clichés, and the hook that kept me playing more than the gameplay, was the storyline. I felt compelled to unravel the complicated and often tragic history of the island, which the plot reveals at a nice pace and can also be further uncovered by tuning into radio tour guides and picking up collectible letters. It’s not without its plot holes and the ending fell a little flat for me, but the journey was still very good.

More than that, however, I got invested in each of the six characters. You control Alex, a high school senior who's meeting her new stepbrother, Jonas, for the first time at the aforementioned beach party. Alongside the two of them is Alex’s childhood friend Ren; Nona, for whom Ren has feelings; and Clarissa, whose connection with Alex I won’t spoil. Initially, some of the characters seemed like they were going to be annoying, but as Alex converses with them, every character reveals hidden depths over time. Occasionally, the written dialogue can be a little hokey, but the top-notch voice acting often sells it anyway. The character animations, although viewed from far away, are believable and, overall, the cast is far more relatable and fleshed out than the usual archetypes that serve only as fodder for serial killers in horror movies.

As Alex, you talk to your friends through three dialogue bubbles that pop up over your head for a limited amount of time. You can choose one of them by clicking X, Y, or B on the Xbox One controller or choose to let them disappear when it’s more appropriate for Alex to remain silent. Many recent adventure games, especially from Telltale, like to claim that a player’s choices matter, but here, I truly believe this to be the case. The dialogue you choose affects your relationship with each of the characters, which affects many plot points along the way and apparently leads into a staggering number of endings. Each of the reactions that characters have to your actions feels believable, making you carefully consider each response in a way that is very natural.

Glitches and Design Flaws

That being said, I encountered several technical and design flaws that undermined the conversation system and the experience in general. At times, picking a response would interrupt what another character was saying, or I would pick a response that ended up having a completely different tone than the one I 'd intended. Sometimes a character would get stuck but their scripted audio would follow me anyway, also preventing me from completing some objectives. Occasionally, areas would prevent me from clicking to move to the characters.

Last but certainly not least, I experienced at least a dozen instances where the game would either crash or refuse to open when I clicked on it or said “Xbox, go to Oxenfree.” No other games or apps were experiencing this issue. Deleting and reinstalling the game didn’t help, updating my Xbox software didn’t help either, and I often had to unplug my Xbox from the wall and plug it back in.

Oxenfree only saves your progress when you move between areas of the island which are often separated by long stretches of walking and talking. This meant that whenever I had to reload a checkpoint (which can only be done by exiting to the main menu and then pressing Continue) I would sometimes have to replay conversations and other actions I’d already done for up to thirty minutes at a stretch. On the upside, it did allow me to experience different dialogue choices without playing a whole new game, but it also grew tedious after a while.


I very much enjoyed playing Oxenfree. The story and characters are very well done and the gameplay, while it could have been expanded upon, does what it needs to do to move the story along. There’s also plenty of content, as I took around ten hours to beat Oxenfree once and plan on playing it again for my fiancée, who got into video games when I played Life is Strange with her. I also only got a handful of the collectibles and achievements, and multiple endings will also add replay value for some. However I can't recommend picking up Oxenfree at its asking price of $20 until the serious technical issues, at least on the Xbox One, have been ironed out. The lack of overall technical polish in the game in general should make Mac and PC users cautious.

Grade: C+(for now)
Beautiful watercolor graphics
Engaging story with meaningful choices
Great characters and conversations
Plentiful bugs and glitches
Limited gameplay
Plot holes
System Requirements
Microsoft® Windows® 7
Processor: Intel i3 2.0 GHz
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: 1GB Shader Model 3.0 Compatible (DirectX 9.0c)
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0 sound device
OS: OSX 10.8 or higher
Processor: Intel i3 2.0 GHz
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: 1GB OpenGL 2.0 Compatible
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Specials from Digital Download
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