OXENFREE is a small game made by Night School Studio, which is made of creators from TellTale and Disney studios, with the script being written by Adam Hines who was the lead writer for Tales from the Borderlands. Continuing on with TellTale’s tradition of branching paths, OXENFREE tells the story of Alex and her friends who are spending their night out on a local, historical ex-military site known as Edward’s Island. The island is presented in 2.5D, with a very beautiful art style reminiscent of Child of Light.
There are rumors that if a radio is tuned to an exact frequency in certain spots on the island, you will hear noises that cannot be heard anywhere else. Throughout your night trip on the island, you lead your ragtag group of misfits through an adventure filled with ghosts and mysteries hidden throughout, if you care to search for them.
The radio is the main mechanic of the game, filling the spot generally reserved for combat. There is not much you can do to fight off ghosts, with certain radio stations being their weakness. As strange as this may sound at first, it plays very well, giving a sense of helplessness as you hurriedly tune your radio to save your friends. This unique mechanic is used throughout the island, with locations to buried secrets or special spots that provide ghostly frequencies, making each section of the island a fun game of hide-and-seek.
At different locations there are special tour guide radio stations that will tell you about the militaries history on the island, bringing life to this one thriving island. A character has also hidden notes for you across the island, telling the tale of two friends as they discover the ghostly frequencies as well. These distinctive story telling devices reward players for searching the sections of the map, while also bringing Edward’s Island to life.
Your choices in how you speak to your friends can build or destroy relationships, some of which you have had your entire life. These branching dialogue choices make the player want to come back and try out different conversations and altering affairs from your first play-through.
As great as all of these aspects of the game are, there are a couple of flaws that are apparent. At some points throughout the game, the dialogue can feel a bit clunky or out of character at times. With it being so heavily focused on dialogue, this can really pull you out of the immersion for the game. Another problem with is traversing the island. Since this late night adventure takes place on such a small island, you can get intimately familiar with it fairly quickly. Pacing across the island can start to feel repetitive, but eventually it feels like it even slows down the game. After a heart racing encounter with ghosts, slowly walking through the island to find your friends can make the pacing feel off.
OXENFREE is a great gaming experience, adding yet another notable title to the ever-growing list of great indie games available. The game has a couple pitfalls such as poor dialogue at some point and uneven pacing. These short comings are countered by telling not just one fantastic story, but having more hidden throughout the environment, having a unique gameplay system instead of combat, and letting you create different relationships through dialogue conversations that feel meaningful; all of this culminating to a great gaming experience.