I’ve always found myself uncomfortable watching, or playing, ghost stories. That discomfort might have made me pass on Oxenfree, but that would've been a spectacular mistake. Oxenfree is some of the best four hours I've ever spent with a game.
In short, Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller that follows a group of friends after the main protagonist unlocks a ghostly rift using her radio. It’s a truly haunting story, that’s only made more terrifying by the location’s atmosphere, and the underlying mystery of the sunken submarine off the island's coast. Right from the start the story aims to make you uneasy, and it does a brilliant job of doing just that.
You play as Alex, who has traveled to Edward’s Island with your best friend, Ren, and your new step-brother, Jonas. From here the game starts to branch out into different instances, giving you chances to make choices that will affect that way things end up. Right after stepping off the ferry onto the island, my stomach started to sink. Just hearing the characters talk about the lack of people on the island, I couldn’t help but feel a terrible loneliness set over me.
The real fun, however, doesn’t start until you use your radio to tune into the ghostly frequencies near Beacon Beach. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say its system of choices works very similarly to Telltale games. And while Oxenfree might be Night School Studio’s first release, it’s certainly not going to be their last if this quality of storytelling is anything to go by.
Alongside the main story, there are several collectible-like items hidden throughout the game. These take the form of Radio signal anomalies, which must be found by tuning Alex’s radio to an unknown frequency, when standing in the right place. These are pretty tricky to find, I only found about four of them in my time with the game, but they’ll be a welcome addition to the game for achievement hunters.
The other collectible that really takes the spotlight, and actually works alongside the main story line, are the letters from the island’s single resident, Maggie Adler. These letters tell the story of a gruesome coverup, which players can uncover if they choose to look for the letters. It’s a rather appealing story within a story kind of thing, and I’m actually really looking forward to returning to Edwards Island and seeing if I can find them all.
To be completely honest, due to the story-driven nature of the game, there isn’t a lot I can really say about Oxenfree without spoiling the big reveals. The game’s art is beautiful, and while it’s mostly a 2D/3D combination, it feels like the perfect medium to tell the story of Edwards Island. The audio puzzles featured in the game are well-done, and were easily one of my favorite things about the game.
I think what Oxenfree does best, however, is it tells a ghost story, without relying on needless jump scares and loud noises. Sure there are some moments where the music blared out, and my heart leapt to my throat, but more than anything else, the game relies heavily on the lonely and creepy atmosphere of the island to help move the story along. This atmosphere helped to really pin me down with a complete feeling of dread every time I would head into a near area, or try to open a door, as I had no idea what might be waiting for me in the next room.
Oxenfree is a fantastic horror game, and Night School Studio has definitely pulled out all the stops to bring this story to life. Its classic Telltale meets the horror movies of the 1980s, and they’ve hit all the right notes. The branching storylines, likeable characters, and underlying dread and mystery really help this game to accomplish everything it could. Oxenfree is sure to keep you guessing until you reach the final ending screen. At which point I can’t promise you won’t just start over, ready to explore the ghostly realm ocne again.
This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. Oxenfree will be available on Steam, Windows 10 and Xbox on January 15 for $19.99. The game is rated T.