Oxenfree Brings the Party to Story-Led Indie Games

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Some indie games are built on the foundation of a big investment. Others grow organically from very little into cult popularity. Very few achieve huge success across multiple platforms simply on the strength of their story. Oxenfree is that type of game.

If you’ve ever wanted to walk through a world where darkness and mystery pursue you and your friends just to see if you can survive, Oxenfree might be the game for you. It is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who head out to a party and unintentionally crack open more than a few cold drinks when they open a spectral rift in time. Hey, we’ve all had those kinds of parties.

The chief protagonist in Oxenfree is Alex, who, along with her stepbrother Jonas, heads to a party on an island. What could go wrong? How about everything? It’s not just her stoner friend Ren who’s making Alex paranoid, as the characters come thick and fast in a forest environment that looks like it was painted in the 1900s before being digitally remastered. The game’s artwork won an Independent Games Festival award in 2016 for Excellence in Visual Art.

Alex walks and talks her way through most problems, ably abetted by her friends, but there’s no right or wrong path through the ghostly woods. There are no cut scenes whatsoever, a pretty ground-breaking choice given the lack of action. Instead, the dialogue between characters is the gameplay, and you can change the contents of many speech bubbles throughout the game. You can even choose to limit your character’s conversation and see the resultant thought bubble appear over the person with whom you’ve been talking to is a nice touch that real life could benefit from.

When Alex isn’t talking her and her friends out of trouble in Oxenfree, the overriding game mechanic is the radio Alex carries with her during the game, which you must tune into a specific frequency to get over obstacles or unlock segments the game. I found this a little frustrating – in the same way, Alan Wake’s constant search for batteries became something of a chore in the game of his name – but the open-world concept certainly kept me guessing.

This game will appeal to anyone who has ever wondered how far their real-world interactions stretch to influencing their friends. Whether solving puzzles, unlocking doors or even speaking with the ghosts in the game, Alex’s radio is her primary weapon, but this is a game without a traditional ending. There’s also a chance to see what happens to the characters after you’ve finished controlling their interactions.

Adam Hines and Sean Krankel developed the first game ever published by Night School Studio was. Predisposed to classic 1980s teen films and coming-of-age television shows such as the modern Netflix hit Stranger Things, Oxenfree is a beguiling look at how changeable the world of a teenage boy or girl can be how the path to adulthood has many roads. If the game hands out a lesson, it’s maybe that choosing the right direction in life isn’t necessarily possible, but forging a path you’re happy to have selected has its importance.

The designers of Oxenfree tried to make an adventure game where manipulating the story itself is the gameplay, and to the largest extent, they succeeded. Sean Krankel stated at the time of release that it was built around the act of communication.

“At its core, we wanted to never have a cutscene in the game, where you could walk and move freely and communicate with your friends, and even communicate with other beings and other kinds of strange things.”

In building such a widely-acclaimed single-player graphic adventure, Krankel and Hines arguably shaped future game development for the better. Oxenfree was released on Windows, OS X and Xbox One in January 2016, while PS4 and Linux versions were released later that year. Last year, iOS, Android, and Nintendo Switch jumped on the bandwagon.

You can watch the trailer here and if you enjoy it as much as we did playing the full version, go straight to the official website to read more about Oxenfree before downloading.

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