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    Oxenfree

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    Olly olly

    Oxenfree is a relatively hyped indie game that garnered some attention when it released in January of 2016. It has always been on my radar, but I never actually got around to playing it until just recently, after it had been made available as a free Games with Gold game on Xbox One.

    Right now, anyone with an Xbox Live Gold subscription might as well download Oxenfree. It’s a decent game, but I’m not sure I would have been thrilled with it if I actually plopped down cash for it. The game is an adventure game, driven almost entirely by story, with not much in the way of actual gameplay features or mechanics.

    In fact, when Oxenfree does start feeling more like a "game," it becomes more of a chore. Near the end of the story, players are tasked with running around the island and finding collectibles that are necessary to fully understand the story. This somewhat forced segment of collectible finding really drags down the pacing, but players will feel like they’re missing out if they don’t go out of their way to get everything. Collectibles are suppose to be side-content, and forcing players to do things that are typically reserved for side-stuff just doesn’t feel right.

    Since Oxenfree is driven almost exclusively by its narrative, it’s important that players understand the story. The basic gist of it is that players take control of a teenage girl named Alex, who has gone to an island to hang out with some of her friends, including her new stepbrother Jonas. While things start out normal enough, the story then takes a turn for the weird, embracing creepy and disturbing sci-fi horror elements that are rather effective and well done.

    The horror elements in Oxenfree are subtle, but very effective because the characters are so realistic. Anyone that went to high school in their lives can probably name someone they know that acts or talks similarly to the characters in Oxenfree. The downside to this is that some characters in the game, particularly the stoner Ren, just come across as annoying and hard to like. In a story like this, where the driving force is whether or not you actually care what happens to the characters, not liking someone is detrimental to the emotional impact of what’s going on.

    Ren’s annoying dialogue is grating, but on the bright side, players are free to be an absolute jerk to him all they want. Player choice in Oxenfree matters not in a way that changes much of the actual plot, but does change the way in which the different teenagers interact with one another. It’s really up to the player to shape Alex’s personality through the various dialogue options. And since this makes up the bulk of the game, besides wandering aimlessly around the island looking for collectibles, it’s good that the developers nailed this particular aspect of the experience.

    The developers of Oxenfree also did a good job with the game’s presentation. Oxenfree uses a water color painting art style that is reminiscent of certain children’s books. The art style truly is gorgeous and unique, making the game outright fun to look at. The audio side of the coin is also very well done, with smart use of music and sound effects to strike the just the right moods at just the right times in the story. Since the game is composed of a lot of dialogue, it’s also great that the voice acting is superb as well, though I will say Ren sounds exactly like the host of You Don’t Know Jack, and that is super distracting. It may very well be the same voice actor, and some that have played both games may not be able to buy into him as a character. Just another reason to dislike Ren, really.

    My biggest gripe with Oxenfree and what keeps it from being something I’d be more willing to recommend is its save system. It’s not clear where players will start again if they turn off the game and return to it later, which can result in some annoyance when players are forced to replay stretches of the game that may be boring.

    Luckily, Oxenfree itself is not a long experience at all. Players can beat it in under five hours easily, and even snag most of the achievements along the way if they take the time to search for all the collectibles. On the downside, there is not much in the way of replayability, though there’s some clever things the game does when you replay it that I won’t spoil here. It’s super clever, and I think anyone that bothers playing the game should have the opportunity to experience it for themselves.

    Ultimately, Oxenfree is a game that will appeal greatly to those that like games that are driven mostly by story, but it will fail to win over gamers that expect a little more substance to their video games. The semi-forced collectible collecting near the end really ruins the pacing of the story, Ren is an annoying character, and how small the game is will likely put off some, but it’s definitely worth checking out for Xbox One owners while it’s still free.

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