Oxenfree is a coming of age story, both for its protagonist Alex and for the adventure game genre’s recent revival movement. Built by Night School Studios, a newly formed studio built by industry veterans from Telltale Games and Disney, Oxenfree offers an intriguing setting and a varied cast of characters. Moreover, Oxenfree’s most impressive feat is its ability to disguise the fact that it is essentially a walking simulator with a few simple puzzles thrown in.
Described by Night School Studios co-founder Sean Krankel as ‘Freaks and Geeks meets Poltergeist, with a little bit of Stand By Me and The Goonies mixed in’, Oxenfree tells the story of Alex, a young girl who brings her newly acquired step-brother Jonas out to an all-night party on Edwards Island. Proceedings start out pretty light-hearted with a little drinking and the mandatory game of Truth or Slap, but events quickly take a turn for the paranormal when Alex tunes into a strange signal in a cave using her radio.
Beyond that I don’t want to spoil Oxenfree’s story too much, as how the adventure unfolds really is the meat of the experience, with very little in the way of gameplay or challenge to occupy you. You control Alex on a seemingly 2D plane, though in reality Oxenfree appears to be rendered in 3D judging by the fluid movement and rotation of the character models. Indeed, Krankel said in an interview about Oxenfree before its launch that “We wanted it to feel 2D and 3D at the same time, with a dark feature animation quality. It was important to us that the world felt analogue, inviting, and nostalgic”. Mission accomplished Sean because figuring it out screwed with my head more than a little. This visual throwback to old school adventure games like Grim Fandango creates a sense of familiarity to Oxenfree’s environments, giving the world an inviting and light-hearted atmosphere, until the shit hits the fan of course.