At first glance, NightSchool’s Oxenfree could be mistaken for a lighthearted coming of age tale, a modern Stand By Me if you will. You play as Alex, and it all starts with you and your friends heading off to an island party. You’re just going for the night, so it should be good times. The problem is it’s actually an old military island, and quite early into your night you accidentally open a ghostly gate. It’s hard to open these things on purpose after all. Armed with a little radio and your friends around you, it’s up to you to search the island, helping your friends and yourself make it through the night alive. And at times, you and your friends might not always be on the same page. What transpires for the next 5 hours is honestly one of the coolest, trippiest games of the year.
Oxenfree is at first a bit of a slow burner. The dialogue is excellent, to the point where that alone would have been enough to keep me interested, but when things start getting weird, that’s when the supernatural vibe of Edwards Island starts to get to you. And when I say get to you, I don’t mean in a horror game type way. It’s more of a Twilight Zone, eerie, cooky, deja-vu way. And deja-vu is a common thing here. At times you’ll get stuck in time loops, replaying conversations over and over with the slightest of changes in your surroundings – just to creep you the hell out. And it works. The creepiness is literally dialled up a load with the use of the aforementioned radio. This little device has a crazy amount of power, but will it help you or hinder you? It can be used to open weird triangles in the sky, portals to the past, open locked doors, manipulate different scenes – and it’s one of the coolest mechanics I’ve experienced in a game, possibly ever. Dialling different frequencies and watching the creepy shit it invokes is so much more fun that it should be.
None of this would work it you weren’t invested in the story though. That’s why Oxenfree is such a joy. The characters are amazing and because you’re making decisions with the dialogue, who you go to help first and so on, it leaves Oxenfree with a huge amount of possibilities about where your story can go. Simple pieces of dialogue could lead to budding romances, or whether someone hates your guts. Or more importantly, it could lead to whether people live or die.
Ultimately what I found out was one playthrough wasn’t enough. I played the whole thing three times, and I loved seeing the different conversations and the different situations so much that I could have happily played it a fourth time. Because despite the scariness of Edwards Island, it’s ironic that in the end I found myself never wanting to leave.
Oxenfree is a stunning, supernatural thriller that is hands down my favourite game of the year. Take a trip to Edwards Island on the Switch – you won’t regret it.
Punk rating: 9/10