App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
User Interface Rating:
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Oxenfree is one of those adventure games that falls more in line with modern adaptations of the genre. Instead of prioritizing items and puzzles, it focuses on decision-making while telling the story of a group of teens that decide to spend the night on the mysterious Edwards Island. Though it has some slight control issues, Oxenfree is a beautiful game with a memorable story that you should definitely play.
In Oxenfree, you play as a blue-haired teenager named Alex, who is taking her new stepbrother and a few friends out to Edwards Island to do some pretty standard teen shenanigans. One of these shenanigans is visiting the island's caves, which are tied to an urban legend that involves being able to pick up nonexistent radio stations by way of some strange rock formations.
To avoid any sort of spoilers, let me just say that something happens when Alex and the gang put this legend to the test, and it sets the group off on a journey where they must further explore Edwards Island and its mysterious past throughout the course of the night.
Moving things along
Over the course of Oxenfree's story, you control Alex primarily by tapping around (or tapping and dragging) on screen to direct her tiny avatar through Night School Studio's gorgeously hand-drawn environments. You also get the opportunity to decide what kind of character Alex is by way of speech bubbles that pop up to respond to your group's constant chatter. Much like with Telltale's The Walking Dead, these dialogue choices can impact the story and can be time-limited, and your options don't map cleanly onto specific outcomes. You can also opt to say nothing at all in certain situations or you may simply run out of time to decide on a response.
Although most of Oxenfree focuses on story and character interaction, the game still has a fair amount of light puzzle-solving in it. Most of it isn't particularly challenging, but that's probably for the best. There is one instance where the game has a timing-based puzzle in it, and it can feel infuriating because of Oxenfree's weirdly clunky control system. Tapping to move sometimes doesn't register or does a poor job of path finding, while tapping and dragging to move makes it hard to respond to dialogue choices in time when they pop up. Thankfully, there isn't really any way to lose in Oxenfree, so these issues feel pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.
Oxenfree shines most when it's providing character moments and hitting story beats, which it's basically doing all the time. There are no prolonged puzzle sections or even quiet moments in the game. Alex and her friends are constantly talking to each other, and its remarkable just how much their dialogue genuinely sounds like what real teens might sound like in the same situation.
These discussions obviously involve what's happening around them on the island, but there are also talks of love interests, future plans, and even some juvenile humor for good measure. Some of these lines may get stepped on when certain events trigger or you pick a reply quickly, but that almost makes the dialogue feel more real. People talk over each other sometimes. Arugably even more so when those people are scared and tired teenagers that are experiencing some pretty harrowing stuff. There are also plenty of different endings to Oxenfree, so you can always jump back in to catch things you may have felt you missed while trying to make some different decisions to create a different outcome.
The bottom line
Though it has some control issues, Oxenfree is really something special. It tells a unique story that's peppered with character moments that will stick with you. Seriously, don't pass this one up.