Back at the end of January, BagoGames’ own Patrick Kennedy published his review of the indie hit Oxenfree, the story-driven PC game that had seemingly come out of nowhere. The game had released about a week and half prior to surprisingly positive reviews and had captured the interest and imagination of the gaming community with its strange premise and artistic approach. Night School Studio, the development team behind the project, was made up of Telltale and Disney alum, and it showed in the best of ways through a story about teen struggle, life and death, and the value of relationships.
Needless to say, Patrick was enamored and gave Oxenfree a 9/10, stating “Overall, Oxenfree is a highly enjoyable experience that excels compared to most other narrative driven games. The atmosphere and feel of the game is totally engrossing and a marvel to look at. The pacing, intensity, and plot dynamics also go above and beyond for the gamer’s experience.” Patrick had a few complaints, namely a lackluster ending and an overly easy and straightforward experience.
Now, Night School Studio has graced PlayStation enthusiasts with a PS4 version of the game. Fundamentally, it’s the exact same game fans adored before, but brings along with it a couple of fun, immersive features and an outstanding New Game +.
For those who may not know, Oxenfree is a choice-driven narrative game about five teens who have traveled to an empty island for a night of campfires and booze. Things go awry, however, when the main protagonist, Alex, accidentally awakens something “other-worldly” with her hand-held radio. The game is built around Alex’s journey to save her friends, overcome the supernatural, and escape the island. Overall, pretty par for the course.
But there is a lot in Oxenfree that elevates the game beyond the typical “thriller” status. The writing is excellent, and keeps you guessing along the way (particularly in New Game +, which I’ll cover in a bit). The voice acting is generally excellent as well, especially by those portraying Alex, Jonah (Alex’s new step-brother), and Ren (Alex’s childhood best friend). The art direction is gorgeous and intentional, taking full advantage of the small studio’s equally small budget. And the world the team has created, ever altered by the supernatural beings in the style of an old VHS recording, is brilliant and immersive.
Oxenfree thrives on the strength of the interactions between its characters. These relationships develop throughout the night and are inherently affected by the choices you make. Characters can love or hate you, characters can romantically connect with each other, and characters can live or die based on your choices. This isn’t necessarily a new idea in video games, but I would argue that Oxenfree manages character relationships and story better than most.
I won’t go into much more detail on the story, as Patrick did an excellent job back in January. Be sure to check out his full review HERE. However, I will say that I greatly enjoyed experiencing Oxenfree. There are some weaknesses, particularly numerous and lengthy load screens and long periods of quiet walking (which starts out nice and atmospheric, but grows old quickly). But the strengths greatly outweigh the weaknesses here, and the story shines through.
One of Patrick’s major complaints was a lackluster ending. Night School Studios has changed the nature of this entirely with the addition of New Game +. The concept of New Game + is not always the most successful; some games only add minimal new aspects to a second playthrough, greatly lessening the appeal of experiencing an entire game a second time. Not so with Oxenfree. New Game + completely changes what the story is about. Gameplay is the same and you’re technically going through the same thing again, but this development team has added enough new experiences and twists that a second attempt is almost demanded. In many ways, you aren’t playing the game again, but rather continuing in the adventure. New Game + is extraordinarily satisfying.
The only downside to New Game + is that it accentuates the few shortcomings of the initial playthrough. Once you know where you’re going, and once you know what MIGHT happen, long load screens and long periods of walking are painful. The game excels in its story moments, but there are periods of silent walking that fit nicely into the atmosphere of the world, yet absolutely ruin the momentum of gameplay. This is only worse the second time around. It’s a big enough issue to be worth mentioning, but one that I believe the studio will take to heart in their next endeavor.
Few would argue that Sony has worked hard to successfully cultivate an environment on the PS4 and through the PSN for indie games, and the recent success of games such as Gone Home (one of June’s free PS+ games) and Firewatch have paved the way for these narrative-driven indie experiences. As such, Oxenfree feels right at home on the PS4. The controls work perfectly and are as intuitive on the DualShock 4 as one might imagine. The light bar at the top of the controller coordinates with the game. One of the best new features is how the radio, which plays such a large role in the game, comes through the speaker on the controller. It’s a small, but very effective form of immersion, making it abundantly clear that this port was made by the developers with passion for the story they’re trying to tell.
I honestly cannot recommend Oxenfree enough, whether you are a PS4 owner looking for a new story or an old fan who needs to revisit with New Game +. The story is brilliant, the gameplay supports the narrative well, and the PS4 is a perfect home for the game. It’s not quite worthy of a perfect 10 due to some long loading screens and some momentum-killing walking segments, but Oxenfree is an absolute must play.
A PS4 review copy of Oxenfree was provided by Night School Studio for the purpose of this review