Have you ever been driving at night when the radio cuts out unexpectedly, and all you’re left with is empty static burning through the airwaves? Suddenly you remember you’re in limbo, caught between one place and another, shrouded in darkness and wondering, what might be out there with you. Now imagine a game built around that very sensation. That game is Oxenfree.
Oxenfree is the perfect game for those cold autumn nights when you’re looking for spine-chilling adventure, but you’d still like to be able to fall asleep at night. It’s an eerie supernatural, mystery adventure game created by Night School Studios. The story centers around a group of high school seniors who visit a nearby island in hopes of throwing an epic rager but instead unwittingly open a ghostly rift into an alternate dimension parallel to our own. They must explore this new dimension in hopes of finding a way to close the rift and return home.
While the game doesn’t rely on big jump scares to keep your heart rate up, it does a masterful job of worming its way into your head and keeping you on your toes. I found myself getting drawn in right from the beginning, and by the time I’d reached the climatic tipping point of the narrative, I had become so engrossed that I had a hard time turning it off. The game is subtly spooky, so you get to experience the chills and thrills of the season without the drama and anxiety that usually accompanies it. The graphics alone are stunning, especially for a 3D platformer, but paired with the gently distorted, low-fidelity soundtrack, it really sets the stage for a world pulled out of time. The mechanics are simple and easy to learn, and the casual pacing really makes the game feel like a break from reality. The most fascinating element of this game, though, was the dialogue. I hadn’t realized until I was much later in the game that the story had a branching narrative. The dialogue choices you make and objects you interact with have an impact on the story itself, meaning your choices change your game experience. I’ve always loved a good narrative foundation in the games that I play, but this one came as a real surprise. I wasn’t expecting this pretty indie game to be so robust! That’s not to say it’s without its faults; the consequences of your narrative choices aren’t explicitly clear, and you don’t get a lot of time to make those choices. If you’re looking for a break from all the first-person shooters and PvP battle royale games flooding the market, then I’d recommend checking this one out.
Sarah Nowack is a junior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. She works for the MSU Libraries Publishing Services Department as a print and design intern. She enjoys playing video games, eating outrageous foods, and above all, making terrible dad puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.