Genre:  Adventure   

Developer & Publisher:    Night School Studio            

Released:    January 2016            

Requirements (recommended):

    • OS: Windows 8.1 64-bit
    • Processor: Intel i5 2.5 GHz
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 / Radeon HD 6750 (or higher)
    • DirectX: Version 11
    • Network: Broadband Internet connection
    • Storage: 3 GB available space
    • Sound Card: DirectX 9.0 Compatible



By flotsam



Night School Studio

“Ollie Ollie Oxenfree” was a call I remember as a child that translated roughly as “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are”. A game of hide and seek was over, and those still hidden could come out without being caught.

There are a lot of hidden things in Oxenfree. Calling them out though does not go well for Alex and her teenage company of “friends”, outbound on a boat from the small town of Camena to spend a night just drinking and chilling on a decommissioned military island.

There is a lot to like in this game, most notably that the story is the thing, the relationships between characters even more so. You spend a whole lot of time walking and chatting and building (or unbuilding) your relationships, and filling the back stories of the characters. Jonas is the new boy, newly step-brothered to Alex, Ren is the Alex BFF with a hankering for Nona that he won’t express, and Carissa the gilt edged b**ch (really, whose friend is she??). Plus Michael, who is present in the grief of Alex.

Alex drives things, and you drive Alex. Conversations will often involve three types of responses available to Alex, and while you get time to think about it you don’t get forever. The little speech bubbles will fade, and then disappear altogether, which is akin to not responding at all. I felt the pacing was just right, in keeping with an ongoing conversation, rather than stop/starting while you dissected and contemplated every available response.

You drive her around the island as well, using the WASD keys. This might be a component that puts some players off, especially as you do a lot of it. Walk paths that twist and turn, climb up, jump across, climb down, walk some more. It reminded me of a platform game in this aspect (without I stress the need to do anything that remotely requires timing or quick fingered twitching) and there were times when I felt the construction was a little artificial and aimed at extending the playtime. On the whole though I thought that it did a pretty good job of capturing the feeling of rambling about a large island, and where if you have to get somewhere, you have to walk the tracks and trails that exist, and occasionally climb things in your way, or nimbly jump up or over an obstacle.

The perspective also does a good job of portraying a large environment. Alex and her fellow characters are quite small, and the viewing angle expands the environment accordingly. I thought at first that the character size would be an issue, but to the contrary, not only did it work, it became one of the many positives involved.

There is a lot of conversation, and while the voices are distinctive, a tiny speech bubble will appear above the head of the talking character, just in case. You might also get a similarly sized image of how that person has responded to a particular response, which appears for a moment then disappears. More importantly than the mechanics, however, there is an authenticity to the narrative, being sufficiently teenage in language and structure to be convincing, but not off-putting to those of us for whom being a teenager was some time ago. There are also ums and ahs and incomplete sentences and trailing away to nothing, just like real conversations, teenage or otherwise.

The story you can find out for yourself, but it involves time slips and loops, supernatural voices, an old woman and the occasional possession. It can be a little dark and some events might be unsettling, but isn’t scary or horrific.

All of this is presented in an interestingly arty style, punctuated by distortions and shimmers when the time glitches, and when the sound palette is thrown in it all comes together rather well.

Googling reveals multiple endings based on the dialogue choices you make and the relationships you create. I thought mine made sense, and would be more than happy to go back and play again to make deliberately different choices to see how things change.

Puzzling is negligible, consisting mainly of tuning into the right frequency with a hand held radio in order to unlock doors and resolve some other situations. There are also a number of tape players that you have to spin to the right speed (move your mouse round and round), usually in order to correct a time slippage. There are no inventory items, apart from your radio, and apart from getting from here to there (and a map will assist) there are no other challenges to speak of.

Which really doesn’t matter. If you want brain busting puzzle heaven, there are plenty of games that will give you that. This isn’t one of them, and it isn’t pretending to be.

Some more googling revealed that Telltale alumni are involved in Night School Studio. Which in itself tells you something about what sort of game this is.

Like the island traversing, there is an element of padding in the use of the radio. About two thirds of the way through the game, you get the advanced radio, which just increases the bandwidth through which you have to carefully scroll in order to find the relevant frequency. I can’t see why it was necessary, and no game explanation compensates.

There are other uses for the radio. It can be used to tune into tourist beacons around the island, which will give information on the whatever/wherever you are at, and you scroll through the frequencies and may pick up snippets that might add something to the broader narrative, or might just be irrelevant chatter. Late in the game, the radio is also part of a treasure hunt to find hidden letters from the old woman I mentioned earlier by tuning to the appropriate frequency at the appropriate location. I didn’t try, so can’t tell you how arbitrary or otherwise this hunt might be. What I can tell you is it isn’t required to finish the game.

It clocks in at about four hours, which would be significantly shorter if it wasn’t for all the rambling. I didn’t feel cheated or let down though, and confess to having an engaging and enjoyable Saturday morning.

I played on:

OS: Windows 10

Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz


Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB


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