One of the things that I love about horror is the heavy use of tropes. Some folks might consider this to be stale or boring, but when done right, you can take a painfully overused trope and still manage to make something fun and new out of it. Oxenfree accomplishes this with aplomb, taking the teen-holiday-weekend-gone-wrong trope and building an unsesttling, and sometimes genuinely scary, experience out of it.
Oxenfree is a mystery adventure game featuring full voice acting, expansive dialogue options, and simple point-and-click controls that just about anyone can pick up and play. This is the best game I've played so far this month that fits the spooky season, and it's definitely going on that list o' best Android games.
Oxenfree opens with a classic setup: a group of high schoolers take the last ferry to a small island off the coast of their town for a weekend of typical teen shenanigans. It's already getting dark and the air is heavy with fog around Edwards Island, a former military base that now lies mostly abandoned. Our cast includes the protagonist Alex, her new step-brother Jonas, goofy friend Ren, adorable Nona, and mean-spirited Clarissa. Tension runs amok in this motley crew of awkward teens, and bickering and passive-aggressive sniping begins almost right away.
Taking a break from a particularly tense conversation, Alex, Jonas, and Ren start messing around with one of the island's most famous mysteries: phantom radio frequencies. After tuning her radio near some known weird activity hotspots and getting some wild results, Alex and Jonas decide to venture deeper into one of the island's caves to see what's up. Of course, they uncover far more than they bargained for, and now the five of them are going to have to figure out how to resolve this haunting situation if they ever want to get off Edwards Island.
The gameplay is predominantly point-and-click exploration through 2D scenes. Interactable objects, marked by a small white circle around them, will often yield information or more dialogue options for the group, so it's worth your time to thoroughly explore your surroundings.
Alex is also armed with her trusty analog radio. At various points in the game, you can activate it to manually tune to different stations. Some play music from nearby radio towers, while one station offers informative tourist information about Edwards Island itself; others, unfortunately, are far more sinister. The radio is a simple mechanic to use, but it always makes you feel like such a sleuth when you hone in on the station you're looking for. The process of manually having to tune to certain stations also builds in a hefty layer of suspense that will keep you on pins and needles.
Aside from the radio, conversation is the real mechanic that affects how the game plays. You'll find hundreds of dialogue options when speaking with each character, all of which are beautifully voice acted. In most conversations, Alex will have 2-3 options for responses, plus the option to say nothing at all. These inform how the narrative progresses and how other characters react to Alex. When you reply in a way that makes another character think differently about you — for better or worse — a small icon of Alex will appear above that character's head.
The same rules apply to how the NPCs regard each other, so your replies and how characters react to them slowly builds out your entire group dynamic. It's a great approach to relationship building within a concise narrative, leaving you guessing about how things may have turned out if you had selected a different option instead.
The soundtrack, composed by scntfc (I'm somewhat confident that it's pronounced "scientific"), absolutely knocks it out of the park with tracks ranging from total jams like Epiphany Fields, to more ambient mood-setters like Lantern. In all cases, the OST does a wonderful job of maintaining the feeling of creeping horror thoughout the game by lending a heavy, abandoned feel to Edwards Island.
There are, however, a few things that aren't perfect with Oxenfree, most of which stem from porting a console/PC game designed for TVs and controllers to mobile screens.
Depending on your character's position on the screen, some of Alex's dialogue options can get cut off. This happened enough times for me to get annoyed by it, especially as you only have a short time to decide which response to give.
The controls, while simple, can sometimes go a bit wonky—particularly with ladders or any situation that involves climbing. There was a section where I thought I was just trapped at the bottom of a ladder, with Alex seemingly incapable of dismounting it. I nearly gave up and restarted the game, but thankfully Alex finally figured it out and got off the ladder. This process took full minutes to resolve itself, and although I haven't encountered another section as severe as this one, I'm now constantly wary of ladders.
In spite of these technical errors, Oxenfree managed to completely and totally nail the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, music, and plot. Each of these core elements weaved together into a tapestry of A Great Game. What's more, Oxenfree has superb replay value thanks to the multiple possible endings you can get. It easily earned its spot on our list of the best spooky mobile games.
With no ads or in-app purchases, Oxenfree is a $4.99 premium game that's worth every penny. It's the best scary game I've played this month and it's one that I would recommend to just about anyone. There's still time before Halloween is upon us, so consider spending it with the perfect game for All Hallows' Eve.
Tag, you're it! Whether you like it or not.
The fate of you and your friends lies in the radio in your hand. Can you use it to get yourselves out of this mess?
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A lifelong gamer, Mogan has had a controller in hand since the PlayStation 1 ruled the world and Neopets seemed eternal. She loves to play new and old games alike, especially if it's something weird and charming. Puzzlers, JRPGs, adventure, and rhythm games are her favorites.