Over the past year, I’ve read lots of comparisons between Oxenfree – a shortish adventure game about five teens and their supernatural adventures on a Pacific Coast island – and Kentucky Route Zero. I agree with the conclusion of most of these comparisons. Beyond the adventure game control conventions, stripped down art styles, and supernatural elements, these games are nothing alike.
Kentucky Route Zero is a cultural high water mark – an interactive experience that relentlessly references a vast literary and scientific knowledge to produce an expectation-shattering experience. Oxenfree, however, is a Joss Whedon script voiced by Disney Channel actors in the kind of decent adventure game that Double Fine used to make.
I found Oxenfree to be a very enjoyable, high-quality, 4-hour romp through what appeared to be somebody’s love letter to a specific time and place. And that – far more so than the time looping, branching choices, or hokey plot elements – is what I enjoyed the most about the game. The creators seemed to have lived in a place or places much like Edwards Island. Little exaggerated details abound … or maybe the team was just really good at making details up. A direct question to the team about their inspiration for the setting was not answered during a Reddit AMA in June. Unfortunate.
That setting is a blast to wheel around for the few hours it takes to run through the game … once. While I’m a big fan of the branching dialog and plot, the Lego brick construction of the ending and the promise of more hours of trudging around on a massive collection quest to see the rest of the bricks did little to inspire me to go back.
Even if I had the patience to go through the game another time or two, Oxenfree is not the kind of experience that rewards a split attention. The dialogue comes in a rapid fire fashion and gives you a limited time to respond. My four-year-old did not have sympathy for this engaging design choice. I got through the game with a combination subtitles and the pause button, but I missed a lot.Also, while Oxenfree is not a true horror experience, it’s not the kind of thing you want to play around kids a bit older than mine. Ghosts, possession, suicide, drowning – fun bedtime conversations for parents whose kids have a developing concept of what’s likely and what’s not.