Developer: Night School Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Xbox One
A group of teenagers. A weird crazy adventure. Otherworldly happenings. From E,T, and The Goonies to more recently Super 8, it's a story told quite a few times in film. Oxenfree continues that tradition, telling the story of five friends, a mysterious island, and malevolent forces.
The bonfire drinking and games of truth or slap soon morph into a life-and-death struggle to escape the island when insidious supernatural forces are awakened. The story of Oxenfree is best experienced as blind as possible, so I won't delve into the specifics, but it's a gripping tale of coming-of-age and supernatural horror.
And every moment of exploration is accompanied by some of the most natural likable dialogue I've heard in a game. Natural not just in tone and cadence, but in execution. Oxenfree evolves the choice-driven narrative genre popularized by Telltale by adopting a walk-and-talk pacing, letting you choose dialogue while on the move or in the midst of other actions. From trying to rationalize terrifying occurrences to making jokes and revealing hurtful secrets, the choices never feel like the mechanical good/bad/neutral options of other games, but natural responses to the situations.
Those situations are tinged with menace and unnerving horror. Oxenfree never resorts to jump scares or gore to be scary; instead it builds an atmosphere of dread and unease, through weird scenarios, excellent sound design, and visual aberrations that morph and contort the soft inviting aesthetic. Like a Stephen King novel or Poltergeist, the horror comes from seeing these normal characters you're invested in facing cruel ruthless evil.
Oxenfree is available on Steam, Humble, and Xbox One. A PS4 version is releasing later this year.