xenfree is an extensive interpersonal journey, telling the tale of teens lost on an island, fighting an evil presence, and trying to use their pubescent communication skills to save and connect to one another. All the while, Alex, the game’s main character, tries to grapple with the past loss of her brother and to connect with her newly-minted stepbrother, Jonas.
Best Games Played 2016
These games and awards were decided during the Wardcast’s Best Games Played 2016 episode, where we considered any and all games played by the members of the Wardcast in 2016, even if they weren’t released that calendar year.
Mechanically, the narrative system, of being able to and explore the environment during dialog, is an interaction design much more human than that of most games. Plenty narrative works trade in this technique, such as now-trademark Grand Theft Auto series’ use of dialog during driving sequences — where the game is being physically propelled while simultaneously being narratively propelled — as well as the use of walk and talk shots in television and film. Oxenfree adapts this approach for the indie sphere and uses it with aplomb.
Dialog options appear as speech balloons above Alex’s head, invoking the idea that these are all the things she wants to say, but it’s up to the player to decide the best course of action. Alex — like Geralt of Rivia, Henry, and Maxine Caulfield — speaks for herself, you’re just the angel (or devil) on their shoulder. Sometimes, she interjects when something important is on her mind. Other times, she waits for there to be a lull in the conversation. At all times, you and her are trying to help make the situation better. Rarely does it work out.
Night School Studio has created a ghost story as a way to deal with personal loss, and because you have the somewhat shy, teenage Alex as your vessel, you must work together to say what’s on your mind.