Words About Video Games

41 Games: Oxenfree

Games are actually pretty good at horror. They have the tools to really mess with your senses, and to make you feel vulnerable in ways that film, books, and TV can't quite manage.

Oxenfree is more creepy and unsettling than outright scary, but it makes good use of games' ability to alter reality on a dime, leaving the player feeling powerless.

It's also got a great deal of emotional depth. It's wonderful to see indie games experiment with the narrative possibilities of classic adventure games while exploring new mechanics to replace traditional puzzles.

There are puzzles in Oxenfree, but they're all constructed around a single, very simple mechanic, putting it somewhere between an adventure game and the so-called walking simulators--games that offer little to do besides advancing to the next point.

Of course, the name walking simulator is overly reductive. Some of these games engage the player in the world better than others. Gone Home was, more accurately, a "picking things up and and putting them back where you found them because you weren't raised by wolves now were you?" simulator.

Oxenfree is a "teenagers exploring urban legends by tuning into radio frequencies out in the woods" simulator. And its story is about grief, and the phases of life, and trying to find a way to move on--from your teenage self, from guilt, from loss.