Oxenfree: The Most Disappointing Game of 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, gamers everywhere are talking about gaming’s best and worst of the year. When talking about the worst that gaming had to offer this year, I could pick the low hanging fruit by talking about No Man’s Sky or Mighty No.9 but there’s very little to say about them that hasn’t already been said at this point. Instead, I’d like to tell you about Oxenfree: The most disappointing game I played all year.

As its described on Steam, “Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. You are Alex, and you’ve just brought your new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight island party gone horribly wrong.” It has very positive reviews on steam, particularly positive reviews off of Steam, there seems to be an element of thriller to it–which I appreciate–secluded ghost island as a setting, gorgeous stylized graphics, the choices matter tag, so when I see this I’m thinking this game looks like something right up my alley. Months later, after being very high on my radar for quite a while, I finally got it and by this time, I’m looking incredibly forward to it.
Immediately once I start playing it, the first thing I notice is that this game runs like a potato on my laptop. In its defense though, my laptop isn’t too good for gaming. In any case, it took decades for a single scene to happen because there’s a lot of conversation in this game and talking speed is fine, but the animations for characters talking is incredibly slow because of the aforementioned potato-ism. And so each conversation was like a battle to the death with my impatience because after any sentence would end, I was generally waiting an extra minute or 2 to hear the response to it because the talking animation is still going. But as I said, I more or less excused the game for this since my laptop was the reason this was happening, and I didn’t have another way of playing it. This complaint wasn’t necessarily the game’s fault, but it certainly didn’t aid toward my attitude of it as the game trudged on.

via nightschoolstudio.com

So our story is that these high schoolers are going to an island on some kind of  school trip–except that the rest of the group isn’t there yet? But also because our protagonist didn’t want to be alone on the anniversary of her brother’s death? The reason for their being there isn’t exactly made completely clear, so right off the bat the writing needs some help.
Now, our main characters are a group of high schoolers. And very early on I started thinking that, in the nature of writing realistic high schoolers, all these characters are shit heads.  You play as Alex, who’s very much a special snowflake. We’re already off to a bad start because the only thing I hate more than characters who are written to be special snowflakes just for the sake of being special snowflakes is when the main character is a special snowflake just for the sake of being a special snowflake. And what’s worse is that this game goes out of its way to remind you that she’s a special snowflake on multiple occasions, only driving the nail further into the coffin.Then we have her “friends”: New step brother that nobody’s friends with yet, quiet girl, the guy who brought pot brownies, and bitchy girl that nobody likes and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why anyone invited her in the first place.
But again, I tried not to think about this too much since that’s just the nature of writing a set of realistic high schoolers. High schools are full of shitty people. So again, I let this one go thinking, “Well, these characters are high schoolers and high schoolers are shit heads, so it’s natural that they’d be shit heads. …Even if they’re shit headier than most high schoolers buuuuttt—
Our supernatural situation is presented fairly early on after the world’s longest campfire game of exposition, courtesy of my laptop, and it’s that the ghosts are triangles…? At first I thought that was fine, a little weird but fine, I’m sure it’ll all make sense later on, it’s still only the first hour of the game. This’ll definitely be explained later on. (Spoiler alert: It was never explained later on.)

via polygon.com

If it isn’t already really obvious, by the one hour mark, I was already having to actively try to make myself like the game. After all, it looked so interesting and the reviews were so good–maybe it just had a slow start? Maybe the characters would get better? In any case, after your contact with the triangle ghosts, you and your “friends” get separated, (y’know because ghosts) but you’re able to find a way to communicate with each other so now you and your step brother are gonna go pick em up. And the process is…long, to say the least. Between the lagging on my laptop and the needlessly long and winding roads in the game, traveling from spot to spot was a pain, to put it simply. It was a pattern of click a few inches away from Alex, wait for her to finally catch up, wait a little longer, click again. For several hours of the game. (That alongside making decisions and adjusting your radio is all the gameplay you’ll see in Oxenfree–it’s very much a story and decision driven game.)
50 years later when you finally find them, you guys start to make a plan for how you’ll escape. Luckily for us, turns out Alex used to go to this island all the time with her dead brother, so she knows where the dead owner of the only house on the island kept a boat that’s surprisingly not dead. So they go to the house, and FINALLY we have some kind of more direct communication with our ghost pals via the girl that nobody liked or missed anyways. If the writers wanted the ghosts to possess a person with hopes that it’d put our moral compass in a tizzy, they chose the worst character for the job. (Not that there were any good choices, but this was still the worst choice.)
Up until this point, the ghosts have been screwing with us, making small fragments of time repeat, photobombing, etc. but sit down, friends. Let me tell you what finally made me admit to myself that I wasn’t having fun with this game, and that’s the brand of “creepiness” that this game uses.
Here’s where we enter the wonderful realm of subjectivity: What one person finds creepy, another may not. But like all things, there are many things that most people agree is creepy. And like all generalizations, these generalizations will evolve with time. So what this game uses to creep us out are red eyes, small time loops, radio static noises with mixed voices, intentional visual “glitches”, never explicitly stated satanic themes, and of course, those weird triangles.


When something is creepy, that means it creates a feeling of discomfort within us. Like robots in the uncanny valley, seeing a middle aged man look at a 16 year old girl for a little too long, or even something more conventional like a black cat walking under a ladder. Another big part of what makes creepy things creep us out is whether or not we’re used to it. Taxidermy is another thing that creeps most people out, but do you think that when a taxidermist looks at their collection they get creeped out? Probably not because they’re so used to seeing it that they’ve got used to it. It’s normal. And this is where Oxenfree falls.
Red eyes. Intentionally glitchy graphics. Radio static and mixed voices. Satanic implications that are never blantantly spelled out. These are all things you’ll find in other recent games that try to be creepy, or on an edgy 12 year old’s tumblr. Hell you’ll find these things in a Hot Topic. Red eyes? Okay, that’s a trope that’s been used since the beginning of time. Free pass. Intentionally glitchy graphics? Satanic themes that are never blatantly spelled out? Both things that have become very fashionable when trying to portray something as creepy in a more horror oriented way.
Satanic themes that are implied by never blatantly stated are especially trendy lately. Not just in movies and games, but even in fashion–I can’t tell you how many girls I see sporting clothes or accessories with ouija boards these days. It’s hip, it’s trendy, and why wouldn’t it be? Because by the looks of all the recent horror movies, sometimes-explicit but usually just implied themes of Satanism or the devil are in.
As for the intentional visual glitches? Huge trope right now. Found footage and “based on true-ish events” movies are HUGE right now, and this trope is a STAPLE for them. And this trope translates very well into games, so we’ve had no shortage of its usage lately. Undertale. Pony Island. The Stanley Parable. I can go on, this goes back as far as Metal Gear.
Bottom line, the only traits they use to portray creepiness are all, in my humble opinion, trite, cliche, and overused. But because they’re what’s fashionable right now in this wonderful age where unexplicit Satanic themes that are never fully explained or explored are popular, of course that’s what they’re going to go for. The low hanging fruit. And I’m bored of that brand of creepiness. I’ve been bored of it for ages now. And because I’m used to seeing it so often in media, it’s no longer creepy to me. And worst of all, this game uses the most textbook version of that brand of “creepiness” as a crutch to distract from it’s poorly explained story,  featuring characters that I just don’t care about.

via kotaku.com

Suddenly, the only reason I was playing this game was in hopes that everything would be explained or that the story would take a total 180, but neither wish came true. Such is the nature of a lot of stories like this, the evil, supernatural force is never quite explained. It’s just there because it happens to be there, and unluckily for you, you happen to be there, too. Go figure. The rest of the game went by like this. A story that was never fully explained, featuring characters that got no better despite the game’s efforts, gameplay that felt more like a chore than gameplay, I wasn’t getting any enjoyment from this game anymore.
That’s not to say it had no positives though, it did do some things I enjoyed. The visuals, first and foremost, are fantastic. Second, I will preach to the ends of the earth that if at least half of your game’s gameplay is based in making decisions, there BETTER be different outcomes to these decisions–and I don’t mean a Telltale, oh it was different for 3 seconds but both options resulted in the same outcome anyways kinda different, I mean completely 100% different. And these different paths better lead to different endings, and on that front, Oxenfree absolutely delivered. Despite how slow and painful conversations were, I still felt like all my decisions actually held weight–and lo and behold, they did! In fact, it does that thing at the end where it gives you a percentage of how many other players made the same decisions as you, and I love that. I wish more games did that.
And finally, it’s not like this game didn’t even try when it came to the writing. There were these brief, evanescent moments where you can tell that they were trying to care about the situation more, or sympathize more with a character, or even just trying to really get you caught up in a moment. But alas, just as quick as you could tell that they were trying to make some headway with the writing, just as quickly it seemed to stop.

via indiehaven.com

The best example I can give of this is in that campfire game at the beginning. You can ask Jonas if he went to juvy and he’ll say no. Of all the questions you can ask Jonas this one seems the most far-fetched, especially at the time. Like, who do you have a crush on? How do you feel about your new family? How’s school? Have you ever been to juvy?And from right then and there, even though he denies it, the sole fact that such a standoff question in a game void of silly or irrelevant options is even there tells the player that he’s been to juvy. There’s no reason for the game to even bring it up otherwise. So the whole game you’re waiting to hear it him admit it. And it makes you curious about him. Why was he in juvy? Why won’t he tell us? You become curious about Jonas.
And then, close to the end of the game, when he finally tells you, he doesn’t even treat it like a big deal. He’s like, “Yea, I beat up a kid because he threw a baseball at my head and went to juvy. Didn’t say anything earlier because…aaaahhh I dunno’. “And then it’s never brought up again. There seemed to be no reason for it, other than for the sake of making you curious about him, ultimately with pretty much no payoff. Now, if he had told us about juvy–if maybe some event happened there that changed his personality, or even just being there changed him and he described what it felt like to be there, that’d be one thing. That’s payoff, because now we’re getting some tangible character development through backstory. But we don’t.  Like, that conversation could’ve been anything else. We don’t learn anything new about Jonas that we didn’t already know without being told.
Seriously, you can replace the word “juvy” in their conversation about it with the name of any other place and it doesn’t make a difference. You can make it Walmart. And nothing about his character changes. That’s how you know this isn’t giving us any character development. It’s not even used as a way to show that now he feels more comfortable around Alex, because he flat out says that he’s telling Alex this so that she’ll know before someone else in their group finds out and uses it against him. The strategy was there in this attempt at character development, but since the payoff wasn’t, it doesn’t do us any good.


On a scale from 1 to 10 I’d give Oxenfree a 4. It’s not that it was bad necessarily it just wasn’t good, either. Even when you put away how poorly this game ran on my computer and how I just don’t care for the generic, edgy 12 year old on tumblr brand of creepiness that this game uses, the writing just isn’t good. You can tell that they’re trying to write it well, but the magic just never happens. Strategies to help emotionally invest the player are certainly there, but never with any payoff. Especially in light of how much I wanted to love this game, it just makes it all the more disappointing for me. But will Oxenfree be remembered in 2016 alongside the likes of Mighty No. 9 and No Man’s Sky? Certainly not. On the contrary, this game is mostly praised. But for me, at the very least, although this wasn’t necessarily the worst game of 2016, this was easily the most disappointing.

via destructoid.com

2016 in Gaming: What I’m Still Excited For

Now that we’re halfway done with the year and E3 has passed, now is a great time to look around us and start thinking about what the best games of the year have been so far, what we’re still excited for, and what the biggest disappointments have been so far. It’s been a very hectic year for gaming: A new generation of Pokemon is on the way, the Wii U’s impending end when we find out more about the NX, new versions of the PS4 and X-Box One on the way, Kojima returning to the game industry, the return of Star Fox and Resident Evil, a 5th Street Fighter game, the upcoming 25th Anniversary Party of Sonic the Hedgehog, 4K gaming,  and of course the beginning of The Lifecast to name a few of the most notable events.

We’ve already had some great games come out this year: So what’s left to be excited for? E3 gave us some great titles to be excited for but most of them won’t be out until next year. There’s still plenty of games coming out this year to be excited about, however. If you’ve been wanting some good titles coming out this year to keep your eye on, let me recommend you these 10 games coming out this year  that I’m excited for (in no particular order.)

 

Zero Time Dilemma

This one comes out on the 28th of this month, so fortunately, the wait won’t be much longer! It’s going to be the third and final installment of my favorite handheld series Zero Escape, home of 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. The Zero Escape franchise is all about puzzles, the emphasis of choices, and quantum physics. In each game, you play as someone who’s been trapped in a confined space with 8 other people who’ve all been kidnapped by a mysterious man called Zero. You try to escape while solving the mysteries of why you’re there, who Zero is, why he kidnapped you, and so on. Each game emphasizes beating the game multiple times to get through multiple endings and fully understanding the consequences of your choices. The trailers make Zero Time Dilemma out to be much more dramatic than any of the other games, not to mention more visually stunning! A caveat, however, is that these games shouldn’t be played out of order: If this game looks interesting to you, yes, you need to play 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward first. The developer’s have already stated that answering questions that have been unanswered since 999 will be addressed, so you run the risk of both not fully understanding what’s going on and its significance, and spoiling 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward.

 

Tokyo Mirage Sessions:

This one comes out on the 24th of this month for Wii U. Like Zero Time Dilemma, the wait won’t be much longer. I like Fire Emblem. I like Persona. So I should probably like a game that’s basically Persona with Fire Emblem characters, right? Although I never got the chance to actually play it, I did watch other people play the demo at PAX East this year. It doesn’t look great, but it does look like something that I would try playing if I only had a Wii U.

 

Yiik

This game was the biggest hidden gem of PAX East: It’s an Earthbound-inspired post-modern RPG set in a hipster’s paradise in the 90’s and in case you haven’t heard: I absolutely love Earthbound. Gameplay is turn based and like Earthbound, uses real-world objects and even instruments–many of which need specific button-pressing to use, and it’s quite fun. The graphics are very stylized and charming, the developers seem to really understand the kind of world they want the game to be set in, and the story seems intriguing: You and your friends are looking for a girl who got sucked up by something otherworldly and disappeared. To quote the game’s website, “This is a story about what happens when you look for someone who can’t be found “ The game’s site also states that the game will have a 25 hour story, 6 unique dungeons, and an expansive soundtrack featuring songs by Toby Fox, Andrew Allanson, Hiroki Kikuta, and Calum Bowen amongst others. This game is supposed to be out sometime this summer, though there’s no confirmed date nor month. Once it’s out, it’ll be on Steam, PS4, PSVita, and Wii U.

 

No Man’s Sky

A gorgeous, Isaac Asimov-inspired adventure game set to come out August 9th for Steam and PS4, No Man’s Sky has done an incredible job generating hype. The game’s site calls it a “truly open universe” and emphasizes that this is a game about exploring a beautiful, well-built universe with more than 18 quintillion planets to explore. Needless to say, if this game lives up to these claims, this could be the biggest exploration game (second to Minecraft, if you want to get technical) to date.

 

Pokemon Sun & Moon

Duh

 

We Happy Few

I probably shouldn’t want this game after PAX East: I waited 90 minutes in their line to play the demo, finally got to the front, where I was only able to play for less than 5 minutes: They bragged about it being a rogue-like game, and that for the purposes of the demo, after you die it should give you the option to continue. I died, but was never taken to the continue screen and was kicked off because they had to keep the line moving. Needless to say, I was pretty bitter. I still am, although I did comment about it on their facebook page where one of the devs did apologize. That said, it’s really hard for me to talk about the gameplay because, well, I didn’t play it for hardly 5 minutes. What I can tell you is this, though: What got me the most interested in this game is the fact that the devs are saying it’s very Bioshock-inspired and Bioshock is my favorite game of all time. Mix that with some beautiful graphics, a very intriguing plot about drug addictions, and a very well-built world and you have a recipe for getting my attention. There are two things keeping me very hesitant, however: First of all, Compulsion Game’s track record.

(via CompulsionGames.com)

The only other game they’ve made is a platformer called Contrast and in theory, it sounded like a great, game, too! Bioshock inspired, beautiful graphics, intriguing story, and platforming where you use your shadow! That sounds awesome, right? I thought so and bought it on a Steam sale, but a very short duration, a story that never really got much more fleshed out than its description, and an overwhelming abundance of bugs and glitches ruined this game. Had it only been longer, had its story fully-realized, and had been well-patched, Contrast could’ve been a fantastic game. Needless to say, there’s nothing indicating We Happy Few won’t be the same way—but there’s also nothing indicating that it will be. Regardless, the bottom line is, I’m worried We Happy Few could fall into the same situation as Contrast.

Secondly, We Happy Few doesn’t seem to know what kind of a game it wants to be. The developers told me it was a Bioshock-inspired rogue-like survival game with first-person shooter, mystery, survival, and puzzle elements—that seems like an awful lot to be going on at once if you ask me. It’s possible it could pull it off, but the sheer amount of genres it seems to be trying to pull off makes me worried that they’ll try to do too much in too little time.

Despite all this, the trailer looks interesting and I haven’t heard bad things about the demo and from the 5 minutes I played of it, it seemed okay. I do love Bioshock, and so do these developers—so perhaps I’ll find solace in the Bioshock-inspired elements of the game. I guess I’ll find out when I’m finally able to play it—it’s supposed to come out for Steam and X-Box One sometime this year, and early access starts July 26th.

 

Mighty No. 9

(via MightyNo9.com)

Perhaps I shouldn’t say I’m as excited about this game as much as I am just curious. I’m sure by now most, if not all, of us are at least familiar with the story of Might No. 9, but just in case, let me briefly summarize: This game is meant to be a spiritual successor to the Megaman games and is being developed by Keiji Inafune—the man who made Megaman—with no involvement from Capcom whatsoever. It had overwhelming success on Kickstarter and everyone was super excited about this game. Originally, it was supposed to come out April 2015, but needless to say, that didn’t happen. Delay after delay, secretive development process, slipshod graphics, and arguably the most cringy trailer in gaming history killed most of the hype that this game had generated.

Its latest release date is June 21st –tomorrow. Needless to say, it’s a little too late to delay it now, so I think this release date is finally the one. I guess we’ll finally find out if it will live up to its initial hype or if everyone was right to stop caring about this game.

 

Final Fantasy XV

Like Mighty No. 9, perhaps “excited” isn’t as good a word to describe how I feel about it as much as “curious.” This game’s legendary 10-year development has fans wondering if it will have been worth the wait, and frankly, I’m not entirely sure. First of all, there’s the matter of the story. Originally this game was supposed to be Final Fantasy Versus XIII—a spinoff game for Final Fantasy XIII. Two sequels that somehow managed to be worse than Final Fantasy XIII later, however, I guess Square Enix started to realize how unnecessary another Final Fanasy XIII game would be. It makes me very curious about how they handled this change and if we’ll still see elements of XIII in the game. The combat demo we saw didn’t look particularly exciting, nor did it remind me much of a Final Fantasy game, to be honest. I really wish they’d return to the turn-based system from Final Fantasy X, but I realize that’s a very specific thing to nitpick at. It does look like a very expansive game though, and of course, I’m really curious to see how they’ll incorporate VR. This definitely won’t be a game that I preorder nor get on day 1, but it’s definitely a game I’ll be keeping a close eye on. It comes out September 30th on PS4 and X-Box One.

 

Star Ocean 5

I’ll be honest: I’ve never played a Star Ocean game. I’ve been interested in the Star Ocean series for a while now however, and after watching the demo at PAX East, I’m even more interested in it. Beautiful graphics, fun combat, and of course knowing that Square Enix is behind it, all make his game look very promising. This one will be out later this month on the 28th for PS4.

 

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

There’s not a large difference between how much I love Ace Attorney versus my love of Zero Escape. Ace Attorney is a hilarious, fun, and incredibly clever series following defense attorney, Pheonix Wright, who always knows that his clients are innocent and will do anything to unveil the truth! I’ve been a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series since the release of Apollo Justice, so I’m more than welcoming for a new game in the franchise. There are 2 things that make this game really stand out from other titles that have fans the most excited. First of all, the setting:

We’re no longer in America/Japan (depending on what language you get the game in)—we’re in a remote, very traditional Japanese island with no formal court system. Instead, they rely on spirits revealing the truth. How is this going to play into the plot? What new gameplay mechanics will this give us? And of course, most importantly…

(via usgamer.net)

Pheonix’s beloved sidekick Maya Fey is finally back after a long absence that was never explained nor addressed until now. Not only are fans happy to see she’s back, but we’re also excited to find out what she’s been doing and why it hasn’t been talked about until now.

Spirit of Justice will be a digital-only release for the 3DS in September.