Adventure Games: OxenFree Review

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About: OxenFree follows the story of Alex and her friends as they meet up on an abandoned Island for some fun and laughs. Alex is invited to the Island by her friend Ren and brings along her new step-brother, Jonas. Together they meet up with Clarissa and Nona. Ren tells the group about a mysterious cave on the Island, leading Alex and Jonas to follow him inside. They tune in to strange frequencies using the radio that Alex brought. Jonas wanders further into the cave prompting Alex to follow him. The radio frequencies they tap into open some sort of strange rift, unleashing ghosts onto the Island who manipulate time and space as well as Alex and the others. You must work together with your friends to figure out a way to seal up the rift. OxenFree is an adventure indie created by Night School Studio and has been released on Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, OS X and is scheduled to be released on PS4. It has received overall positive reviews.

Possible spoilers… *static* 

The Plot/Characters: OxenFree’s story is remarkably simple, yet also interesting enough to keep you intrigued up until the end of the game, which should take you around 4 hours to achieve. Alex is the main protagonist and is spending time with her new step-brother Jonas by inviting him along to an abandoned Island meet-up. You have Ren, her best friend who is the pot smoker, Nona who is the nice one and Clarissa the ultimate witch with a capital B. After unleashing a ghostly rift using her radio, Alex and the others are trapped on the Island while strange things happen, including possession, time distortion and teleportation to different areas.

You attempt to bring the group together after they are all teleported to different areas of the Island. Along the way, you get to chose your dialogue options and who you rescue first; Ren or Clarissa. Whichever you choose actually does have an impact on the story and the overall ending. Many of the dialogue choices actually can change your ending for the game and how the characters interact with you. For instance, though the characters seemed to mostly like me, I ended up not setting Ren and Nona on a date accidentally, causing Ren and Nona both to become distant from me after the game ended.

The ghost rift turns out to be primarily influenced by a group of soldiers whose vessel sank many years ago. The last remaining woman on the Island that recently died, Adler, was the one keeping the rift in check. As you learn more about the rift, you also get flash backs to the past, getting to learn more about Alex and her biological brother Michael; who died in a car crash. Depending on your choices in the past, you can also subtly influence the future which is a neat mechanic to the game. You’ll also feel drawn into the characters thanks to your interactions with them. It’s even more terrifying when your best friend is getting picked up and used like a rag doll by the ghost rift.

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Choices: One of the things I liked about the game, was your many options for the dialogue. Almost every time that Alex is spoken to, her responses are one of three options that you get to pick. My only problem with this is that because your choices do matter and it isn’t spelled out for you which is the better option, you might end up getting a worse ending because you were rushing to pick one of the three bubbles before you ran out of time. That and, unlike Walking Dead or a lot of other choice-based games, you won’t know what it was you said that actually caused one of the members to distance themselves. But then again, that was my playthrough and I might be a bit sore that I became close with Clarissa and no one else.

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Gameplay: The gameplay is quite simple for this little game. You can jump, climb walls and ladders and walk around twisting paths. Instead of simply going left or right, however, you can go back and forth across the map, which is also pretty nice. The main element of the gameplay is your radio, which is sometimes also the only frustrating part. You have to “tune in” to different frequencies throughout the game to stop the ghosts from taking over your friends and unlocking doors even. The radio signals you can pick up also get more varied at a point in the game, which makes it more difficult to find the correct signal. It’s okay though because often while you are tuning in, there is dialogue taking place that will serve as a good distraction. The only real criticism I have is that any time you inspect something, that important dialogue can get cut off right in the middle which is a bit jarring.

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Graphics: The graphics of the game are beautiful to look at. You can tell a lot of time went into developing the background art throughout and each scene looks different from the other completely. The characters are 3-D rendered but at the same time that they almost appear flat, which is really interesting and unique. The artwork throughout the game from pictures taken is very nice and paints a clearer picture of what the teens all look like, as most of the time they are very tiny in a very large environment.

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Overall:
OxenFree is a beautiful game with a lot of heart that gets a story across to the player while keeping them hooked via the interesting characters and dialogue. You will most likely feel a stronger connection to what is going on as you  have some say in what Alex does, and that is also very refreshing and good to see in an indie game. The gameplay can sometimes be a tad frustrating when it comes to the radio and at some points it’s difficult to juggle the quick dialogue and doing actions at the same time but at no point does the game become too difficult. Anyone can play and enjoy this little treasure, so go check it out for yourself and see what ending you get!

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Have you played OxenFree yet? If so, what did YOU think?

 

Horror Games: Resident Evil 4

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Let’s just take a moment to appreciate some horror video games that have been out for a while and made huge impacts on this genre… Specifically, Resident Evil 4. I might be biased in this review… Since Resident Evil 4 is my absolute favorite horror game ever (well, next to Fatal Frame 2), however, I am not alone in my love for this particularly version of the Resident Evil series. If you haven’t played Resident Evil 4 and your a horror fan… What have you been doing? Go play it, now!?  Resident Evil 4… Just saying that makes me want to quote it like the opening start screen… It sent shivers down my spine every time I loaded the game even.

About: Resident Evil 4 first came out on GameCube in 2005. It has since been released on PS2, Ps3, Wii, IOS, Xbox 360… And PC. Like its predecessors, Resident Evil 4 is all about zombies. Well, sort of. This time the game puts Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 and places him in a Spanish speaking village somewhere in Europe searching for Ashley Graham, the President’s daughter, who was recently kidnapped by a cult. His mission is to rescue her and bring her home safely. However, there is something strange going on in the village. All the citizens have been affected by a parasite that has caused them to behave erratically. As Leon’s search intensifies he uncovers more about the mystery cult and their links to the parasite. The game has been well received and has won many awards over time. It has also been praised heavily for its graphics.

Hey there, Stranger! What are you buyin’? Hopefully not, spoilers!

I’ll buy those at a high price…

The Plot/Characters: The plot… Wow, this one sucked me in so much. No matter how utterly horrified I was and scared out of my mind whilst having a chainsaw wielding maniac after my neck… I still was so intrigued by the plot and the build up to the mystery that I kept pressing on no matter how many times I reached a Game Over screen. Leon S. Kennedy’s rescue mission leads him towards a mysterious cult named Los Illuminados that has plans to invade the US Government by means of a parasite called Las Plagas that slowly takes over and controls the hosts brain. Yes, that’s right… These zombies you are fighting? Technically they are metaphorical zombies. However, by the time the parasite settles in completely to a hosts brain… Well, it’s too late. Leon travels further into a village and then into more locations attempting to track down the kidnapped Ashley Graham. Once united, the two work together to attempt to escape. However, at each turn the Las Plagas work to cut them off. Worse yet, Leon has become infected himself by the cult’s chief, Bitores Mendez. The leader, Osmund Saddler, also reveals that Ashley was infected in order to wreak havoc back home.

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There is a lot of depth to the plot besides everything else that I just mentioned and many layers to it that slowly reveal themselves as you explore, obtain notes and hit cutscenes in the game. You can tell that a lot of thought went into the game’s story but it also doesn’t rub it in your face. It slowly unfolds, like a good novel, rather than rushing to tell you all its juicy secrets right away.

In fact, you won’t even get the full picture on your first playthrough. You’ll at least have to play through the side-story where you play as Ada Wong to get more details. That’s the other thing… There are really two stories going on at the same time. When you start the game as Ada, you realize that your mission is going on at the same time as when Leon first enters the village and is pursued by the Las Plagas and that you actually cause an event to happen to assist him. Before, all you thought was that you caught a lucky break!

But the thing that really kept me glued to the screen? That award really goes to Leon S. Kennedy. He’s a tough as nails Secret Agent in Resident Evil 4 and that comes as no shock after his first day as a police officer in Raccoon City (during the zombie outbreak… What a way to jump start your career!?).  He’s intelligent, a little bit sarcastic and witty and he genuinely is a good person. He goes out of his way to rescue Ashley even when all odds are stacked immensely against him. Besides that though, Leon is a well-rounded character. He’s got his flaws… And the major one is Ada Wong. He’s so infatuated with her that often times he overlooks things or lets his guard down. Ashley Graham is my second favorite character… And typically, I don’t say this about characters that you are meant to rescue. Typically damsels in distress are just that… And often times, annoying. While you will get tired of Ashley constantly crying out “LEON!”, her actual personality is interesting. She’s sarcastic, snarky and helpful. She does her best to assist Leon in anyway that she could. In fact, you need her for many of the puzzles throughout the game. And of course, there are interesting side characters in the game such as Ada Wong and even a friend you meet named Luis that helps you fight the Las Plagas at some points. The fact that they have their own motivations for being in the village though adds a lot to the stories depth. Even the “zombies” are have some intelligence as well and actually PLOT against you.

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And then there is the Merchant… What is even up with this guy? Why is he stalking you and selling you stuff? What’s his deal!? His eyes look like he has been infected but… Why then is he helping you? (Also, little known fact that if you accidentally shoot him and kill him, he stays dead… So you’d be pretty screwed.)

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I could go on and on. Basically, Resident Evil 4 is one of those games that I can recall the plot and characters in such vivid detail. More than a game, its an experience. It even would have translated incredibly well to the big screen (though Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 still were good movies to me… I know, I’m in the minority probably!)

The Scares: Resident Evil 4 is not afraid to give you scares but the scares are more varied than any other horror game that I’ve played aside from Fatal Frame 2. This is probably another reason why it still stands to this day as my favorite horror game. From the very beginning, the game throws scares at you. Your first encounter with a civilian you are questioning turns into a fight for your life when he comes at you with a weapon, making you shoot him dead. Before you can even get a breath, your buddies you road in with are attacked outside and you hear the crashing sounds. Leon rushes to the window only to be surrounded by more attackers outside hammering on doors, windows and breaking in. That’s what makes Resident Evil 4 so utterly terrifying. The attackers, the Las Plagas, are coordinated. They are able to communicate with each other even though they are being controlled. They will call out to each other, signal when one has spotted you and cause an entire swarm to come rushing at you. Las Plagas use all sorts of weaponry to try to kill Leon as well. Everything from chainsaws to dynamite to even sending a giant ogre-like monster after you.

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But its not just all Las Plagas. Like the Ogre, there are other monsters that Leon encounters, including a Lake Monster that the cult has something to do with… And that Lake Monster is freakin’ horrifying.

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But by far, the worst monsters in the game and the ones that gave me nightmares were these guys…

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Able to shoot spikes out toward you and only able to be killed by shooting off the parasites using infrared, these creatures were the pinnacle of terrifying to me. I could go on and on about the scares in this game but it certainly did a great job. Probably the best part about the scares was the fact that sometimes you couldn’t see what was coming for you and only hear…

Gameplay: Resident Evil 4 has an over the shoulder gameplay to it. For some reason to me this makes the game experience so much better. Instead of seeing through the eyes of the character or having the entire character visible from awkward angles, the game gets you close to the character but not too close. It makes lining up shots easier and also at the same time makes it harder to see exactly what is behind you, leaving you open for random scares from attacking Las Plagas from the side. You are actually able to defend yourself in this survival horror which sometimes does take away the fright factor? However, this is not the case for Resident Evil 4. You will often find yourself having to use your wits to escape being ganged up on or brutally murdered easily by a monster. Ammo is also scarce but not too scarce that it is frustrating. You always have a knife, but the knife makes it so you have to be close up to an enemy to use it making gameplay strategic if you want to conserve ammunition. You do receive different guns throughout the game such as Shotguns, Rifles and even a Rocket Launcher. However, most of the time you have to use the right ammo for the right thing or you’ll find yourself in a sticky situation later down the road.

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There are also plenty of times when you are not just shooting monsters. In fact, some monsters can’t be taken out by your gun, including the Lake Monster. Another great thing about the gameplay in RE4 is that you have variety in the action sequences. In one battle you get to use harpoons and in another you have to set up explosives in order to take the creature out because your weapon won’t kill it. There are quick time events, keeping you on your toes and your blood pumping as well as segments where you are on a timer. You even get boulders sent your way and have to run by button mashing as fast as you can. You’ll also have times you have to rescue Ashley from being kidnapped and you have to protect her constantly when she joins your party (the only… Annoying side of the gameplay, really.) That and puzzles interspersed break up the gameplay to really piece together a very diversified game.

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The gameplay IS action packed… However, at no point does it forget that it’s trying to scare you unlike SOME games (yeah, you… I’m looking at you Resident Evil 6. Why. Why…?). It takes the time to build suspense and give you action while at the same time making you think. You can’t just blindly shoot at enemies and expect to get through the game with Leon’s head still on his shoulders.

The Score: Ambiance. Atmosphere. These are all things that turn a pretty ok game into a great game. Well, Resident Evil 4 is already a great game but it certainly becomes fantastic when you add the great OST to it. The Resident Evil 4 OST is often times creepy, layered and varied. Different areas will have their own sinister feel and your level of panic will flare up when the music kicks up a notch when enemies appear. I often felt relieved and comfortable only when at a Save point next to a typewriter but even then you were sometimes only inches away from the music turning back to being freaky… Yes, freaky. Resident Evil 4 is one of those games that when I hear the OST, I immediately get shivers down my spine.

Overall: Typically in my reviews, I let you decide how to rank it after and just give my overall thoughts and opinions. However, if I had to actually give Resident Evil 4 a rating I would instantly give it 6/5 stars. To me, it will always stand up as one of the best video games I have ever played and certainly the best horror game (though Fatal Frame 2 either ties or is a close second). It was my stress relief for a long time. I would turn on my PS2 and just play the first part in the village for a few hours, taking out Las Plagas for the fun of it and getting extremely good at flipping onto rooftops as Ada Wong. There are plenty of reasons why I like certain games but often times they get one or two things right and other aspects are a tad lacking and I overlook them. Resident Evil 4 is one of the few I’ve played that I can confidently say nailed it 110%.

Have you played Resident Evil 4? If so, what did you think?