#5 [usability review]: Oxenfree

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Oxenfree gameplay by Polygon

This game was a wonderful surprise. Oxenfree is a game about supernatural events that are all related to emotional triggers from the character choices. In this case, the player needs to give these choices during the game. You are Alex, the main character, and you use an old radio to navigate into this supernatural world, opening portals and interacting with present and past. The game can be downloaded in Steam.

Good things

a) Sense of control. The game provides the player a sense of control over their actions. For example, you can select the answer you want to give in a specific dialogue. Players might feel that depending on their choices it will change the overall plot of the game.

b) Look & feel. This can be a bit subjective but this game has 2D elements with a sense of 3D, creating some depth in the game. This could be a good feature and in terms of usability it doesn’t distract the player from the choices made in the dialog bubbles (which are 2D). With that, there is a sense of depth but also elements that are 2D that overlap with the environment and in some parts of the environment the player needs to move across a “z” direction (not just x, y).

c) End screen with % of overall choices. Looking at the balance between your choices and other players’ choices is a very nice touch for players, reinforcing the idea of control over the game. Through this comparison, the player can see the impact of the choices and the other possibilities missed. This could make players feel that they could play the game again to see the impact of the other choices in the gameplay.

Things that could be improved

a) Controller precision. Since sometimes players could navigate in the “z” direction (or at least have a sense of depth), it is not clear when they can do that and the precision of these movements are not very good. This could make the player a bit lost and stuck in parts. One way to do this could be having the avatar talk to you and say “jump here” or “walk through a path”. The game could give feedback to help players if they are stuck.

b) Radio visualisation. The radio was a small object that guided the whole interactions between the player and the game plot. The radio could have some variations, particularly in the numbers and in the precision. Although the player could get feedback from sound and visuals, it was very difficult to get the “right” place for the radio to work. Thus, the variations of the radios could be in format. The character encounters a “better” version of the radio, but this is just to get another colour combination. Perhaps it could have been interesting for players to see another version of the radio. This could have helped to create curiosity and balance in the game.

c) Timing to choose the speech bubble. Sometimes players could “miss” the opportunity to choose the speech bubble and that could be a bit frustrating. This overlapping of choices could give a lot of cognitive load for the player. Thus, perhaps it could have a longer time to choose the speech depending on the player interactions.


Overall, the game is fun and has a lot of good elements regarding payer choice. However, for example, even in the graphs below, players could see the other possible “results” of their actions. This could help them go back and play the game differently. As you can see from my results I kept a strategy, which was no conflict, no emotional blablabla – just the supernatural!

My results after gameplay. Yes, no conflict this time, thank you.
My results after gameplay. Yes, Clarissa was a boring character but I really didn’t want to fight anyone. I just wanted to explore the supernatural.
My results from the gameplay. Again, no conflicts and no emotional attachment here. What about the supernatural?

Author: Vanissa Wanick

I'm an Interface Designer, Marketing specialist and Games/HCI Researcher. I write about games, serious games, games user research (GUR), user experience design, culture and ideas that could make our world a better place for everyone.

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