Make Games Scare Again: Friday favorites

Our Make October Scare Again recommendations aren’t just the best or our favorites. They’re things we feel deserve a little nudge in your direction, for whatever reason. But that’s not what’s going to happen on Fridays. This month’s Friday recommendations are determined shoves in your direction. These are our current favorites.

After the jump, TGIF
Chris Hornbostel: Oxenfree
Oxenfree, the dialogue-driven adventure game from Night School Studio, seems like a hard sell. When you see screenshots of it, your first impression is likely to be that the game either looks like a platformer, or even worse a ridiculously cartoonish pixel game. Let’s be clear then. This isn’t either of those things. The art style and animation are often quite lovely, in fact. This is one of those game recommendations you may need to take on faith.

Tom gave Oxenfree a glowing review over the summer, and in it he focused mostly on its unique dialogue system and how that drives choices you make as a player, develops the characters, and moves the story along. Those are all reasons enough to play this wonderful game, but since it’s October, I’m going to mostly focus on the spooky story that Oxenfree spins.

I actually had to play the game through twice to fully wrap my head around the events that transpire here. You play this game as Alex, one of five friends spending an overnight on a lark on a touristy island that’s essentially abandoned after dark. The story folds in ghostly presences that show up at odd times, spooky radio stations that can only be tuned in at certain places on the island, and a story that involves a terrible accident and lost history.

Oxenfree is that rarest of adventure games, one that begs you to play it through multiple times. My first time through, I didn’t discover the collectibles that help piece together the finer points of the odd happenings on the island until I was more than halfway through. That’s fine, though. It felt like there was such urgency to complete tasks in the game that first time that I didn’t want to dawdle on a collectible hunt. I knew right then I’d be playing the game again. Thankfully the four- to six-hour length of the story isn’t prohibitive, and when you replay Oxenfree, it puts you in a sort of new games plus mode that allows you to find all the mystery clues you missed the first time, with the game also helpfully giving you hints on dialogue choices you made in previous plays so that you can choose alternate paths.

This past week I’ve recommended a handful of narrative-driven adventure games. Three of them (The Cat Lady, Until Dawn, and Oxenfree) have promised branching paths or at least different potential endings. Of all those games, this is the one that truly fulfills the promise that the others really only hint at. There are moments throughout Oxenfree that clearly signal forking story paths or endings, but there are also more subtle elements of the ongoing character interplay as well. These can strongly affect how your story in the game winds up. How great and replayable is Oxenfree? Just writing all this makes me want to go start a new game right now and see some new story path I’ve not discovered yet. This is a game to cherish not only this Halloween season, but for plenty to come.

Oxenfree is available on Steam here.

Tom Chick: State of Decay
There are only so many ways I can tell you that you should be playing State of Decay. If you haven’t listened to me by now, I don’t know what good another recommendation is going to do. I don’t know what good it’s going to do to explain again why it’s the best zombie game. But it matters especially because there’s no horror more relevant to the human condition than zombie horror.

Pretty high falutin’ words for games about just shooting a bunch of slow things with bad AI. But the bar for relevance is pretty low. Sure, we’re all afraid of sharks, serial killers, indestructible slashers, violent home invasions, ghosts, and that little girl in The Ring. Werewolves, vampires, demons, and mummies are horror antiques, but they can still be made scary. Except for werewolves. Werewolves are dumb. Seriously, just give it up with werewolves already. But none of these things is relevant to the average person’s actual experiences. An overwhelming majority of people will never experience the fears they represent. Horror is basically fantasy.

But if we accept that zombies represent the inevitability of death, then they are the one type of horror that not only everyone fears, but that everyone will eventually experience.

Anyway, just play State of Decay already. Or again. The Lifeline add-on gives it a unique military perspective and the Breakdown add-on makes it effectively infinite. The Year One Special Edition is the whole shebang. Get it here on Steam.

Next week, a whole new category for making October scare again.
What’s the deal with these make such-and-such scare again articles?
(The photo at the top of this entry is by the amazing Joshua Hoffline.)