I couldn’t rush through Oxenfree. Part of that is the way the supernatural coming-of-age story is paced, which is sometimes to its detriment, but it’s mostly because of small moments that gave me pause. I’d often stop and listen to the end of one of the many conversations — which are wisely blended in with regular walking around and exploring — and look at the gorgeous environments, thinking about my own teenage friendships. It’s unfortunately too slow in multiple parts, but Oxenfree’s beautifully developed relationships make it more than worthwhile.Oxenfree is a supernatural adventure game about a group of teenagers who unwittingly disturb something ancient and mysterious on a remote island. It’s the familiar premise of countless straight-to-video horror films, but this is no clichéd homage to teen slasher flicks. It’s a game about people, relationships, and growing up that cleverly uses its horror movie setup for something much greater.You play as Alex, a blue-haired teenager who comes to Edwards Island with a group of friends, and her new step brother, to hang out, drink beer, and explore. A local myth is that if you tune a radio into certain frequencies on the island you’ll hear ghostly messages—an urban legend Alex and her friends decide to investigate. I won’t say what happens next, because this is a story-driven game and unraveling its mysteries is key to the experience, but their evening suddenly takes a dark turn.The group becomes separated, and Alex takes it upon herself to find her friends on the eerily quiet, empty island. It has a storied past which you learn as you wander. When you see a sign with a certain icon, you can tune your radio into a frequency that reveals the island’s history—including a story about a tragedy involving a World War II submarine. On the island you’ll find, among other things, an abandoned military base, a campsite, a forest, and a small, uninhabited town. It’s not a massive space, but makes up for its limited scale with rich world-building.You get to choose who accompanies you for most of the game by making specific choices. My favorite character to spend time with was Jonas, an interesting but clearly troubled person who provides insight into Alex’s own personal trauma, but even Ren grew on me the more I got to know him. I loved listening to them dance around awkward topics and reveal personal details to each other in a way that, despite the stilted dialogue, felt pretty true to life. But there were times when, no matter what choice I made, I was going to end up hurting someone. It’s an important reminder that you can’t “win” social situations, and that kept Oxenfree’s supernatural plot points grounded in reality.Oxenfree’s story progresses as you build and discover relationships with its interesting characters, but the clever twist is using a radio to tune into the supernatural side of things. Creepy audio crackles through the radio, and then everything changes. “Time loops” warp the environment, reset conversations, and reveal the darker parts of the characters and their world. I’d be walking through Oxenfree’s island and talking somewhat casually, only to be torn back to an earlier point in time and notice things are subtly and unsettlingly different this time. A campfire appeared where there wasn’t one before, and then a soccer ball that I had trouble kicking… And, without spoiling anything, there’s also a neat social integration that makes time loops extra intriguing.You can explore it freely and, in some cases, choose the order you tackle objectives. Early on, when you’re first separated from the group, you can choose which of your friends to look for first—and this will change the way the story plays out, and even their relationship with you. In fact, everything you say or do influences what the others think of you. But there are no meters, icons, or messages flashing up saying someone will ‘remember that’—you have to gauge what they think of you through their actions and dialogue. This is opaque by design, simulating the subtlety of actual relationships. Sometimes a thought bubble will appear above a character’s head: a visual indicator that they’re retaining information that’s somehow meaningful to them about the character whose face appears in it.Accompanying this relationship system is one of the most natural-sounding dialogue systems I’ve ever encountered in a game. Often, conversations in video games sound like two people taking turns to read out lines. But in Oxenfree the lines flow together seamlessly, and you can respond at any time by selecting one of three answers. The characters will even react to your silence if you don’t answer them, or if you decide to walk away and ignore them. This, combined with fantastic writing and voice acting, makes Oxenfree one of the best virtual recreations of real humans talking to each other—which is lucky, because the dialogue is almost non-stop.Oxenfree is elegantly simple, using branching dialogue and a little something supernatural to develop three-dimensional characters and drive the coming-of-age story. There’s not much else to it in terms of gameplay, which is absolutely a good thing, but pacing issues in its story can make it feel sluggish between conversations. Mostly, though, it’s like walking through a stunning painting, listening to the idle chatter and revealing talks of (sometimes unnatural-sounding) teenagers.It’s funny and occasionally touching, but not scary, despite being, essentially, a horror game. One moment made me lean back in my chair and wince, but otherwise it’s fairly tame. But that’s fine. I was so entranced by the story and characters that I didn’t really care. Oxenfree uses its setting and atmosphere as a means to tell an intriguing, heartfelt story, rather than for cheap scares. You start out thinking it’s going to be the typical story of a group of feckless teens being picked off one by one by some evil force, but it subverts that trope.It’s a difficult game to review, because revealing so much of what makes it great would ruin the story. But if you like smart, well-written adventure games with rich characters, well-realised settings, and beautiful art direction, it’s worth playing. My only real complaints are the lack of challenging puzzles, and the fact that the characters often seem a little too relaxed considering the terrifying things happening to them. If it was me I’d be sobbing in a corner somewhere.