The game is free on Steam and takes about five minutes to play, so do so if you care about spoiler since I’m going to recap the whole thing under the cut.
OK, so, the game is very simple and revolves around a single idea with only bare minimum implemented to make it work. It was obviously made by some college student for a resume or as a pastime project, and it’s free, so I feel vaguely bad for picking on it. But then I remember that Lasting is not much more complex, also revolves around a single idea (escaping the house and embracing the void waiting for you outside) and is free, so I don’t feel bad anymore.
The basic premise is that you’re a farmer who discovers that a local woman went missing. You also learn that her husband died a year back in the mine, and her son soon followed, in the same mine. You go look for her and find a lumberjack who says that some disturbing moans coming from the mine. He asks you to look for his brother and gives you a lantern. You enter the mine and soon find his brother near the entrance. He confirms that the moans are coming from the mine but won’t check himself on account of poor eyesight. He gives you a knife just in case.
As you explore the mine, you stumble upon a ribcage that looks like it belonged to a child. Walking farther, you come across a farmer wearing bloodied clothes and holding a knife. Interrogating him reveals something or other and I’ll talk about a bit later, but either way you can either attack him or let him pass.
Walking further still, you come across a dying woman, the one you were looking for to begin with. She reveals that she came here to end her life. Apparently, her husband found gold in the mine but “didn’t trust her” for unspecified reasons and hid it before dying shortly after. The news of their newfound fortune spread across the village, however, and she was too embarrassed to reveal the truth. Her son went to the mine to find his father, not understanding that he’s dead and gone, and so died himself.
After listening to her story, you get a choice to either help her with the suicide or run for help (in which case she flings some blood at you). On your way back you come across a farmer in clean clothes and a knife in his hand. He asks you the same questions you could ask the farmer in the same situation before. You get to type your own answers. After that, the farmer ominously proclaims, “Let’s see what happens to you now.” The game prompts you to type your first name and email address to receive a notification of how the next player resolved your fate.
So, that’s the game. As you can see, it revolves solely around a single twist: the farmer you met was a previous player in the same position as you, and now your fate is going to be decided by the next player in turn.
OK, so, first of all, it proves that you can transfer data through Stream so the actions of a previous player would affect your game. That is exactly what Oxenfree should have done.
Secondly, that brief praise aside, there are a lot of problems with the game as is. The biggest problem here is that meta level and in-universe level are in conflict. It’s obvious that the world and the situation exist solely to enable the choice and have zero value to the devs by themselves. I mean, think about it: farmer come to that poor woman in line, kill or spare her, only for another one to take their place. Either we’re dealing with female Rasputin or it’s some kind of surreal Purgatory. There is no internal logic to be found, the world and characters are not real enough for me to care about, and so I don’t.
Secondly, the issues you’re presented with are false ones. I actually tried to role-play the game and do stuff that made sense for me. So I let the farmer pass not because I believed him to be innocent but because it’s not the decision that should be made at that moment or by me. If he’s innocent, all’s well. If he’s not, he can be detained later and brought before the proper authorities.
The game, of course, doesn’t see it that way. I think that’s partly because we’re used to all major decisions resting on the shoulders of the MC, whether it makes sense or not, but mostly it due to the devs really wanting to create their little moral dilemma and not particularly caring if it makes sense to begin with. It’s clear to see in the treatment of the woman who’s supposedly at the center of it all. Aside from not dying no matter how many people stab her and how much time passes, she flings blood at you if you don’t kill her just so you would get those bloodstained clothes and be in the exact same position as the previous farmer even though your actions should have led to a different outcome.
Thirdly, since you’re the one typing the answers and your name, that gives people an opportunity for abuse. There is no filter preventing you from from just typing DICKS in all responses or, like I did, insert an unrelated mindfuck about time loops and killing yourself. That, naturally, kinda defeats the point of the dilemma the devs tried to create as well as breaks the already shaky immersion into small pieces.
There isn’t much more to say about it. The devs thought they had a clever idea. They didn’t. Nothing else exists in the game. The end.