- Title: Oxenfree II: Lost Signals
- Developer: Night School Studios
- Publisher: Netflix, MWM Interactive
- Release Date: 07/12/2023
- Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, iOS/Mac
The long-awaited indie sequel, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, comes just over seven years after the original release (and you think the wait for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was long). This paranormal thriller by Night School Studios is a return to form, telling a haunting story of a young woman named Riley as she returns to her hometown, Camena. Does the sequel live up to its predecessor? Let’s find out.
NOTE: Review contains mild story spoilers. Major plot points are avoided.
The story of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals bleeds into the first game. It takes place in Camena Coast, a sleepy ocean town near Edwards Island–the setting for the first Oxenfree game. A young woman named Riley arrives to her hometown for a job setting up radio transmitters to record and study anomalies. She partners up with another local named Jacob Summers, a rather chatty and anxious guy. However, as they begin their journey, strange events occur. They see and hear unusual things, and time often loops.
After the first transmitter is set up, they notice a triangular portal, akin to the ones in Oxenfree, that opens up over Edwards Island. To weaken this “portal”, they agree to set up three radio transmitters in other high points in Camena Coast in hopes to cancel out the radio anomaly. Meanwhile, Riley and Jacob run into some troublesome teens who are keen in using this portal. The leader of the bunch, Olivia, is associated with a cult, and she believes this portal could achieve her deepest desire.
With use of walkie-talkies and radios, Riley makes friends and works toward thwarting the teens’ plan. Who has these teens convinced the portal is a good idea–that it is the answer they seek? Does it have anything to do with the souls of those that perished in a sunken submarine, the Kanaloa? Or is it someone else from another dimension?
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is structured similarly to its predecessor as a “walk-and-talk” narrative game with paranormal and thriller flavors. The core gameplay focuses on you selecting the bulk of Riley’s responses to characters around her, which can impact their reactions and even the ending. In this sequel, you have a wakie-talkie in addition to a radio. The walkie-talkie provides channels for you to interact with others that aren’t with you. Some of these contacts provide lots of context behind the story, giving the plot an added layer of depth.
The radio makes its return as a game mechanism. Whenever you are stuck in a “loop” or need to open a tear in time, you search for the correct frequency to activate them. Getting unstuck from a timeloop is classic Oxenfree, but now you can open tears in time which adds a puzzle element to access certain areas on the map. It provides a little bit of the original and a little bit of something new; however, I felt there wasn’t enough. I wish there were more time tears and more time loop challenges. It seemed too far and few in between long tracks across Camena, that I almost forgot this was a thriller.
I appreciated the walkie-talkie mechanism, but with all the channels available, I felt it was also underutilized. You could talk to your hiring manager, Evelyn, a park ranger named Shelley, a photographer named Hank (for a very late-in-the-game side quest), and a fisherman named Nick. The other channels were marked as ???, and the teens were often heard whispering their plans on them.
As in the original Oxenfree, the movement of the characters are so slow. Yes, I understand this is a narrative-heavy game. Yes, the dialogue was interesting and witty; however, the fact I could not sprint or run really detracted me from wanting to backtrack or even replay the game. It just took too long to do everything. The dialogue continues even when you progress to the next area, which is great, so why not let the player travel a bit quicker if they choose?
Speaking of which, the writing is pretty genius, and the voice acting is well done. I appreciated Jacob’s (Joe Bianco) and Riley’s (Liz Saydah) performances. Their chemistry is on point, and the conversations kept me engaged.
The visual art style is the same as Oxenfree, which is mostly dark and dreary with piercing bright colors and light whenever a portal is involved. Many visual and audio distortions occur during paranormal occurrences, which sucks me into the world Night School Studios has built. Unfortunately, I don’t have the best of hearing, so sometimes when the otherworldly beings speak in those “radio voices”, I had a hard time understanding it all, and I was disappointed there were no captions available.
While avoiding the ending, I will say that Oxenfree II: Lost Signals threw some pretty awesome twists and came full circle with the series. So overall, the storytelling paid off at the end, although the final sequence as a result of my actions could have been richer with more interactions with side characters.
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a solid game from Night School Studios, especially if you are already a fan of the first game. It is an experience that does not overstay its welcome with ~ 6-8 hour playtime, depending on backtracking and side quests. There are collectables in the game which provide lore, which is something I love; however, lots of those came in the latter half of the game. By then, I was so frustrated with the slow movement, that I gave up (doesn’t mean you should).
Personally, those who played Oxenfree should definitely play Lost Signals. For those that are new to the series…while not totally required, you would have the best experience playing the original first.
Why play Oxenfree? What sets this series apart is the unique and fun radio signals gameplay and attention to audio/visual style that compliments it. Is the sequel better than the original? Not for me; however, it is still a solid game that tells a solid story.
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Featured Image Source: Night School Studio