Title: Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals
Developer: Night School Studios
Release Date: June 12, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Narrative Adventure
I’ve been thinking about this category of games that I like to call “all-nighter” games. These are titles that I feel are best experienced in the quietest, darkest, most intimate, and most immersive setting possible for the most significant impact and are short enough to finish in one sitting. Firewatch, To the Moon, and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare are all excellent examples from very different genres. Now, I would absolutely recommend the same play experience for Oxenfree II: Lost Signals.
I want to note quickly that this game is being marketed as accessible to people who have not played the first Oxenfree. This is technically true – I am one of those people, and I found the plot fairly easy to follow. But, I do think that I was missing some key emotional investment from the first game that would have added another layer to my thoughts regarding the ending of this title. Both entries in the series are around five hours long.
Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals follows Riley, an adult woman returning to her hometown of Camena, Oregon, to work as an environmental researcher. She has more reasons for wanting to revisit her past, but well, that’s spoiler territory. In town, she wakes up from a strange dream and is directed to venture out towards the road to meet up with her “partner,” Jacob, a man who remembers Riley from his high school years and has never moved away from his parents’ old cabin.
Jacob is carrying the transmission equipment she needs to set up that night at the top of a high peak, and his truck has unfortunately moved onto the afterlife, so the two of them will have to hike up on foot. An awkward meeting is revealed to be an awkward reunion, the two of them bond a little over their shared history in the town, and eventually, they reach the peak.
This peak reveals the small town is right next to Edwards Island, the setting of the first Oxenfree, and activating the transmitter causes a distortion in the fabric of reality to appear above the island in the shape of a triangle. Strange voices come over the radio, and then they exit said radio as red ghosts. Riley is understandably freaked out and unsure of what’s going on as she appears to go back in time to just before she met Jacob and watches a teenager setting the town’s general store on fire before waking up.
She explains to Jacob what she saw, and he reveals that not only did he also experience something otherworldly, but that he’s heard of such distortions before – and might know a way to fix things before the tear in the space-time continuum envelops the whole town.
With this premise, it’s pretty easy to tell why Netflix bought Night School Studios – both the aesthetic of the Oxenfree titles and their coming-of-age stories are heavily reminiscent of Stranger Things, the most popular show in the streaming service’s history. The woodsy island and far-from-civilization town of Camena share much with the town of Hawkins. However, Lost Signals sets itself more firmly apart, with its two central characters already being adults.
After setting up the first transmitter, most of the experience consists of exploring the area and activating three more transmitters using your map to navigate to high-altitude areas. Along the way, you’ll meet three teenagers who seem hell-bent on allowing the distortion to consume reality and several helpful voices you converse with over Riley’s walkie. Given that her perception may be distorted, it’s hard to tell how many of your fellow walkie-talkie night owls are real people, but this seems like the best place to highlight the vocal performances, one of the major highlights of Oxenfree II.
Because of the game’s zoomed-out camera and 2.5D-dimensional environments, Riley and Jacob emote with their bodies but don’t have any lip flaps that need to be synced up with their dialogue, allowing the actors to deliver completely natural-sounding performances. The direction is heavily grounded in reality, adding to the intimacy of the play experience, and I was excited to hear from each character, even if I didn’t find them all on my go-around.
Further, the visual design is impeccable and is the primary reason I recommend playing in a dark room or during a quiet night. Like the first game, Oxenfree II is a science-fiction psychological drama with light horror elements, so while there are occasional jump scares, this is a highly atmospheric experience that takes you through a weird night in this cast’s lives. The environment around you is dim yet very visible, and it’s easy to find yourself figuratively lost in the woods as you explore, a feeling I believe the title is trying to evoke.
I did run into a bothersome speed bump early on, though, after the first transmitter was installed. The title appears to give you the opportunity to go to the other three locations in any order. Sadly, I ended up picking the one you couldn’t actually visit until you’d gone everywhere else to venture towards first. It wasn’t a massive detour, but if the game had to present me with a broken-bridge scenario, I wish it would have indicated that before I went in entirely the wrong direction. Oxenfree II definitely doesn’t need fast travel, but it can take some time to really get the layout of the forest trails, and stumbling here left me annoyed.
As for the story, I obviously don’t want to get too much deeper into it – it takes some fascinating twists and turns, especially regarding Riley’s presence in Camena. Still, I would rather leave most of it unspoiled since the narrative is the biggest focus. Some light puzzle elements are generally only there to give you a little more interaction with the world rather than be challenging to complete. A few, towards the end, do require you to brute-force them, which thankfully is relatively easy by that point if you’ve learned how to spot the signs that your radio is doing something useful.
The only issue I had with the plot was that several parts were overly predictable. While there are many more endings than I expected (and I’m excited to go back in for a replay with a better idea of how to achieve some of them), the overall plot structure will remain largely the same until the endgame. Plus, the most significant decision is at the very end – and the title has no manual save option, so if you don’t want to have to replay the whole thing, you’ll probably need to do some save-file shenanigans.
Oxenfree II is a wonderful ghost story in more ways than one. The ending depends on the person telling it, it takes place on a dark and stormy night, and there are literal ghosts involved. I, unfortunately, can’t currently compare it to its predecessor, but what I was hoping for out of this one was a spooky-vibes adventure that was a decent mind-screw. I’m happy to say that Lost Signals delivered on that with an extra spoonful of charm on top, and I can’t wait to experience it all again.
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