Oxenfree II: Lost Signals Is A Leaner Sequel That Hums At A Great Frequency

Games Reviews Oxenfree 2
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals Is A Leaner Sequel That Hums At A Great Frequency

Oxenfree is an exceptionally hard act to follow. When I played the original, I was like its characters: a wayward teenager stuck in a malaise of relationships I was too closed off from who needed something to shake me out of it. Oxenfree’s horror imagery—rooted in otherworldly geometric shapes and faint afterimages— as well as its patched-together radio soundscape burrowed into my brain and never really left. The delivery of “Is. Leave. Possible.” is simply some of the best VO work I’ve heard in games, and that was damn near seven years ago. Its ending(s) and the ambiguity around them, even the looseness of the threads on which the game pulled, felt ripped out of real life and its lack of absolute conclusions and closure. Was it perfect? No, but it was to me at the time that I played it, producing a tall order for Oxenfree II: Lost Signals to live up to. It doesn’t entirely get there, but Oxenfree II is still great in its own right.

Riley and Jacob, Oxenfree II’s new protagonists, breathe some fresh air into what could have been a stale return to the world of Edwards Island. They’re both kind of screwed up adults who, for better or worse, need a night of chasing a teenage cult around Camena to shake off and fight their own demons. Riley, our player character, is coming back to Camena after a long time away, and evidently a lot of that has to do with her own upbringing, parents, and her concerns for her life moving forward. Jacob, on the other hand, never left Camena and struggles to feel like he’s leading a life worth living, let alone talking about. It’s a perfect cocktail for the Oxenfree “machine” as Night School founder Sean Krankel put it in an earlier conversation, whereby the developers subject their perfectly imperfect cast to the supernatural hauntings to shake something loose for them.

Though they don’t quite rise to the heights of Alex and her friends from the original game—perhaps because the sequel’s plot is really dominated by thwarting other characters who are moving on their own interesting trajectories rather than necessarily plumbing Riley and Jacob’s respective histories—the new heroes are still engaging to watch. The story, which is as rooted in the past as it is invested in the future these characters want to carve out, has a lot to do with letting go of that baggage that tends to weigh someone down—-the kind of stuff that freezes you in place or makes you slide backwards. It’s a universal bit of angst that neatly envelops the older protagonists and their teenage opponents. While Riley and Jacob strive for better futures (and a return to normalcy on that cursed night) the younger cast of pseudo-antagonists are trying to channel the ghosts of Oxenfree in order to cling onto something from the past. Everyone’s fighting some war behind their eyes on the night that these groups clash.

For as climactic as that may sound, Oxenfree II is largely more of the game you played all those years ago. You’ll still hike around a slightly larger map of Camena and engage in conversations with your friends and enemies, though there are a few more exhilarating setpieces—one gravity-defying sequence especially comes to mind—that shake things up. You still have a radio to tune into frequencies and occasionally exorcize some otherworldly spirits, though they are also now used to open time tears around Camena, allowing for time travel in certain sequences. Though it’s a shame these aren’t a greater focus in Oxenfree II, they are a neat addition in the precious few places they’re used to great effect. This time around you also have a walkie talkie that helps you communicate with various people around town like a park ranger or one poor fellow who, depressed about the lack of adventure in his life, sets out to sail on the night that a lot of supernatural phenomena threatens to rip apart the fabric of reality right there and then. Though I haven’t revisited the game to explore other endings (I’m sure there are permutations), conversing with these characters seems to alter the shape your specific conclusion will take, with some of those conversations spelling the difference between certain folks surviving the night or not.

These additions, which fill in the gaps of what feels like a slimmer and tighter sequel, are smart ways to build on the fairly grounded and simple foundation laid out by the original without bloating the sequel. Camena comes across much more believable than Edwards Island (a tourist trap with zero tourists) without filling the screen with bustling towns and scores of characters that would’ve felt out of place in this story and world. Importantly, none of it really bogs down the experience, which satisfyingly runs its course in about six to seven hours and delves further into what’s been going on in and around this town before the events of the games and since the original title. Oxenfree II, despite its proclivity for confusing jumps and skips in time, loops, and detours into other dimensions, is as direct a sequel as you can make to one of the most impactful games of my life, and I’m glad for it.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is developed by Night School Studio and published by Netflix Games. Our review is based on the Nintendo Switch version. It is also available on PS4, PS5, PC, and IOS and Android via Netflix.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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