Oxenfree II Halloween

Review: Oxenfree II: Lost Signals

It’s been a long and winding road to the finish line for one of my most anticipated games of 2023. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is the sequel to a game that has stuck with me more than any other in the last decade. That’s saying a lot considering the number of excellent titles we’ve seen in that time frame.

I preface my review this way because I want to be upfront with how excited I was to know there would be another Oxenfree. Sure, not all games need a sequel. Sometimes a one-and-done title is enough, and it’s time to move on. Developer Night School Studio has done that numerous times with games like Afterparty

Despite my built-up anticipation, numerous delays, and the studio being acquired by Netflix, I held out hope that this would be another excellent supernatural thriller by this dev team. I’m happy to report Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is all that and more.

Returning Home

You play Riley Poverly, an environmental researcher who has returned to her quiet, quaint, and sometimes creepy hometown of Camena. Some odd things have been happening with radio signals and frequencies, and she’s accepted a new job to check it out. The other reasons for returning decades later are revealed throughout the game, so that I won’t spoil those here.

Almost immediately after starting the game, Riley meets Evelyn over her walkie-talkie and Jacob, her new partner for the job. The opening moments of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals do a fantastic job of setting the scene. The gloomy and atmospheric music, the immersive sound design, the excellent art direction, and the incredibly well-acted dialogue drew me in as soon as I hit ‘Play.’

Soon after meeting up with Jacob, Evelyn dishes out some tasks that quickly lead you down a path of sci-fi and ghostly discoveries. Edwards Island can be seen in the distance, where the first Oxenfree took place. It’s up to your dynamic but “average Joe” duo to set up some portable satellite dishes to investigate these new, increasingly disturbing signals that have popped up. These seemingly small tasks grow into an increasingly exciting tale with a deep connection to the past that I was sucked into more and more as the story continued.

I was constantly amazed at how the developers created Camena, from its hazy and dark atmosphere to its detailed and colourful backgrounds to its wonderfully unique, charming, and sometimes creepy character design. It all worked for me, and I could tell that each building or cave I ventured into and each path I walked was meticulously crafted.

Deep Dialogue Drives The Experience

Once again, Night School Studio has brought their A-game to their script writing. Every conversation is crafted to near perfection, whether it be the words themselves or the voice actors who bring each character to life. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals has some of the best dialogue and acting I’ve ever seen and heard. But the words are not just there to kill time between tasks and supernatural occurrences around Camena. Each conversation drives the narrative and relationships you have along the way. Whether it’s Evelyn, Olivia, or Nick the Fisherman over the walkie-talkie, or the connection between Riley and Jacob as they venture through the game, each and everyone feels authentic, natural, complex, and unique.

Each sentence’s complexity, natural feel, and interaction are done mainly behind the scenes. Like its predecessor, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals carries hours of conversations that help shape character moments and drive the narrative. The difference this time is that the 2-3 responses you choose as Riley can significantly impact what happens next and how others react.

The game hints at important decisions or comments with thought bubbles that pop above the characters’ heads. It’s just enough information to know that what you chose to say or not say meant something. I felt the meaning and weight behind nearly every response I decided throughout the game, even if these indicators didn’t appear mid conversation.

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At times I felt as though I was Riley or I was Jacob. The two leading roles are so well realized and written that I could see myself in each of their stories. Whether it be reminiscing, chatting about an existential crisis, or sitting in moments of silence. Not only did I find it difficult to put down the controller to get to the more prominent story beats, but I was also driven to hear more of the smaller and more personal moments I knew were just around the corner.

One particular piece of the story hit very close to home. A few simple words and a flashback or two, and I was instantly welling up with tears. This may not be everyone’s experience, but this game reached out to me on a personal level I did not expect. Riley is a well-realized, well-crafted, and well-acted protagonist. Without these key ingredients, I don’t know if the game’s emotional core would have struck me quite as hard as it did.

Oxenfree II Channels The Supernatural

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a walk-and-talk adventure game. It’s not quite a “walking simulator” (though that name seems to bring along some negative connotations, even if it shouldn’t), but it’s also not a game trying to test your hand-eye coordination or twitch skills. For anyone who may have felt the first game was too slow or simplistic, you’ll get a little more to do here.

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Some fantastic set pieces unfolded in incredible ways and involved several traversing elements. None of these instances were overly challenging, but that’s ok in my books. There’s just enough there to keep the pace going while dishing out exciting character moments.

The game also continues its concept of tapping into radio signals. Tuning into the supernatural via radio waves and connecting with other people using the walkie-talkie is immersive and brought to life by excellent sound design. The static sounds, on-air hosts talking about various topics, and even some subtle musical notes; add to what could have easily been small and uninteresting interactivity.

And not only the gameplay, characters, world design, and dialogue blew me away. Once again, Scntfc has created yet another fantastic soundtrack. His work can be heard in the original Oxenfree, Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, and the Night School title Afterparty. What’s been crafted for this game is a well-rounded, atmospheric feel that brings the entire vibe and tone of the story together. Anyone familiar with the original game’s music will notice several references and notes to those tracks while laying the groundwork for another great experience in the game and outside of it.

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There was only one very small nitpick I had with the game. Sometimes I wish the camera zoomed in more, especially on quieter character moments. With such fantastic voice acting, I would have liked to see Riley and Jacob’s expressions at a tighter angle. I also recommend playing this on a larger screen if possible. With Netflix at the helm, I know it is available on your phone and tablet “for free,” but I think that experience will shortchange what Night School Studio has created. Do it if you have to, but don’t take that path if you have another choice.

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I was on the edge of my seat every time Riley and Jacob encountered a haunting discovery. But every time they had a quiet, personal moment, I felt like I was right there with them. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals could very well supplant itself as one of my favourite gaming experiences of the last few years. Its predecessor blew me away, but this title improves upon it in many ways as it breathes new life into a story that I initially thought didn’t need a sequel.

The characters are more fleshed out, the design from top to bottom is nearly flawless, and my sheer gut reaction to several set pieces and story beats had me smiling, gasping, tearing up, and laughing. I come to games for experiences, and this is one of them I won’t soon forget.

Verdict

If a haunting, small-town setting with incredibly well-acted and written characters sounds even remotely interesting, you owe it to yourself to seek out Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. It isn’t essential to play the original 2016 title, but I believe it will deepen the experience if you have the chance to.

There are many fantastic games already out there in 2023, but I fully expect this one to be mentioned among my favourites of the year when those discussions come back around here on Console Creatures and Creature Cast.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Oxenfree II Halloween
Summary
With some of the best writing, voice acting, supernatural set pieces, and atmospheric settings ever, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a must-play game. It was worth the wait and if you're a fan of thrillers or sci-fi, this is a no-brainer.
Liked
Amazing writing and voice acting
Dialogue system is well implemented
A story that expands and improves upon its predecessor
Art style, sound design, and music
Didn't Like
Would have enjoyed a closer camera angle at some points