Our review of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, developed by Night School Studio. Available now for PS5 (reviewed), PS4, Switch, Windows, iOS, Android, and Netflix (! More on that in a moment.)
WHAT IS IT?
A fascinating, occasionally frustrating adventure through time.
IS IT GOOD?
It’s teeth-chattering, but not bone-chilling.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
Marty McFly, Rick, Morty, Philip J. Fry.
The original Oxenfree was a bit of an odd duck. A 2.5 mystery-adventure title with a striking, painterly aesthetic, its grand narrative aspirations often struggled against its technical limitations and occasionally meandering gameplay. Oxenfree had you spend a lot of time walking, here and there, back and forth, the game deliberately confusing you and its case of teen characters as they tried to unravel a ghostly island mystery and avoid the fates of the spirits who haunt the island. Despite its weaker aspects, I liked Oxenfree: it was weird, it did something different, and it did a decent job of capturing a certain style of teen drama common to horror movies (and which last year’s The Quarry handled just as well).
Oxenfree‘s sequel is, in many ways, more of the same. There’s a return to the mysterious island of the first game. There are weird portals and time loops. Gameplay largely revolves around walking, wandering, and solving simple environmental puzzles. There’s a lot of dialogue – not all of it well-written – and much of it is branching, leading to multiple endings depending on which narrative paths you choose.
The big difference this time out is that, rather than a gang of hot-blooded teenagers, the main cast is a pair of thirty-somethings, friends on the verge of a midlife crisis while trying to hold onto their youth.
Oxenfree II casts players as Riley, a former resident of Camena, a (fictional) town in northern Oregon. Riley has recently come home for a bit of a personal reset after years away, only to be immediately drawn into a mystery involving strange signals interfering with local electronics. Joining Riley is her old school friend Jacob, someone who never left Camena and whose attitude and perspective on life in this small town could not be more different. Other characters – some sympathetic, some nefarious, some with ambiguous intentions – eventually enter the narrative, with Riley having to delicately navigate an ever-growing thread of relationships and motivations.
At its core, Oxenfree II is a sci-fi mystery, infused with just the right mix of strange visuals and even stranger audio to keep players on edge. Those who played the original Oxenfree will likely cotton on to what’s happening much sooner than Riley and/or new players, though this sequel is enough of a standalone that its predecessor need not be required reading. (On the other hand, if you wind up enjoying Oxenfree II, I highly recommend checking out the first game, which fills in certain details in interesting ways.)
Much of the tension from the game comes from its choice-based dialogue system: like The Walking Dead or The Quarry before it, each line of dialogue can inform developments in the near- and long-term, with unforeseen consequences arising from even the most minor decision.
Oxenfree II is, by design, a “small” game. Largely restricted to a single setting, its narrative wraps up within the space of about six hours, or about half the length of the recent season of Stranger Things.
Speaking of: Oxenfree II is notable as the first major release of Netflix Games. While it can be played on a host of systems (we’ve reviewed it on PS5), existing Netflix subscribers can log in and play it right now on their Netflix app. Its release is seen as a potential bellwether for an increasingly streaming-centric industry, just as Microsoft goes ahead with its (horrifically wrong-headed, monopolistic, industry-destroying) acquisition of Activision Blizzard, where one of the main regulatory sticking points has been dominance of the streaming space. Far be it from us to root for one corporate monolith against another, but Oxenfree II‘s success or failure could be an interesting indicator of whether others will be able to stand up to MicroActiBlizzard.
On its own merits, Oxenfree II is a fine experience: ooky, spooky, and taking players on a mysterious journey across time and space.
Final score: 8/10 transistor radios.
Visit the official website for Oxenfree II: Lost Signals here.
Play Flash classic Mystery of Time and Space (aka “MOTAS”) here.