Oxenfree II: Lost Signals (2023)
Developer: Night School
Despite the fact that I played Oxenfree II at release almost a month ago, it's taken me a little bit to get to writing this review. I thought writing my last review early would help me finish this one on time, but my recent trip and life circumstances got in the way of that. Regardless, here it is finally. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a mystery point-and-click adventure about a woman named Riley who gets caught in a night of supernatural events when she returns to her hometown. Oxenfree II: Lost Signals relies heavily on the success, style, and twists of its predecessor, but it also presents us with a different, more adult story about family, trauma, and running away from the past.
Lost Signals puts you in the perspective of Riley, a 30-something woman who has found herself back in her hometown of Camena after taking an odd job - setting radio transmitters along the coast that will help researchers study radio anomalies in the region. She is assigned to work with Jacob, a Camena resident and former classmate to Riley in high school. Shortly after setting down the first of the radio transmitters, strange things begin to happen. An electromagnetic wave shoots out of the transmitter and forms a dimensional portal above Edwards Island, which can be seen not too far in the distance. Riley and Jacob figure out that there are other forces at work on Edwards Island, primarily a group of teenagers who were purposely trying to open the portal. Riley and Jacob decide to set three other transmitters to try to cancel out the anomaly and stop the teenagers' plans. Along the way, they'll have to travel through some of these portals to find themselves where Riley's been running from: her past, and her future.
The art style and music remain consistent to what fans loved about the original Oxenfree. Although this story takes place in Camena, not Edwards Island, the overall look of the world isn't different enough to make it feel like a brand new adventure. Sure, there's some new mechanics and secrets to find, but as someone who's only played Oxenfree once I couldn't really point out that many differences between them. That being said, I still enjoy the sort of watercolor-style, washed out look that they give to the Pacific Northwest. The soundtrack is unsurprisingly stellar, with its smooth synths and off-putting radio signal sounds. When it comes to its soundtrack, I will give credit to Lost Signals as it stands apart on its own and is really worth the full listen.
Lost Signals' biggest strength lies in its more adult exploration of Riley's backstory and how it connects to the events of the game. Without giving spoilers, I felt the real impact of the game was in the difficult choices she was to make to conquer a supernatural enemy, but also to come to terms with her own personal demons. Also, as it is Night School's strength, the voice acting and dialogue gameplay continues to be one-of-a-kind and incredibly immersive. The dialogue responds naturally to your actions, so if you interrupt a character by interacting with something else, they'll pause but to respond but will eventually come back to what they were saying before. Dialogue choices, including the decision to say nothing at all, are essential to the game's story, so it's nice that you can keep exploring the world while the conversation continues. Lost Signals gives you a walkie talkie that can be used to call up several different characters whenever you like, which gives the game a little less linearity and a little more depth depending on how you choose to use it. This game has similar eerie, disorienting vibe as Oxenfree, but encountering it for the second time makes it a less spooky. One of the coolest and creepiest things about Oxenfree was its realistic incorporation of the U.S. military's history and the grim realities of war. I felt that this sequel only subtly referenced that, when it could've continued to go deeper into the topic and into different aspects of it.
From what I could tell, there's an incredible amount of branching paths in Lost Signals based on choices you make. However, even though the game actually has multiple save files available to load from, it doesn't let you manually save to a specific one. This was actually a huge bummer, since I was hoping to save at a big decision point and try to different routes from there. I don't see myself playing the entire game from the beginning just to try out different choices. There's also some amount of awkwardness in that the characters spend so much time figuring out the nature of these anomalies, when we, the player, are already well-versed on what it is (for the most part). Lost Signals occasionally has you solve a puzzle by opening a rift into the past and using that different environment to get past the obstacle. I think this is really clever, and I especially enjoyed the puzzle that lets you set the year to travel to, but I actually just wish they'd done more of these. It was a really fun concept and took some clues to figure out the right away to approach it. I actually played this game on a tablet (which is not really something I do) since it was free to play on Netflix. I can't speak too much to how it works with touch controls, but using a bluetooth controller I had a pretty good experience with almost no issues. It may not be related to the controller, but I found that dark caves were a little weird because of Riley's flashlight seems to strobe towards the screen in an annoying way.
Overall, I wish that Oxenfree II: Lost Signals had done more with its story and gameplay to stand apart and give fans something new and exciting. Although Riley's story had a layer of complexity that made her relatable, I felt disconnected from the other characters, especially the teenagers who you were somewhat forced to take a parental role with. I'd still recommend this game to fans of thriller-y narrative adventures, but it's definitely ideal to start with Oxenfree and check this one out if you want to see more of this world.
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is available on PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, and Netflix Games (mobile)
Played on: Mobile (Android Tablet)
Playtime: 7.5 hrs