An underwhelming but serviceable sequel
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is not a bad game. It’s just not a particularly great or memorable one either. What it does, it does well enough to keep you playing until the end of this 7-10 hour adventure, but it’s unlikely to be one you’ll return to in a hurry.
The first game, released back in 2016, did a fantastic job of building up a level of dread and cosmic horror that kept things feeling fresh and unique. The game managed to blend this in with some neat little mechanics, a decent story and some good characters that led to some difficult choices to make along the way.
Despite being technically more competent and aesthetically pleasing, Oxenfree II is, in many ways, a bit of a step down. Character motivations are, for the most part, rather two-dimensional and with the exception of your protagonist Riley, almost everyone in this game has their motivations and ideals laid out on the table from the very start.
While that doesn’t sound all that bad, given this is a game that lives and dies by its characters and their choices, it does feel like a bit of a misstep not to add more nuance or depth to anyone.
The story itself centers on an existential threat that comes in the form of a giant triangular portal that’s opened up over Edwards Island, a little area situated off the coast of Camena. That’s not great news, especially as Riley has only just arrived back home and is immediately thrust into trying to solve this issue.
Joining Riley is your one and only NPC companion, Jacob. He’s a bit of a nerd, a bit of a ‘fraidy cat and very socially awkward. Armed with a radio and a frequency channel switcher, your mission is to set up a bunch of transmitters across Camena to close the portal and stop the end of the world.
But yet, there’s never much of a sense of urgency here. There are a couple of moments where you need to hurry (including a particularly ingenious chase sequence in a community center) but on the whole, your voyage through the unknown will consist of a leisurely stroll through linear pathways across Camena, more often than not in areas you’ve already traveled before.
The controls are quite straightforward too. You move your character around using the directional pad (or W,A,S,D on PC), a separate button for opening your radio and tuning frequencies, along with a map and different dialogue choices.
The aesthetic is quite intriguing, and a few of the background vistas are well rendered and nicely animated, but the same can’t really be said for character models. Given how zoomed out most of the game is (and doubly so during cinematic moments that focus on the backgrounds rather than the characters), it’s hard to gauge the emotional resonance of different characters. On the few instances that it does zoom in, your characters look and feel like low-level poly models.
That’s a shame because there are some moments where you and Jacob can choose to sit and reflect on what you’ve just witnessed. These would have been perfect for a little cutscene, zooming into the faces of our characters and seeing them properly emote about their experiences.
The map of Camena makes it look like a really interesting place to explore… until you actually start traversing around. There’s so much backtracking in this and branching paths that demand you double-back on yourself that any intrigue is quickly sucked out of this one. That’s a real shame, and doubly so because of the inclusion of time tears too, which aren’t used anywhere near as much as they should be.
Without spoiling too much, time tears are essentially sequences that require you to hop back in time to an earlier period in history to solve puzzles or traverse the environment. In total, there’s about 3 of these instances and you can’t help but shake the feeling that these could have been used way more creatively across the game.
These little hiccups are accentuated by the gameplay mechanics which can be really interesting but Oxenfree never really feels enthused to do much with it. The puzzle solving largely revolves around switching through radio frequencies, while the promise of having climbing gear to “open up new areas” early on simply allows you to climb up rock faces or drop climbing anchors.
Your radio does double up as a comms device for listening to random chatter or phoning your supporting characters, but ironically some of the stories with these guys are more interesting and fleshed out than the dynamic with characters you actually meet through the game!
Oxenfree II doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it also doesn’t really spin in a way that makes you feel the momentum of a good story or gameplay mechanics you can sink your teeth into. This is an underwhelming sequel with lackluster characters and a profound lack of anything substantial to help this stand out like the original did. It’s a shame but this one’s likely to get sucked into the void of disappointment.
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