Oxenfree 2 is a disappointing sequel that takes the flawed gem of a first game and rubs out almost everything that made it shine. A reasonable plot and neat audiovisual effects find themselves submerged under ponderous navigation, flat characters, and overly regimented dialogue.
- +A strong audiovisual identity
- +Some interesting plot turns and links to the original
- -Less naturalistic dialogue systems than in the first game
- -Slow navigation and too much backtracking
- -Main characters are really dull
- -The paranormal elements are too familiar
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The original Oxenfree may have been a bit unpolished and experimental, but its vibrant energy propelled it forward. Its allure stemmed partly from the enigmatic mystery surrounding the island, but even more so from the lively banter among its teenage characters. They would ramble, bicker, and talk over each other, leaving just enough space for your dialogue choices to seamlessly intertwine. When it clicked, the conversations felt natural and genuine. And even when it missed the mark, the liveliness remained, hinting at the potential for improvement in future adventures.
Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals has always held the promise of an exhilarating experience, with the potential to fulfill its initial potential. However, keeping that in mind, I can only express my disappointment with the final outcome. While it’s true that many of the inconsistencies in Oxenfree’s dialogue system have been addressed in this sequel, the result is the loss of almost everything that made it enjoyable in the first place, particularly its vibrant energy.
Upon first arriving in the small town of Camena, located just a short swim away from Edward’s Island in the previous game, a sense of familiarity is likely to wash over you. The camera assumes its characteristic aloof side-on position, while the scenery continues to transition between resembling a cardboard cutout and a lifelike setting with a touch of enchantment. Colored speech bubbles accompany the speaking characters, and small circles mark points of interest. The dialogue choices are still conveniently assigned to a set of three keys or face buttons, ensuring a seamless experience.
One noticeable change right away is that the protagonist you control in this instance, Riley, operates independently rather than being part of a team. Her initial interaction takes place remotely through a walkie-talkie conversation with a woman named Evelyn. Riley has been assigned the task of installing radio transmitters throughout the rugged forest surrounding Camena. The purpose is to allow the group that hired her to monitor peculiar radio signals, while Evelyn provides guidance and instructions from their home base.
The dialogue and voiceovers in Oxenfree 2 retain the casual and conversational tone of the first game. However, by shifting chunks of dialogue to the walkie-talkie, the game begins to undermine one of its standout features—the lively and dynamic banter between characters in close proximity. The walkie-talkie communication is inherently limited to two-way exchanges, with each party taking turns punctuated by the word “Over.” Instead of natural and chaotic discussions, it produces binary dialogues that feel more typical of a video game.
To make matters worse, the strict rules of walkie-talkie communication seem to seep into face-to-face interactions as well. Throughout much of the game, Riley is accompanied by Jacob, another individual assigned to work alongside her. However, there is little room for spontaneity and energy in their alternating exchanges. If you make a quick dialogue choice, instead of interjecting, your response is queued until Jacob finishes speaking. Additionally, interactive elements in the environment deactivate during conversations, forcing you to wait for them to play out. Admittedly, this prevents speech from overlapping and causing confusion (though it still occurs occasionally), but it’s a sterile solution that diminishes your sense of immediate engagement and involvement.
It’s a relief when the plot gains momentum early on in Oxenfree 2 with the reintroduction of paranormal elements from its predecessor. Given that the first game’s spectral beings manifested through radio signals, it’s no surprise that the task assigned to you is likely to stir up trouble once again. However, this time it’s not your fault. The first transmitter you plant inadvertently interferes with the plans of a new group of teenagers who inexplicably seek to open an interdimensional portal, with disastrous consequences for reality.
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To thwart their intentions, you must still complete the installation of the remaining transmitters at crucial locations in Camena. But now, your mission intersects with mind-bending time loops, rifts, and distortions. Once again, these phenomena are accompanied by wonderfully eerie audiovisual effects, including flickering bands of static on the edges of the screen and fragmented radio broadcasts emanating from otherworldly voices. Tuning your portable radio to specific frequencies can help restore normality, but there are additional elements to discover. Certain rifts allow you to briefly travel back in time to overcome environmental obstacles, and new mini-games involve aligning multiple dials to match sound waves.
However, it’s disappointing that these additions prove to be rather limited, appearing only a few times before they fade away, almost avoiding the risk of becoming actual puzzles. Apart from these moments, many of the ghostly phenomena showcased here are all too familiar from the first game—mostly illusions that temporarily distort objects and people before returning you to your original position. For a game that aims to create an atmosphere of strangeness, it’s particularly peculiar that it doesn’t introduce a fresh set of supernatural phenomena to bewilder and challenge you.
The advantage of revisiting familiar territory in Oxenfree 2 is the opportunity for the story to establish connections with the original game, resulting in some genuinely surprising plot twists. However, even in these instances, the pacing suffers from being sluggish and devoid of energy. Part of the issue stems from the convoluted journeys required to traverse the map. The mountainous terrain surrounding Camena introduces verticality and adds some additional climbing challenges. Unfortunately, this becomes a drawback when you’re forced to endure tedious backtracking, exacerbated by Riley’s refusal to run unless absolutely necessary.
Moreover, the real disappointment during these lengthy hikes lies in the lackluster personalities of Riley and Jacob, with Jacob being particularly uninspiring. Riley maintains a chronic sardonic attitude, while Jacob comes across as a well-meaning but dull individual. Both characters are in their thirties and seem consumed by excessive introspection, despite the absence of significant events or experiences in their lives warranting such deep reflection. While focusing on personal struggles made sense when the cast consisted of teenagers in the first Oxenfree, in this sequel, I couldn’t help but wish they would move past themselves and their self-absorption.
It becomes frustrating when Riley is alone and cracks dreary jokes to nobody, but it gets even tougher during the long stretches of Oxenfree 2 when she is glued to Jacob. The newly acquainted pair fills the silence with mundane thoughts that enter their minds. Jacob, in particular, makes random statements like “Sunsets on Mars are blue” after witnessing a sunset, then continues rambling about the topic without any encouragement, reminiscent of someone desperately trying to salvage a failing blind date. Initially, I responded with feigned interest to such observations, trying to be polite, even though many of Riley’s responses were short and snippy. Eventually, I reached a point where I ignored them altogether.
Furthermore, if the other people you encounter during your journey are more tolerable than Jacob, there is still a lack of emotional connection with any of them, unlike the instant bond I formed with the old Oxenfree crew. None of them, including Jacob, the disruptive teens, or Evelyn and the handful of locals you communicate with via walkie-talkie, have any personal history or familial ties with Riley. They are all strangers, leaving little room to truly get to know them or decide whether you genuinely like them or not. Moreover, none of the walkie-talkie acquaintances have concerns that intersect with each other, reducing them to mere providers of side quests that you can choose to engage with or forget about.
By the end of Oxenfree 2, I must admit I felt a slight curiosity about the potential different outcomes that could have occurred if I had made alternative choices throughout the game. However, the thought of replaying it to find out is far from appealing. From the slow-paced journeys to the uninteresting main characters, my energy for the game has significantly waned.
Note: The review of Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals was conducted on PC, with the publisher providing the review code.