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Oxenfree II: Lost Signals

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: MWM Interactive
Developer: Night School Studio
Release Date: July 12, 2023

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Switch/PS5/PS4/PC Preview - 'Oxenfree II: Lost Signals'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 5, 2021 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals features an all-new cast of characters in a narrative driven, supernatural mystery-thriller set five years after the events of the original.

Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is the sequel to 2016's Oxenfree, and it's currently slated for a 2022 release on all platforms. Developer Night School Studio provided us with a limited first look of what to expect from Oxenfree's sequel, showing off about 30 minutes of gameplay and a glimpse as to how Oxenfree 2 fits into the existing universe.

Oxenfree made a small splash when it was released in 2016. It could've been seen as yet another story-driven adventure with little interactivity in a market that was saturated with similar titles, but Oxenfree struck a chord. The story-driven mystery adventure game followed a group of ordinary students on a trip to a lonely island after dark. It believably incorporated conversations and dialogue options, with characters naturally interrupting or talking over each other, making interactions feel somewhat natural. The story was told in a lighthearted way without compromising depth. The characters dealt with change and personal difficulties in a variety of ways. As if personal baggage weren't enough to deal with as a teenager, the gang also uncovered an unsettling mystery that involved strange radio signals, portals, time travel, and other dimensions. The protagonist, Alex, prevented the worst from occurring, but the radio signals are back again in Oxenfree 2. It plays in the same world and deals with the same supernatural phenomenon, but the sequel features a new cast and location.

In Oxenfree 2, protagonist Riley is an environmental researcher who returns to her hometown of Camena, where she's confronted with the same strange radio signals. As she investigates further, she becomes entangled with a mysterious group of masked strangers called Parentage. The group wants to use the strange portals and fissures that are appearing all over Camena to retrieve something — and that's as much as we want to share for now. Since we're dealing with adults instead of students, that may mean that we'll deal with more mature topics in the story, even though characters are still dealing with changes and trouble in their lives. If you want to prepare for what's to come, developer Night School Studio has started patching new radio signals into the original Oxenfree to connect the first entry to the sequel.

In our gameplay demo, Riley is hiking through the western parts of Camena with her companion Jacob. Their journey leads them through a mountainous area and, eventually, through an abandoned mineshaft. Oxenfree 2 looks very similar to the first game, both in art direction and visuals. There are minor improvements, but you can expect the same 2D side-scrolling style. Most notably, colors are more vibrant and pop compared to the rather muted colors in the first outing, and the lighting system has been improved. The signature three-way dialogue choice system is also back, so we can look forward to a similar conversation system as in Oxenfree, with the promise of further enhancements. From our short glimpse, it's difficult to judge how dynamic or reactive this system will be, but I'd expect it to be on par with the first entry. We also got a brief look at the map of Camena, which I'd estimate to be about 2-3 times as big as Edward's Island in the original, so it promises more freedom in movement and tackling objectives.

Rooted in the familiar, there are a variety of new mechanics and tools. The radio from Oxenfree returns, and it can be used to tune into frequencies to find radio signals and manipulate supernatural elements. Riley also has a walkie-talkie, which is one of the biggest additions to Oxenfree 2. It lets Riley check in with characters that she's already met, and it also receives calls from people who Riley doesn't know yet, but she can decide whether she wants to accept or decline the calls. Declining a call can mean you may never meet a certain character, and it may even affect the ending you'll get. Checking in with certain characters may help you progress, since they may have useful information about your current objective.

Another example we saw during the presentation was a side-quest. Some of your contacts may reach out and ask for a favor that you can pursue if you want. In our case, a fisherman contacted us to inquire if his blue backpack was still at the pier, and we were able to confirm this after a small trek to the beach. It looks like a substantial addition to the game, but the full scope is still unknown. It could add more depth and complexity to the gameplay, and it could provide more options to solve puzzles or influence the story ending. At the very least, it means the cast of characters we'll encounter and interact with is larger than in Oxenfree. You'll meet some people in person and contact them with your walkie-talkie later, while you may never meet some folks face-to-face. I'm intrigued but wonder how well implemented and central this gameplay mechanic will be in Oxenfree 2. From what I've seen so far, it looks to be a worthwhile addition with plenty of potential.

Another notable addition is world exploration and traversal. You'll sometimes have multiple paths to reach your waypoint, and some paths are more dangerous than others. Early on in the gameplay demo, Riley faces a gap that seems too wide to jump, at which point the player can decide if they want to risk jumping or look for another way around. In our case, there was a hidden ledge that eventually provided safe passage — until Jacob and Riley enter an abandoned mine.

According to Night School, the cave system in Camena is vast and sprawls throughout the map, so there are often several ways for our protagonist to reach the same destination. For Riley and Jacob, the mine seems like a dead-end. It collapsed years ago, leaving its elevator broken and the exit beyond it our reach.

As both push further into the mine, Jacob gets nervous and asks to play a word game where each character takes turns saying a word to create a story. It feels like a nice personal touch and shows that Oxenfree 2 is still focused on creating believable characters and dialogue options. Night School also seems to be unafraid to commit to those ideas. The word-story-building exercise is so complex that it comprises 5% of the dialogue lines in the entire game.

As Riley and Jacob finally reach the end of the destroyed mine, they encounter a strange time fissure, which is a tear in time that teleports the player to the same location at a different time. Riley can use her radio to tune into its frequency and expands the fissure so that both characters can slip through to the year 1899, when the mine was in mint condition — and so is its elevator, which provides a valid path forward. We seem to have traveled to the exact moment in time that the mine collapses, so we are pressed for time to make a narrow escape that involves some minor climbing challenges. While our brief tour into the world of Oxenfree 2 ended at this point, we learned a few more things about what to expect in the final product.

As previously mentioned, time fissures pop up over time, so there is an incentive to backtrack to previous locations, since there may be new fissures to explore, which further confirms the exploration and freedom aspect of the sequel. It also looks like Riley can place signal jammers to disrupt Parentage in a later mission. While they are doing that, time advances elsewhere, so events may still occur, even when you're not around. In combination with the new walkie-talkie, all of this could come together to create an interesting supernatural adventure.

I'm still skeptical of how open and interactive Oxenfree 2 can be without expanding the scope of the project beyond what's manageable for an indie team. Then again, the preview event was overshadowed by news of Netflix acquiring the studio, so technically, Night School isn't that independent anymore.

Much like the first title, Oxenfree 2 will also have different endings based on your choices. While there are more moving parts and granular ways to make decisions this time around, we expect the sequel to handle endings with a modular approach that encompasses several different endings with slight variations based on smaller decisions.

We still don't have a firm release date for Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, our first look at the gameplay was reassuring. Oxenfree II keeps everything that worked and expands it with new mechanics that focus on player freedom and choice. New locations and a fresh cast of characters offer a new story, so don't expect your save game from Oxenfree to be of use when the sequel comes around. It'll be interesting to see whether Night School can bring all of these threads together into a cohesive story and an ending that respects player choice, but we'll get to that when Oxenfree 2 releases in 2022.

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