It’s not often that I watch the credits roll on a game and immediately want to start a new playthrough, just to make different choices and see how it affects the story – but Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals had its hooks well and truly in right up until the final moments and beyond. If you played the original you’ll remember that it was incredibly story-driven, as dialogue unfolded organically while you played, not stopping for cutscenes or long exchanges but allowing conversations to flow by assigning dialogue choices to simple button presses even as you guided protagonist Alex through gameplay.
Oxenfree 2 takes this intuitive system up a notch. The dialogue rarely stops, informing as it does so much of the narrative, but it’s some of the best writing and voice acting I’ve heard in such a small-scale game. In fact, Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is that perfect kind of sequel that uses the original game as a solid foundation, and then builds upon it in every way it can.
Perhaps the most telling element is the “Netflix” logo that fades in as Oxenfree 2 begins. This feels like a game made for the Stranger Things generation, as indeed the first one was before Stranger Things was even a major hit. The “small town gone bad” theme is prevalent, evoking parallels with Netflix’s paranormal TV show.
We’re introduced to protagonist Riley right away, as she prepares to start her first shift working for an environmental research department, planting radio transmitters along the coast near the small town of Camena. It sits opposite Edwards Island, the small lump of rock and sand that served as the setting for so much calamity in the first game. What begins with a simple radio chat with Evelyn, Riley’s supervisor, soon degenerates into something much creepier. Shortly after meeting her co-worker, handyman Jacob Summers, Riley finds herself repeating the same moments again and again thanks to a transdimensional anomaly on Edwards Island.
It doesn’t take long for Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals to become unsettling. Together with Jacob, Riley is tasked with planting four transmitters at the highest points around Camena and the nearby abandoned ghost town of Garland in a bid to overpower and remove the anomaly. But rather than this be a breakneck race to the finish, it’s much more intentionally slow-paced. Jacob and Riley have no vehicle, and must hike and climb to their destinations, dealing with increasingly hostile spirits trying to break into our world, and what may or may not be a sinister cult known as Parentage who have a connection with Camena’s checkered history.
Riley is a great protagonist too. A former resident of Camena, she joined the military to escape a broken home and has returned now, in her thirties, with secrets of her own. She’s strong, and confident, but carries an air of someone who has earned that confidence through training and conditioning, and developed that strength by fighting her whole life. She’s outdoorsy, athletic, pragmatic, but she’s also a realist who has little time for flights of fancy or what-ifs. Jacob is the perfect foil. Mild-mannered but courageous when his loved ones are in danger, unsure of his place in the world and living in the shadow of his more successful, estranged twin brother.
The interactions between Riley and Jacob power the beating heart of Oxenfree 2 in a more vital way than the relationships between Alex and her friends in the first game. It helps that these two are world-weary adults instead of snide teenagers, but it’s more than that. As they face increasingly messed-up, occasionally terrifying phenomena, they come to rely on each other, encouraging and supporting one another. Of course, you can choose to play Riley as a stone-cold bitch at times thanks to the dialogue system, but I found the warmer version to feel more natural.
It would have been quite easy for the writers to skew the dynamic between Jacob and Riley, to either include romance or, worse, make her a Mary Sue and him a bumbling cliche. Instead we get a relationship that feels believable, and proceeds along a natural course given the events that unfold. But it’s not just these characters who grow and change as the story progresses. Without spoiling too much, there are also “cult members” to contend with, who seem hell bent on opening a portal to let the Sunken into our world.
These antagonists continue the plot from the first game. Sailors on an experimental submarine, lost at sea thanks to a tragic friendly fire accident, now trapped in another dimension and seeking a way to return no matter the consequences – the Sunken are a terrifying, single-minded presence in Oxenfree 2, often possessing the living and steering events out of your control. Beyond that, though, Riley has a walkie-talkie with which to communicate with various other residents of Camena, including Evelyn, park ranger Shelley, fisherman Nick, and scientist Hank. Through your actions and choices these and other characters may or may not survive the night, adding an undercurrent of menace and accountability.
Outside of one moment in the first hour that felt a little slow, the 5-hour campaign is incredibly compelling, pulling you from mystery to mystery, exposing the secrets and pain of Riley’s haunted past, but also offering flash-forwards to a potentially grim future. I say “potentially” because, again, your choices will inform multiple events and endings.
While I felt the first Oxenfree had some issues with pacing, Lost Signals has no such shortcomings. There is, as I said, a moment early on where I was running for a long time with little to do, but in fairness I had gone the wrong way and had to backtrack. And the running was still filled with exposition and character building, so it wasn’t a waste. Arguably, Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals lacks big “wow” moments. There’s a few larger set-pieces in the back half, but it rarely comes close to thrilling, instead pulling you along with its incredible atmosphere, smart writing, and likable characters.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s gorgeous. Characters are animated with exaggerated personality, slumped shoulders, waving arms, ragdoll physics when they fall that add an unsettling air to moments of crisis. But the backdrops are often beautiful, and the environmental detail and juxtaposition of muted colours with the sharp, digital aesthetic of the otherworld are always effective. The map seems much larger than it actually is, and travelling anywhere never feels laborious, even if Riley has a tendency to force you to walk sometimes.
Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is a special game, one that feels almost old school at times despite the modern spin on dialogue and storytelling. It’s a small-scale adventure with far-reaching consequences, starring characters that are never sure whether they’re saving the whole world or just their own skins – or if they’re imagining it altogether. You don’t necessarily need to have played Oxenfree to enjoy Lost Signals (though I’d advise you to anyway because it’s a great game), but knowledge of the characters and events would help you understand some of the intricacies of the plot and the backstory of Camena and Edwards Island.
It’s not often a game of such comparatively small stature keeps its claws in after the credits roll, but Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals will likely stay with me for much longer than just another playthrough. Partly, this is down to the mysteries and secrets, some of which you just won’t see in one run because of the weight of choices you make. It’s occasionally scary, often funny, consistently creepy, and manages to be moving, usually when you’re not expecting it to be. But it’s also good-looking, fantastically well acted, and very clever. It’s quite light on puzzles and things to do beyond running, climbing and talking, but I devoured it in two sittings and couldn’t wait to play it again to make different choices, and find all the things I might have missed along the way.
Fantastic dialogue system
Exceptional voice acting
A little slow to start