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Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals review: A pitch-perfect sequel

Ewan Moore

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Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals review: A pitch-perfect sequel

Featured Image Credit: Netflix

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals proves once again that Night School Studio is one of the most exciting developers around. This is a pitch-perfect sequel that expertly balances genuinely disturbing scares with real, human drama grounded by brilliantly written characters against the backdrop of an exquisite soundtrack that oozes ethereal 1980s spirit.

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Like 2016’s critically acclaimed Oxenfree, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is a time-bending adventure game that sees our heroes struggling with their past, present, and future as they attempt to fight off an invasion of spectral nasties. You’ll walk around a bunch, solve some fairly light puzzles, and make choices that can have a serious impact on the overall outcome of the story.

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Where Oxenfree saw us playing as teenager Alex as she attempted to save her friends from the otherworldly threat on Edwards Island, Lost Signals puts us in the mud-caked boots of army dropout Riley. Riley has returned to her hometown of Camena to help investigate anomalous radio signals along the coast. But when a tear in reality itself appears over Edwards Island and strange hallucinations haunt her every step, it’s clear that only she can stop whatever’s going on.

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Do you need to have played the original Oxenfree to appreciate the intricate workings of this new adventure? Not necessarily. Most of the need-to-know info is relayed to you during the sequel’s opening chapter, but some knowledge of the first instalment will certainly greatly enhance your understanding of and appreciation for Lost Signals. Plus, you know, Oxenfree is one of the best indies ever made, and you can get through it in less than five hours. You really should start there.

At 32, Riley is a much older character than the teenage Alex, which immediately makes for a very different kind of protagonist. For a start, the ghosts that haunt the town have plenty more ammo when it comes to rifling through her past to see how best to mess with her. Riley has spent her life being defined by her indecision, her willingness to float through life with no real idea of what she wants. It is, I have to say, a very welcome reminder that just because you’re 32, it doesn’t mean you have it all figured out. An older hero also means there are plenty of jokes about sore backs and aching muscles as Riley climbs and explores through the night, dialogue that’s becoming uncomfortably relatable to me as I inch towards my 30s.

Oxenfree 2 / Credit: Netflix
Oxenfree 2 / Credit: Netflix
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Over the course of the story we discover what brought Riley back to her hometown. No spoilers, obviously, but the way Night School slowly teases out her past and future at the same time is nothing short of remarkable. While there aren’t exactly any major twists that will leave your jaw on the floor, I don’t really think that’s the point here. Lost Signals isn’t trying to pull the rug from under you. It wants you to forge an emotional connection with these characters so that the choices you're forced to make carry more weight by the time the credits roll. In that respect, it’s a rousing success.

While Riley comes to us as a fully formed character with her own mysterious past, it’s still up to us as the player to decide who she is in relation to the many different characters she interacts with over the course of the game.

Our constant companion is Jacob, a nervy artist and believer in the paranormal who joins Riley for the majority of the adventure. It’s completely up to you how warm you want to be with this stranger. Early on in the game, Jacob nervously asks Riley if she remembers him from high school. You can be polite and lie, or bluntly admit you don’t remember him at all. You also have plenty of opportunities to dive into your past by telling him the truth about why you moved back home, or you can elect to maintain an emotional distance from him. Naturally, the choices you make throughout this relationship, and others, will have an impact on the game’s ultimate ending.

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Oxenfree 2 / credit: Netflix
Oxenfree 2 / credit: Netflix

The experience of actually playing Lost Signals is more or less exactly the same as it was in Oxenfree. On paper it all sounds horrendously dull. You trudge up and down the forests and mountains of Camena against some admittedly gorgeous backdrops, occasionally using your radio to excise a ghost or unlock a door. But if you played the first game you’ll know it isn’t a thrill-a-minute metroidvania - and it’s not supposed to be.

Moving around the town takes time, time that you spend listening to Riley and Jacob talk about their lives, about the weird night they’re sharing, and anything else they can think of. The dialogue in Lost Signals has an easy naturality to it, and each of the game’s performers is able to elevate what is already a beautifully written script. Certainly, there are those who will complain about it being a “walking simulator” - and maybe in some ways it is - but it’s a perfectly paced one that knows when to ramp up the horror and when to let us just sit with the characters.

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Lost Signals also has a much larger cast and range of optional objectives, meaning you’re very rarely just walking along in complete silence. Riley can use her walkie-talkie to chat with a number of different residents of Camena, picking up important info about the world and the game’s major players in the process. One of my favourite side characters was Nick, a sailor who insists on taking his boat out into the storm gathering over Edwards Island. Riley can check in with him at various points to discover how close he is to being thrown off his boat by the elements, often hearing him scream with mad glee over the roar of the ocean. You can also get to know the host of a high-school radio phone-in show, who will gleefully share all the gossip she knows.

Oxenfree 2 / Credit: Netflix
Oxenfree 2 / Credit: Netflix

Speaking with these ancillary characters makes the world feel much larger than it did in Oxenfree, which in turn makes the stakes that much grander. When, or even if, you decide to help and engage with these characters also impacts your story’s final outcome in a number of surprising ways.

Oxenfree II: The Lost Signals was worth the wait. Not only is it a brilliant sequel in its own right, it’s a welcome reminder of the kind of story we can only experience in a video game. I have no clue what the future holds for Night School now that it’s owned by Netflix, but I can only hope the streaming giant is aware of the talent it now possesses.

Pros: Excellent performances, a mind-bending story, beautiful score, brilliantly realised side characters

Cons: Some backtracking (if you don’t immediately know where you’re going)

For fans of: Oxenfree, Stories Untold, Kentucky Route Zero

9/10: Exceptional

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is out July 12 on PlayStation 5 (version tested), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Android/iOS. A review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Topics: Netflix

Ewan Moore
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