[Preview] Hands-on with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals
Posted on June 13, 2023 by Nicholas Serpa in Previews, Switch
It’s easy to forget, looking back, just how innovative Oxenfree felt when it launched in 2016. Plenty of games up to that point had experimented with branching narratives and dialogue, but few had managed to weave conversations together in such an organic, convincing way. What started as a slow-burn teen drama quickly evolved into a tense supernatural thriller, and the choices the player makes for protagonist Alex could have a dramatic impact on the ending of the game. After getting hands-on with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals at Summer Game Fest, I’m confident that Night School Studio knows exactly what the fans are looking for from this sequel, and I can’t wait to play more of it.
If I’m being honest, it didn’t take much to sell me on Oxenfree II – while I haven’t played its predecessor in years, that game left me with so many unanswered questions about its strange phenomena and overarching world that have lingered in the depths of my brain ever since. The good news is that, according to studio director Sean Krankel, Oxenfree II will in fact address some of those mysteries, while also diving deeper into things that were only glimpsed at in the first game. The mysterious gates return, of course – and this time, there’s a cult named Parentage at the center of it all – but there’s also an expansion of the time-travel elements that were previously introduced. Time Tears are now a key element of solving puzzles in Oxenfree II, with narrative beats transporting Riley between eras as she investigates the new town of Camena.
While my demo with Oxenfree II was brief and didn’t reveal too much of the story, I already love protagonist Riley and her to-the-point but caring nature. Riley is a very different person than Oxenfree 1’s Alex – an environmental researcher in her thirties working for an organization that investigates strange electromagnetic waves – so the vibe of her interactions is less teen-angsty than before. She’s a little bit tougher, and her dialogue options seem to range between apathetic and open-book, and how much you choose to open her up to her colleagues and the residents of the island will affect their affinity towards her as the game progresses.
While much of this is familiar, a new element of the dialogue system is that you can maintain radio contact with multiple people as you explore. It’s possible to chat with companions who you have met regardless of where you are and what you’re doing – and on top of that, there will be times when multiple story beats might be happening at the same time, and the order in which players choose to tackle them will affect how later story beats play out. While my demo guided me along a tight path, I’ve been assured that the game opens up significantly after the introduction, and that there are many characters and story beats that could be completely missed without careful exploration.
The town of Camena appears significantly bigger and denser than that of Edwards Island in Oxenfree 1. I only saw a small portion of it, but the terrain seems more varied than ever, and I get the sense that players who want to see everything will need to make a point to stray off the beaten path in many locations. The sense of scale is particularly apparent when the camera zooms out, revealing the towering trees and looming mountains in the distance. There are also more exploration mechanics at play. While I didn’t get to see it in action myself, at some point, Riley will obtain climbing gear that will let her climb terrain in new ways. The hand-painted art direction returns, but it feels significantly more detailed than before, with more depth to the locations and a greater sense of interconnectivity between regions. The 3D character models are also significantly more detailed – while it’s likely to get lost when playing on a smaller screen, I noticed a frankly shocking number of one-off animations during my demo, and it really emphasizes the personalities of the characters well beyond what the first game accomplished.
From the outset, the scope of the story and the new ways players can engage with it in a tangible way are giving me a lot of confidence that this is going to be a much grander tale than Oxenfree 1. I’m excited to dive back into the rainy world of ghosts, radio waves and time-traveling portals when Oxenfree II: Lost Signals launches on Switch on July 12.