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Oxenfree II: Lost Signals Review

Video killed the radio star

Oxenfree II Lost Signals is a legacy sequel. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept the briefest of primers I can offer is that it’s a sequel to a beloved title that emerges many years after the first and either clumsily or charmingly builds on the original’s newly decided upon import and mythology. Oxenfree, the 2016 indie breakout from Night School Studio, was a disarming and humble teen drama/horror that implied a great deal about the supernatural through a focused human story. Now, nearly a decade later and under the looming Netflix Games banner, Lost Signals takes this foundation and builds an uneven haunted house atop. 

The game opens remarkably strong. Where the first Oxenfree was a largely archetypal teenage summer gone wrong, Lost Signals correctly posits that the uncertainty, self-loathing, and subtextual horniness of your formative years can be just as ugly, and even scarier, in your thirties. The game’s protagonists, Riley Poverly and Jacob Summers are both meandering through their third decades, Riley on the run from burnout non-existence and Jacob holed up and hiding from himself in his hometown Camena, the game’s northern Oregon setting. Returning home to complete contract work for a local environmental organisation, we assume control of Riley as she navigates Camena’s unruly landscape and a long night of the soul.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals lets a new kind of hero take the lead

Lost Signals doesn’t take long to pull the rug on its supernatural elements, smartly assuming if you’re here for the sequel, you don’t need another hour of disbelief and dismay in the face of ghostly apparitions. Instead, Riley adapts to her circumstances with a weathered resignation fitting her disillusionment, while Jacob’s homegrown knowledge of the Edwards Island incident in the first game onboard him just as smoothly. This frees up more time for quiet character beats as the two reflect on family and self-worth, effortlessly going back and forth with the kind of millennial banter that feels organic. Like in the first game, your choices in conversations matter and the way this narrative sprawls out is something I’m still thinking about, questioning if I could have handled things better and maybe prevented different outcomes. 

There’s an escalation of the world of Oxenfree that is initially thrilling but ultimately muted by the game’s distracting insistence on legacy storytelling. The first Oxenfree had a loose relationship with the rules of its supernatural world, freely pulling on analogue technology and immaculate vibes to craft its unique haunted tale. Lost Signals sprints in two distinctly incompatible directions with this groundwork, with the first hour and change revelling in that same looseness, producing some beautifully crafted moments of horror and leaning into the broader, terrifying implications of the first game. But the proceeding several hours double down on specific rules and lore connections, scattering the game’s focus before it eventually galvanises around an incredible closing act. 

Faring better is Lost Signal’s expansion of Oxenfree’s few core mechanics, building out its world with an unpretentious set of platforming tools and new audio-based devices for Riley to deploy. The island is scattered with designated points for Riley’s climbing gear, and the overall movement speed has been notched up making exploration far breezier. Likewise, conversations carry between hard loading screens now so you don’t need to awkwardly wait for someone to finish. Riley is also kitted out with the same radio mechanic from the first game, allowing her to tune to stations for worldbuilding and character tidbits. There’s also a walkie-talkie now bound to the left bumper giving you situation specific access to a whole cast of supporting characters.

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The game uses some incredibly cool imagery for its horror moments

This additional mechanic is a bit of double-edged sword though, as the extra character chatter is undeniably charming but can diffuse some of the tension you should be feeling in this setting. The use of sound in its horror moments is spectacular but I wanted more to be afraid of. Those same characters that frequently interrupt the game’s wonderful ambient work are a bit scattershot in terms of development, with some standouts like a high school radio DJ’s love life, but some others feel like clunky excuses for more timey-whimey fluff. It’s a persistent issue across the game’s middle act, each new layer of lore or additional character straining the experience as it tries to go much broader and lands in the shallows for it.

It’s not underbaked per se, Lost Signals has a very clear thesis statement and absolutely delivers on it in its closing moments, but the weight and emotional complexity of its ideas required a longer, or at least more defined, runway to land with the impact I think the game deserves. Its storytelling is stellar, with gorgeous, vaguely watercolour-drawn aesthetics and crisp use of visual distortions and colour for effect. The score is as vibrant as the original too, and paired with great voice work across the whole cast and insightful, sharp dialogue, the overall tone of Lost Signals is airtight. But for all of this, it struggles to grasp the best of what it has and instead merely gropes at a less interesting version of itself. 

Final Thoughts 

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals spends a little too much time washed out in white noise to truly deliver on its promise, but when tuned just right it sounds like little else. A coming-of-age story for people who should have already come of age is a beautiful and poignant launching pad, and despite getting bogged down in hard rules and lore, Night School Studios still display a grasp on horror aesthetics and storytelling worth the price of admission. The signal is a little fuzzy, but this is a game still worth listening out for.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Oxenfree II: Lost Signals Review
Audio Visual Distortions
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals takes the first game's promising world of horror and expands it with some fantastic new characters and uneven legacy storytelling.
The Good
Charming new lead characters
Updated traversal mechanics
Gorgeous art direction and music
Strong emotional core and thesis
The Bad
Uneven story pacing and focus
Overreliance on legacy storytelling
A bit too much chatter on the walkie
7.5
Solid
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  • Night School Studio
  • Netflix Games
  • PC, Switch, PS5, PS4, Android, iOS, Mac
  • July 12, 2023

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals Review
Audio Visual Distortions
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals takes the first game’s promising world of horror and expands it with some fantastic new characters and uneven legacy storytelling.
The Good
Charming new lead characters
Updated traversal mechanics
Gorgeous art direction and music
Strong emotional core and thesis
The Bad
Uneven story pacing and focus
Overreliance on legacy storytelling
A bit too much chatter on the walkie
7.5
Solid
Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.

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