Oxenfree 2 struggles to bottle lightning twice

Riley wakes up at a bus stop in her hometown of Camena, eyes wide open at the surprise of the walkie-talkie’s murmur, a chilling hiss that’s now a calling card for developer Night School Studio.

Riley is a new member of a team of environmental researchers interested in radio waves; her job is to set up the beacons that will be used to pick up the right signals. (Get used to that noise!) Riley is a military dropout who has returned to her hometown on the cusp of major changes. She teams up with a former high school acquaintance, Jacob, to put up several of these beacons over the course of a few days. That’s, of course, before the first beacon goes haywire and connects to a static portal above Edwards Island, a gateway to a techno-spooky world that the two don’t yet know is being summoned by a group of teenagers (separate from the couple of Oxen free). Like its predecessor, Oxenfree 2: Lost signals revolves around walking and tuning a radio to the supernatural world, but now there’s also quite a bit of climbing and using a walkie-talkie. In Ox free 2the radio and walkie-talkie are storytelling devices that add layers to the world you immediately see on screen, where the two main characters are already embroiled in an otherworldly plot.

Image: Night School Studio/Netflix

Ox free 2 builds on the scaffolding the first game provided: it upgrades the rich, detailed environments, interweaves the city with new characters, and maintains the increasingly eerie atmosphere of a world where ghosts hang out in static and radio waves. There are pieces of it Ox free 2 that made me doubt the noise in the air around me; they were a compulsion to keep looking over my shoulder to see if something was wrong. But often, at other times, I felt pulled out of that engagement by a story that felt too familiar, both a forced connection between the two main characters and an unraveling story where the mysteries mostly fell flat. Despite everything fresh and compelling inside Ox free 2and how often it effectively builds on the strengths of its predecessor, Oxen free fails to push far enough away from the original; so many of its mysteries are empty, like errant signals on a shortwave radio.

Ox free 2 again features time travel, but this time it is used as a means of solving puzzles. When Riley opens a rift using the radio, she and Jacob are able to step back into Camena’s past. An example: in a mining cave with a broken elevator, the duo can use a gap to go back to a time before the elevator crashed, and use it to bridge a gap. Once across, Riley and Jacob can step back through the chasm and back to the present, wondering if they were the cause of the crash. It’s these moments of unanswered questions, combined with the eerie, screwed-up audio the ghosts use to communicate – think the iconic ‘Is. To leave. Possibly?” of the first game? – which leave behind the lasting chill of a good horror story.

Ox free 2Riley’s narrative branches allow you to shape Riley’s personality a bit while also changing the story with what you say or don’t say. But here goes the comparison Oxen free hinders Ox free 2the succes; the writing in the original was rightly praised for how it portrayed the minds of teenagers. It was an adult drama with the slight moodiness of high school problems, but it also dug deeper into the teen psyche to touch on grief, change, and relationships. Night School has again captured a realistic speech pattern in its dialogues, also with great voice acting – but Ox free 2The main characters of ‘s don’t have the same appeal as their ancestors, and in a game like this, characters are everything.

The IS.  To leave.  Possible.

Image: Night School Studio

Because Ox free 2 is less of a paranormal-level mystery – it’s the same phenomenon as the first game – much of the weight falls on Riley and Jacob, two characters who aren’t compelling enough to carry the burden. Their own stories somehow unravel both too quickly and too slowly; after hours of character-building dialogue that I couldn’t connect to, I was often caught off guard by some major development coming out of nowhere. This could possibly be the result of Ox free 2‘s non-linear world; the main premise of the game is to set up four beacons, but save the first one, you can do them in any order. Likewise, due to the nature of the branching dialogue system, my choices could have been what hindered the story during my first playthrough.

I find myself more interested in these characters on my second playthrough, which I haven’t completed yet. Having spent about eight hours with Riley and Jacob in the first playthrough, I’m invested in their travels in a purely “quality time” sense; I dug into their stories, so how could I not get attached in the end? Still, if I hadn’t played the game before this review, I might not have tried it a second time and wouldn’t have arrived at the appreciation I feel now.

Two characters talk at night by the railing of a small concrete bridge in Oxenfree 2

Image: Night School Studio/Netflix

Ironic, Ox free 2‘s best moments involve the supporting characters – one in particular who is literally never seen on screen. Maria is a high school radio host who staffs Camena’s nighttime broadcast. She’s easy to miss if you don’t make certain narrative choices, which are to listen to her show and call her advice line. She’s a serious buffer to the sometimes insufferable Jacob, and Night School re-exists his teenage characters, especially his teenage girls, in a way that’s sadly still rare in modern art. Maria speaks with the fleeting tone of a teenager, sometimes applying a gravitas to otherwise petty teenage issues, as dramatic teens do, while also allowing for emotional depth in musings on her friends and life in Camena. Aside from that, she’s also an essential connection between Riley, Jacob, and the three teens who reopen the Edwards Island rift. Without her, the teens feel like just antagonistic archetypes. It’s a shame I didn’t find Maria until my second playthrough – the depth she gives these three other characters is essential to the story, and I find myself more interested in the story of what led these kids to this particular point .

In the end, I loved the idea of Ox free 2 more than the game itself. It’s a game that has the right pieces, but fails to put them together in a way that responds to the original game’s innovative, classic experience. A more compelling story is frustratingly hidden within the game’s branching story system, and it’s a shame some people will miss it.

Oxenfree 2: Lost signals will be released on July 12th on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC and mobile via Netflix. The game was reviewed on Steam Deck using a pre-release download code from Netflix. Vox Media has partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.