Oxenfree II Lost Signals Unnerving Static

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is quite scary at times and uses time loops, crackling radio parasites and sometimes a vengeful interdimensional ghost to keep you on your toes. Sure, there are moments of ease when the game’s characters are joking or having a bit of fun, but like its predecessor, this dialogue-oriented graphic adventure game revels in its unsettling atmosphere. The best parts of the experience are drowned in the terrible statics of Oxenfree II’s immemorial companion and irritating secondary antagonist, but navigating the game’s growing sense of unease as you slowly uncover clues to a bigger secret is a riveting and frightening thrill.

Oxenfree II takes place five years after the original game and lets you play a new protagonist: Riley Badly. Back in his hometown of Camena-the part of the mainland closest to Oxenfree’s first Edwards Island- Riley is connected to city-based handyman Jacob Summers and tasked with installing radio transmission towers around the coastal town. However, the seemingly simple work turns into a much more strange and harmful situation, as electromagnetic waves devastate reality, opening portals to other timelines. While Riley and Jacob struggle to figure out what’s going on and fix things, their efforts are repeatedly thwarted by a trio of teenagers who are part of the lineage, a church-like sect in the area, and persistent supernatural ghosts.

Like its previous games, the developer Night School Studio uses both a selection and timing-based dialogue system, which not only notes what you say, but also when you say it. The conversations don’t stop to give you a chance to know what to say next-like a real conversation in real life, Riley needs to respond regularly to express interest. During the conversations, small thought bubbles appear over Riley’s head while people are talking to her, giving them the opportunity to decide how to express their opinion. Wait too long and these branches of dialogue will eventually disappear, but speak too soon and you peril interrupting someone just before he absentmindedly says something that will create a more convincing path in the conversation. In this way, saying nothing at all is as valid a choice as saying something.

The main hub of Oxenfree II is Riley’s walkie-talkie, which allows him to keep in regular contact with several characters in Camena, such as a ranger trying to figure out the supernatural things that are going on and a lonely old fisherman looking for a friend. It is through this walkie-talkie that much of the conversations of Oxenfree II take place, and being strategic about how and when they speak can drastically change the connectionships Riley has with these characters and the final conclusions of their stories.

Forging these connectionships into essentially just voices is the strongest element of Oxenfree II. Persuasive writing and a talented voice cast bring these characters to life, and navigating your burgeoning friendships through the pressure cooker of a single night of terrifying supernatural activities allows you to invest deeply in each and every one of them. Riley’s regular visits and conversations about the family with her supervisor Evelyn are especially good and feel more and more poignant compared to the themes of the game, setting priorities and finding strength to move forward in life. (Somewhere, someone has to hand over all the awards to actors Liz Saydah aka Riley and Alaina Wis aka Evelyn for how they bring their characters to life.)

It is also especially annoying to never see most of the people who bind Riley to their current reality and to additionally support the isolation themes of the game. Not giving a face to most of the characters is doubly worrying when it comes to the main opponents of the game, ghosts who communicate with Riley from another dimension by composing their judgements with phrases and words from various radio broadcasts. From time to time, they will also eat up the purulent health issues of Riley’s trauma and drag her into visions of the past and the future, so that she can once again experience the deterioration of her family life and see how she pays for this generational trauma for future generations. Oxenfree II rarely scares jumps, and the game is stronger for this by enhancing the disturbing presence of its villains by not giving them a tangible face or an easily understandable motivation until the end of the game.