Skip to main content

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals review: eerie sequel is a must-play for Netflix subscribers

A triangular portal opens up in Oxenfree II: Lost Signals.
Oxenfree II: Lost Signals
“Oxenfree II: Lost Signals delivers another narrative hit for the series, even if its gameplay isn't quite as engrossing as its mysteries.”
Pros
  • Strong story
  • Nuanced heroine
  • Eerie visual sequences
  • Standout art style
Cons
  • Tedious backtracking
  • Lack of engaging gameplay

There’s a thin line between dead and dead-end.

That tension is at the heart of Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, Night School Studio’s worthy sequel to its 2016 breakout hit Oxenfree. Set five years after the events of its predecessor, the narrative adventure sequel stars a researcher named Riley who returns to her hometown of Camena to study an unusual series of electromagnetic interferences. Though that sets off a supernatural story that isn’t far off in tone from Stranger Things (fitting considering Netflix owns Night School now), there’s something far more grounded nestled between the static. Over the course of one eerie night, Riley won’t just confront the ghosts of missing sailors but come to terms with the fact that her own life is similarly lost at sea.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is another narrative hit for Night School, delivering a slow-burn story that expertly weaves together supernatural horror with an introspective story of self-discovery. The sequel does find itself struggling with its own identity crisis though, as tedious interactivity leaves me wondering if the studio’s heart is more in movies or TV than video games.

Growing through static

If the original Oxenfree was a coming-of-age story, Lost Signals is more of a midlife crisis. The four- to five-hour tale centers around Riley, a thirty-something-year-old tasked with placing transmitters around the quaint coastal town of Camena, Oregon in the dead of night. At first, it all seems like a normal research operation. Riley teams up with another researcher, Jacob, to seek out some high ground, plant a few tech doodads, and gather some data. That easy task quickly goes awry when a triangular portal appears in the sky and the duo starts hopping through time.

It’s a refreshing portrait of a woman lost in her thirties, brought to life with a nuanced voice performance …

On a surface level, Lost Signals is a solid campfire ghost story just like its predecessor. Riley learns the weird, engrossing history of Camena which intersects with the series’ first game, while still telling a fairly self-contained tale. Over the course of one night, I was sucked in by the tale of missing sailors and a cult looking to tear reality apart in order to commune with ghosts. That creepy narrative gets a boost from a handful of eerie visual sequences that infuse it with just enough light jump scares to keep me tuned in the whole way through.

Though the supernatural story is the main hook, Lost Signals takes its time when getting to what really makes it work. The more the night progresses, the more insight we gain into Riley’s life outside of Camena … which isn’t exactly progressing in the way she’d hoped. In a climactic scene late in the story, Riley grapples with the fact that her life, spent crammed in a small apartment, has ground to a halt. A character posits that she’s not unlike Camena’s lost sailors, stuck in a sort of stasis, never moving forwards.

Characters stand on a lighthouse in Oxenfree II: Lost Signals.
Night School Studio

It’s that moment where Lost Signals really comes together, revealing a more grounded interrogation of what it actually means to grow up. There’s honesty and maturity to that story, picking away at a kind of lasting ennui that a lot of coming-of-age media tends to chalk up to teenage hormones. It’s a refreshing portrait of a woman lost in her thirties, brought to life with a nuanced voice performance from Liz Saydah.

There are moments early on where Lost Signals may feel like it’s aimlessly wandering, much like Riley and Jacob as they climb up cliff sides in pursuit of intangible radio signals. Stick with them, though, and you’ll find a validating story about how we’re never really done growing up.

Caught in a loop

While its narrative has stuck with me since playing through it, I’m also left with a lingering question: Does it really benefit from being a video game?

When the first Oxenfree launched in 2016, it already felt a little thin when it came to interactivity. Its primary contribution to the medium was a neat dialogue trick that would allow conversations to unfold more naturally, with characters picking up thoughts later if they were interrupted during conversation (it would beat God of War to that same system by a couple of years). It was the kind of feature that wowed game development nerds like myself at the time, but the slow walk-and-talk gameplay wasn’t too engaging.

I’m not sure I would have missed much of anything had it been presented in a traditional visual novel format.

Oxenfree II follows that same structure, struggling to find something for players to do with their hands. It still features a well-built dialogue system that opens the door for impactful choices that shape the story and even introduces a walkie-talkie that makes sure players can always fill dead air via conversations with far-off NPCs. And there’s quite a bit of space to fill.

The bulk of the game sees Riley adventuring around the 2.5D Camena in search of high points where she can plant transmitters. It’s almost a hiking game where she climbs up cliffs and drops ropes. That platforming element is relatively shallow, though, as Riley slowly backtracks through the same few areas a handful of times as dialogue plays out. There were plenty of moments where I wished I could take my thumb off the control stick and just focus on Jacob and Riley’s conversations. The tedious movement only serves as a busy distraction from what actually works.

There are a few clever ideas peppered in here and there, like a small series of puzzles where I need to rotate objects by tuning in the right frequencies, but much of the interaction feels entirely secondary to the dialogue. I’m not sure I would have missed much of anything had it been presented in a traditional visual novel format — though perhaps I wouldn’t get to soak in as many of its sweeping, detailed Oregon landscapes.

Riley and Jacob walk on a beach at night in Oxenfree II: Lost Signals.
Night School Studio

That underwhelming marriage of narrative and mechanics leaves me wondering if, like Riley, Night School is ready for a change. In a 2021 interview with Digital Trends, studio co-founder Sean Krankel expressed a desire to see the studio’s style evolve, saying “We don’t want to be the studio that just feeds the same mechanics with a new story through it.” While there are some structural and navigational differences in Oxenfree II, it still feels like the team is stuck in its comfort zone despite a high-profile move over to Netflix. Perhaps a jump to film or TV is what the series needs to really find the next phase of its life.

If that doesn’t happen, it certainly won’t lock Night School into a dead end. Even without compelling gameplay hooks, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals delivers when it comes to telling a mature story about breaking out of the loops in which we sometimes find ourselves trapped. It’s a transitional tale for its heroine, leaving hope that the best parts of her young life are still to come. I hope the same is true for the series at large, which still feels like it is yet to peak.

Oxenfree II: Lost Signals was reviewed on PS5.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
PlayStation State of Play returns this week, will feature 14 PS5 games
Three colorful PS5s float together in a line.

PlayStation will kick off the summer of digital video game reveal streams this week with a State of Play broadcast. The stream will take place at 3 p.m. PT on Thursday, May 30.

State of Play is one of Sony's primary livestream presentation formats. It tends to be slightly shorter than the company's flagship stream, the PlayStation Showcase. This State of Play is a significant one, though, as Sony's slate of first-party games for 2024 is entirely unknown at this stage. This stream should shed some light on what's coming later this year.

Read more
Sony retracts controversial Neil Druckmann interview due to inaccurate quotes
Neil Druckmann in a roundtable interview for The Last of Us Season 1.

Sony has removed an interview with Naughty Dog's co-president Neil Druckmann after the Uncharted and The Last of Us creator noted that some of his quotes were inaccurate and misrepresented in the article.

Last week, an interview Neil Druckmann was posted and was meant to offer insight into the famous game developer's philosophies and expectations for the future of Naughty Dog. The interview caught the general audience's attention because Druckmann made bold claims about how AI could be used in game development and how he thought Naughty Dog's next game was "redefining mainstream perceptions of gaming."

Read more
PlayStation State of Play, May 2024: How to watch and what to expect
Key art for Until Dawn's remake.

Sony is off to a fairly strong start in 2024, with games like The Last of Us Part II Remastered, Rise of the Ronin, and Stellar Blade, but the PS5's lineup for the back half of the year is still shrouded in mystery. Thankfully, a new State of Play stream is imminent. We're hoping that the 30-minute presentation gives us a new look at Until Dawn's remake and Firewalk Studios' multiplayer game Concord, as well as some surprises.

Although it isn't a full-blown PlayStation Showcase, it's definitely still worth tuning into for PS5 owners. If you're planning to do so, you're also probably wondering when and how to watch it. To help, we've rounded up all relevant information about the event so you can be ready when the livestream begins on May 30.
When is May 2024's State of Play?
Sony has confirmed that the May 2024 State of Play presentation will start airing live at 3 p.m. PT on May 30. According to the PlayStation Blog, it will be a "30+ minute show," so set some time aside to watch it tomorrow afternoon.
How to watch May 2024's State of Play
You can expect the next State of Play to be live-streamed across PlayStation's official YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok channels, as is typically the case with all of PlayStation's game reveal presentations. We'll embed the YouTube premiere link into this post as soon as it's available, so you can watch it right from this article.

Read more