Night School Studio is the first game developer acquisition by Netflix, and part of the reason why is clear: It knows how to create cinematic, narrative-driven adventure experiences. It left quite the mark with Oxenfree back in 2016, so it’s come back to the table with Oxenfree II: Lost Signals, coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC via Steam in 2022. Sean Krankel, studio director and co-founder; Adam Hines, lead writer and co-founder; Bryant Cannon, lead developer; and Ethan Stearns, EVP at MWM Interactive, recently conducted an event to showcase new gameplay and details of Oxenfree II, and it reveals a much larger adventure that involves walkie-talkie communication and using “time tears” for time travel.
Oxenfree II occurs in the coastal town of Camena, not far from Edwards Island, the location of the original game. New protagonist Riley Poverly is an environmental researcher who returns to her hometown to investigate mysterious electronics interference. Things get really weird, really fast as she gets entangled with malevolent masked strangers in a cult-like group called Parentage, which wants to exploit rifts in reality to “steal our future.” Riley gets in the way of Parentage pulling something out of a rift, and she must subsequently plant transmitters at high altitudes to reverse a partial opening caused by Parentage.
Adam Hines explained that Night School Studio wanted to tell a different sort of coming-of-age story for Oxenfree II compared to in the original. The new characters are all much older but still at a transformative period in life, and there are more possibilities and outcomes this time. There will also be loose story connections to the first game though, which occurred continuity-wise a few years ago, and Parentage wants to create a much bigger version of a problem Alex resolved at the end of the first Oxenfree.
Oxenfree II introduces a few major new mechanics to keep things fresh, chief of which are the walkie-talkie and time tears. The walkie-talkie builds on the dialogue system from the first game, where everything you say affects what happens next, but you can use the walkie-talkie to talk to many more people, much more often. (The walkie-talkie frequency also interacts with portals, like your radio used to.) Sometimes you will receive calls from people you don’t know, and it’s up to you whether to answer.
You will want to answer though, because they are unique characters with different backgrounds and areas of expertise. You can likewise call them for hints or just to check in. Conversations can lead to different sidequests that feed into stopping Parentage and result in different endings. Interestingly, some of the characters you talk to on the walkie-talkie will never be met in person.
Meanwhile, time tears will be the major contribution to exploration in Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. Time tears are a direct result of what Parentage is doing. They are unnatural fissures in the time-space continuum, literally tearing open the physical environment to access the same location in a different time period. In other words, Oxenfree II’s time tears enable time traveling. In the Oxenfree II gameplay showcase, Riley and ally Jacob travel through a time tear in a mine shaft to go back to 1899, when the mine was still functional. Shenanigans ensue, and eventually the whole place collapses — maybe because of Riley’s actions? There are lots of narrative repercussions to consider here. In any case, Riley and Jacob make a narrow escape back to the present.
However, despite the presence of time tears in Oxenfree II, the portals from the first game return as well, and portals take you to different places altogether. Portals are a method for the supernatural to communicate with the living. (Incidentally, there is a massive portal over Edwards Islands.) However, since time tears allow access to the same location across different timelines, they will factor considerably into puzzles. Time tears can have puzzles set across multiple timelines or just contained within one.
Also, when exploring Camena in general, there is a large map to consider, and there is not always one precise path from point A to point B. You can risk taking harder paths with, for example, rough jumps, which can backfire and put you further away from Jacob. There is also a complex cave system tunneling through many of the game’s environments. In these ways, exploration is a little more engaging than in the first Oxenfree.
Fans will be pleased to hear almost everyone who worked on the original game is back making the sequel, including composer scntfc (Andrew Rohrmann). Additionally, Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is aiming for 1080p / 60 FPS on Nintendo Switch and 4K / 60 FPS on all other platforms as applicable.
All in all, the game looks like a promising evolution of everything people enjoyed about the original, from the walkie-talking expanding dialogue to the time tears expanding exploration and puzzle-solving. Granted, during the Oxenfree II gameplay showcase, a bug with Jacob had him hilariously running in circles forever and actually forced a stop to gameplay, but we were viewing an early build of the game and that will obviously be resolved for the final game. (It was honestly my personal highlight of the event though.)
In a nutshell, if you loved Oxenfree, Oxenfree II should give you every reason to get excited all over again for a larger adventure with more characters and activities (and time travel). And if you didn’t like the first game (in which case I’m very impressed you read all of this), I didn’t see anything whatsoever that would draw you back for the sequel.