Where Oxenfree was a coming-of-age tale about a group of teens who “unwittingly open a ghostly rift”,its sequel tells a story that’s a little more mature. Expanding on the innovative narrative that earned the original game high praise, Oxenfree II is a spooky tale of the delicious, eerie kind. The kind that entices you with a mysterious island, untraceable radio interference, and communication from beyond. Beyond where? It’s unclear. But what is clear is that it certainly falls into the category of ‘strange and unexplained’, and that there’s a time limit on when it can be stopped.
Oxenfree II is set five years after the events of the original and focuses on Riley Poverly, a 30-something woman who took a job back in her hometown of Camena for reasons she isn’t readily willing to discuss. Before she’s even able to leave the bus stop she’s contacted by her new supervisor Evelyn, and immediately things start to get weird. Strange noises are coming through her radio, there’s a storm brewing that seems almost supernatural, and she seems to be stuck in a time loop – and that’s just the beginning. She’s soon tasked with joining her new partner Jacob to plant some transmitters with the hope that they’ll provide some information around what’s making this night feel a little spooky, and from there the night takes an even more sinister turn. As Riley and Jacob traverse the island, they get caught up in a series of events involving some teenagers, a cult, and multiple counts of possession and bodies floating into the air. It’s a big night.
Much of the game simply involves walking around the island as you make your way towards locations for the transmitters, with Riley and Jacob chatting between themselves with a dynamic very similar to that of something like Firewatch. The two went to high school together, but weren’t quite friends – but they have enough in common to start a dialogue about their lives, their futures, and what led to them being on Edwards Island on this particular night. Their casual banter, which is equal parts commentary on the game’s spooky events as they unfold and refreshingly dry comic relief, is some of the best I’ve seen in a game in years – perhaps since Firewatch. The voice acting is impeccable, and the way the two characters play off each other makes the (often somewhat frustratingly) long and slow treks across the mountains a genuinely compelling experience.
Along the way, Riley can communicate with other people through her radio at any time. Some characters will ask you to check in with them at certain points, while others may give you side quests that involve looking for an object or relaying information. These side dialogues are a fun detour from the main plot and make the events of the game feel bigger than the two protagonists, but the problem is that I wish I’d found more of them. The radio has nine channels, and by the end of my playthrough I’d only maintained regular conversations on three of them – and I know there were more. There were times when I seemed to trigger the start of another conversation, but would be too slow to react to the radio because I was in the middle of talking to Jacob about something, and then I’d lose the ability to continue the side path at all. What I did experience was great, but I wish it hadn’t been so easy to miss entire storylines in what was otherwise a very well-crafted game.
The art style is very similar to the original Oxenfree, with the characters appearing as small, modestly animated figures with features you (particularly in handheld mode on the Switch) can’t quite make out. This draws the focus to the island itself, which is heavily stylised, and for the most part I found it quite beautiful – though it did take me until I was about three quarters of the way through the game to realise that Jacob had been wearing a hat the whole time, and didn’t just have weird dual-toned scruffy hair. It’s a good looking game, and it’s a testament to the voice actors that they were able to so effectively deliver the performances they did with little assistance from the character models.
The heart of this game is its narrative, and as a ghost story it doesn’t disappoint. I played the first Oxenfree years ago, and was nervous jumping into this one that I hadn’t retained the necessary information to understand this one the way it deserved – but that wasn’t the case. Though the game ties back to its predecessor in clever and satisfying ways, knowledge of the first game isn’t essential – Oxenfree II provides a conclusion to the events of the first game, but tells its own story in the process.
Though the mechanics are simple, they can occasionally frustrate, with button prompts often requiring a very precise positioning of the character to trigger them, or climbing up and down a rope not quite working the way you want it to. There are also times when the game clearly wants you to go slowly to allow a conversation to play out in full, but Riley’s walking speed is uncomfortably slow. It’s a combination of small issues that, provided you are compelled by the narrative, won’t ruin your experience – but they will stop it from being seamless.
If you’re a fan of supernatural thrillers, Oxenfree II won’t disappoint. It’s at times a little slow, and the controls can be a little finicky, but your choices have meaningful impacts on the futures of the characters that you’ll slowly grow to care for over the course of the night, and the narrative is strong enough to keep you pushing through. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this game – even though it was a little too spooky to play alone at night.
Oxenfree II was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code kindly provided by the publisher.