My Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals hands-on was eerie and enticing

Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals
(Image credit: Night School Studio)

During my Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals hands-on, I accidentally broke the demo build. Obsessed with a canary trapped in a cage in a coal mine, I ignore the game's prompts and try desperately to find a way to free it. "The bird's dead," Night Schoolers studio director Sean Krankel tells me. "And you found the bug."

I get a chance to start over, and begrudgingly accept that the protagonist Riley can't do anything about the poor bird. I explore the dark, dank caves of Camena not long after a bizarre portal has opened up over the island. While Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals takes place five years after the events of the first game (and doesn't seem to feature any of its characters), you can expect the same engaging dialogue, mind-bending puzzles, and looming sense of dread. Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is taking everything that worked in the original game and turning the dial all the way up (no pun intended).

The story  

Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals

(Image credit: Night School Studio)

Oxenfree was a coming-of-age tale that, at times, felt like an extension of the Stranger Things universe. Oxenfree 2, while just as creepy and unsettling as its 2016 predecessor, focuses on a protagonist who is well beyond her teenage years. Riley is a somewhat prickly environmental researcher in her 30s, and it's clear from the brief bit of story offered during my demo that there's something in her past she's trying to avoid. 

The Oxenfree 2 demo picks up right when Riley and her friend Jacob have set off to figure out what's going on with the temporal disturbances cropping up on the island, and it's not long before dense fog rolls in and her radio receives a transmission from an unknown person. After tuning into the frequency, the person's eerie attempt at camaraderie with Riley (he knows her but she doesn't know him), makes exploring the island after the conversation even more unsettling – especially because the dense fog lifts as soon as he hops off the frequency.

From there, Riley and Jacob continue to make their way through the interwoven network of caves, chatting as they walk in a way that is quintessentially Oxenfree-ish. Their conversations are lively and feel well-rooted in their characterizations, and a bit where Jacob asks Riley to play a game to help distract him from an increasingly claustrophobic cave is delightful. The game is just the two of them going back and forth saying one word each – you get to pick from a few dialogue options each turn, and my story ends up being about a vampire eating his mailman. 

Just like the original game, I find myself drawn to the characters almost instantly, and am actually bummed when the preview ends. We know that the sequel is "loosely tied" to the events of the first Oxenfree, so I'm dying to know what's going on with the island, the temporal rifts, and the creepy guy who somehow knows Riley. The pit in my stomach that showed up when she briefly sees a corpse that looks just like her floating in an underground river remains long after I walk away from the game.

The gameplay

Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals

(Image credit: Night School Studio)

There's only a brief snippet of Oxenfree 2 available to play at the Tribeca Games Festival, but it offers a good sense of what you can expect from the sequel. There's some light platforming, a radio that you can bring up with your trigger and tune to different frequencies with your joystick, and the familiar walk-and-talk gameplay that made the first game so enjoyable. 

But where Oxenfree 1 only lets you briefly interact with people in the past in an attempt to understand the supernatural goings-on on this bizarre little island, Oxenfree 2 will let you explore the past. Yes, there's some time-traveling in this game, made possible thanks to some Doctor Strange-esque portals that you'll tune your radio to in order to expand them enough to be able to step through them. During my playthrough, Riley and Jacob decide to go through one of these time fissures as they've thoroughly explored a cave and can't find any other way out (this is the same cave where I  first meet the doomed canary).

While standing by a time tear, I tune my radio until my controller begins vibrating violently, and before I know it we've stepped back into 1899. The cave is lit in sepia tones rather than the blue-black of before, the machinery and devices that were broken and barren in the present day are restored to full functionality, and the canary that was alive in the present day is… dead. It only gets more unsettling from there, and the demo ends with the duo making their way through another time tear as the cave collapses around them. 

Oxenfree 2  left me thoroughly unsettled and wanting more, so consider it one to watch. Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is due out later this year for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC. 

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Alyssa Mercante

Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Prior to entering the industry, she got her Masters's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University with a dissertation focusing on contemporary indie games. She spends most of her time playing competitive shooters and in-depth RPGs and was recently on a PAX Panel about the best bars in video games. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practices her Italian, and plays soccer.