Played on PC
Released in 2016, Oxenfree hasn’t won many prestigious awards (perhaps the January release is to blame), but it’s been the talk of gaming circles for quite some time. The debut project of the Night School Studio team, created by people from Disney and Telltale, told an interesting and unforgettable story about teenagers who encountered supernatural phenomena on a small island. The game didn’t necessarily need a sequel, but fans would be happy to see it – and now, seven years later, it’s coming out. It tells a different story about different heroes and the events of the second part take place five years after the end of the first.
Ghosts will remember
We drive to Kamena, a small coastal town near Edward Island from the first part of the series. The main character is the girl Riley, who arrived in Kamena on her first day at a new job. Ecologist Evelyn communicates with her over the walkie-talkie, who instructs Riley to place radio transmitters on the shore so staff at the local lab can study the nature of unusual electromagnetic waves. It is easy to guess that the task is not entirely simple – after installing the first transmitter, the heroine observes strange phenomena: either a triangle is “cut out” in the sky, then portals open along the way, then ghosts crawl out. And not only Evelyn begins to use the walkie-talkie to communicate.
Riley doesn’t travel alone – she is almost always accompanied by her partner Jacob. Since his car breaks down, he has to put on his backpack and explore the region on foot. As in the first part, Oxenfree II has a big emphasis on dialogue and the way you communicate with people. When the opportunity to answer arises, two or three replicas are offered to choose from. You can either interrupt the caller or choose not to dial at all – in some cases, silence is the best solution.
The problem is that there is too much dialogue and that’s Jacob’s fault. Since the heroes move slowly and constantly have to jump from stone to stone along the way, and then climb rocks, the authors decided to fill the silence with conversations about everything. At first, it’s fun to listen to and read, especially when the dialogue hints at the history of the first Oxenfree – a great way to better understand this universe for those unfamiliar with the original project.
But then Jacob gets more and more annoying: either he tells a few stories, then he makes unfunny jokes, then he starts complaining about his life – about his dog running away or something else. Sometimes you want him to shut up, and opportunities like this arise: you either don’t reply to his remarks, or you directly say that you don’t want to hear any more nonsense. But it’s at moments like this that it seems you’re doing something wrong: you don’t want to deprive yourself of a part of the story or insult Jacob – he’s a fool and a simpleton, of course, but he’s clearly a good person, it’s just that the writers took his sociability too far.
Jacob’s talkative nature makes the dialogue feel a bit artificial overall – at times it seems as if the writers have naturally squeezed lines out of themselves to fill the “airtime”. And it’s disappointing because the character voice acting is amazing. The sequel was released by Netflix, which a few years ago acquired Night School Studio, which is working on the Oxenfree series. And the company’s influence is palpable – the actors sound very professional, and at times there’s even a dissonance between the unpretentious (but cute) visual style and the voice acting at the level of big-budget series.
Don’t run away from the past
In general, the story of Oxenfree II turned out to be interesting and even exciting at times. Already in the first part the developers managed to create a slightly oppressive atmosphere, which turned into uncomfortable, this time they didn’t throw the dirt in the face either. There were no cheap “scarecrows” – here negotiations on the walkie-talkie and replicas over radio waves most often cause discomfort. The idea is as old as the world, but it works great, especially when combining spooky conversations with the paranormal, interesting antagonists, and rarer, but therefore more impactful, visual effects.
The plot is particularly strong because we don’t see the interlocutors and we don’t communicate with them via radio, but that’s not necessary either – Firewatch also clearly showed that heroes can evoke emotions without demonstrating their appearance. The same trick comes into play here: when a guy with a deep bass starts communicating with the heroine and asks her something, it’s mildly disturbing, despite intellectually knowing that nothing bad can happen to Riley before the five-hour game is over.
Another thing is that Kamena is Riley’s hometown where her family lived, and suspicions at the beginning of the game are quickly beginning to be confirmed. Time rifts, ghosts, loved ones – eventually it all comes together. While the first “Oxenfree” was about a group of teenagers, the sequel chose more mature themes – about the relationship between parents and children, the ability to cope with the loss of a loved one and missed opportunities. This sets the second part apart from its predecessor, even if it seems too similar to the previous game in terms of gameplay (and in some plot decisions).
Most disturbingly, the gameplay hasn’t seen any evolution and at times seems completely redundant. In the first chapters, the heroine is given a large drawn map on which you can track your location. As it progresses, Riley makes notes on it and circles points of interest with a pen. The size of the territory of Kamena means that you have to walk through the same places more often than we would like, first in one direction, then in the other. Given Riley and her partner’s task of installing transmitters on the city’s territory, it seems logical but doesn’t make it any funnier – the characters move slowly and the paths seem deliberately designed to be as ornate as possible.
If at first there is a desire to carefully explore the places and only then move on, then very quickly say goodbye to this idea. There’s really nothing to study other than an object or two that Riley will say a few sentences about. Collectibles (they don’t appear in the world right away) aren’t very useful, and you don’t want to think about how to get them. Well, dead ends are downright annoying – in one episode, I spent five minutes jumping over rocks and climbing rocks to get to a locked door, listening to half-hints from the characters that I needed to come back here towards the end of the second half of the game. There’s no fast travel, no accelerator buttons, so I had to trudge back the same way.
At times it seems as if the creators of Oxenfree II have confined themselves to the framework of a regular video game and written the screenplay for a feature film or TV series. That’s why there’s so much walking and talking, and other than that, there’s really no gameplay. It’s always clear what to do, even if the objects you need to interact with aren’t marked with a special icon. Puzzles are extremely rare and cannot be called puzzles – just “puzzles” that try to add some variety to the gameplay. The moments when the heroine falls into time rifts and is transported a few years ago seem interesting, but this doesn’t introduce any new mechanics, it just adds a little more variety to the “visual”. And with him there are definitely no problems – everything is perfectly drawn.
It was difficult to call the first Oxenfree a masterpiece, and the sequel to that title is even further away. The plot is interesting and exciting, especially if you understand all the references to the first part and can connect the events of both games in the series in your head. However, an annoying companion and not very exciting gameplay spoil the experience and overshadow the great acting and atmosphere. Maybe it’s time for the Night School Studio team to move on and come up with something new – the developers can’t or won’t implement new ideas in this series, and even Oxenfree fans probably won’t want everything the same in the third part.
- an interesting plot, even if it reminds of the story from the first part in places;
- Lots of references to previous work that Oxenfree fans will love, making the story easier to understand for complete beginners;
- charming visual style and excellent background music create the necessary atmosphere;
- Superbly voiced characters – like listening to the cast of a big budget series.
- a talkative companion quickly becomes annoying;
- drab gameplay with no variety and the need to crawl through the same locations at a snail’s pace;
- The map seems large, but there is no need to explore the surrounding area.
The game looks very good and the graphics make for a tense and spooky atmosphere.
Excellent music and excellent sound – there is nothing to complain about the audio component of Oxenfree II, everything is at the highest level.
single player game
When the story is complete, you can do replays for other endings. The choices you make affect the ending, just like in the first Oxenfree.
Estimated travel time
An adventure with an exciting story spoiled by a boring partner and boring gameplay. Sometimes it seems to me that Oxenfree II would have looked better in series format, especially with the great atmosphere and the great voice actors.
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