There was one thing fairly particular about the unique Oxenfree. Night School Studio’s walk-and-talk journey recreation lets gamers uncover the mysteries of Edwards Island, fall for (or be sassy to) its ensemble forged of characters, and make loads of dialogue decisions alongside the means as issues acquired creepier and creepier.
Thanks to a hands-off preview session with Oxenfree 2, the sequel isn’t wanting to break what isn’t damaged. Instead, it appears the builders, almost all of whom are again from the unique, have discovered intelligent methods to deepen the base of Oxenfree’s world and spin it out into stunning new makes an attempt to break our brains a little bit, and introduce some endearing new characters to boot.
Oxenfree II is ready in the similar world as the unique, however focuses on a model new forged, with gamers taking over the function of environmental researcher Riley. She’s come again house to the city of Camena to work out why digital gear is being affected by unusual radio indicators. Unsurprisingly, Camena isn’t that removed from Edwards Island, and the supernatural occasions that start to unfold over one night time threaten this charming coastal city.
A brand new forged doesn’t imply your time with the unique Oxenfree shall be for nought, whether or not you performed years in the past, revisit earlier than the sequel, or are simply selecting it up now. There shall be loads of acknowledgements to the first recreation’s story, and in reality, the builders have even been updating the unique Oxenfree on PC with new audio clips that assist bridge the story of this sequel’s villains, Parentage, with the unique recreation.
But the focus appears to primarily be on Riley’s story. Her assured tone, mixing a little bit of snark with an undertone of heat, suits proper at house in Night School’s chatty world. The first recreation’s dialogue blended West Wing-paced chatter with Veronica Mars-esque wit, and although these characters are older, that mix nonetheless feels proper at house as Riley and her pal Jacob explored Camena in the part of gameplay I noticed.
At the finish of the day, a recreation like Oxenfree will stay or die by how charming, or at the least attention-grabbing, these characters are, significantly provided that gamers are continuously making dialogue decisions. Thankfully, Oxenfree II appears to proceed to nail that tone of sensible, informal dialog that Night School excelled at in each the unique and Afterparty, and Oxenfree II appears to be like to make the participant’s decisions matter much more this time round. A small instance we noticed concerned Riley attempting to cross an in the end un-jumpable hole by, nicely, leaping it, falling to a rock a little bit under. Jacob takes a a lot safer route, climbing down a rock wall to assist her again up. Even a small resolution like that might lead to new permutations in dialog, and I’m fascinated to see how scenes can play out in another way, as a second like this was one thing emblematic of what the builders strove for in the sequel.
Oxenfree 2 Preview Screenshots
“It was positively an preliminary purpose of ours: we needed extra decisions that are not dialogue-based. We needed you to be making decisions along with your bodily choices about what you are doing and the way you need to go about that,” Studio Lead Writer Adam Hines advised IGN. “It additionally pushed us to design the environments in ways in which would permit these forms of moments to truly happen. There’s only a few instances when there’s only one path to stand up or down. You all the time have extra forks in the highway and extra micro-choices on how to get to sure spots.”
Another explicit spotlight demonstrating the relatable nature of the characters got here when Jacob and Riley performed a recreation by which they advised one another a narrative phrase by phrase.
I really like moments like that, and have in Night School’s previous video games, so if the staff can proceed to ship these private, witty scenes like they do right here, I can’t wait to see what else we would focus on whereas exploring Camena.
That little recreation, extra importantly, stems from a personality beat – Jacob is fairly freaked out by all the things occurring, and the recreation helps to calm his nerves. It’s so key for moments like that to not really feel kitschy and to be rooted in who these characters are, and it made me recognize the scene all the extra. I assume it’s additionally price mentioning that Jacob was nervous as a result of, nicely, he and Riley had ended up in 1899.
Gotta Go Back in Time
You see, time tears have began opening up round Camena. They’ll permit Riley and her companions to journey via time to some extent that may hopefully supply some help of their journey. In this case, the duo, whereas venturing via the tunnels that unfold all all through Camena (a certainly useful exploration system for a world the builders estimate is about 2.5-3 instances larger than Edwards Island, although they famous gamers shouldn’t essentially count on a sequel that’s thrice as lengthy to play), discovers a time tear that brings them again all the means to 1899, again earlier than the mines had been deserted after a significant collapse. Thankfully, on this time interval, there’s a working elevator that, via a little bit of fast puzzle fixing, Riley and Jacob get shifting so as to assist them attain one other time tear and return to their level of origin. There’s just one downside – they’re attempting to pull off this little bit of platforming and puzzle fixing as the mines are, certainly, crumbling round them.
I’m definitely a sucker for interdimensional rifts, and whereas Oxenfree is utilizing them on a a lot smaller scale than, say, Ratchet and Clank, it appears no much less integral to Oxenfree II’s story. Not solely does it permit for a recreation so centered on its characters and placement to deepen our understanding of these aspects in ways in which simply couldn’t be carried out on an ordinary timeline, it additionally lends some considerable gray space to Riley’s actions. Did her and Jacob’s meddling occur to trigger the mine collapse, or did they only occur to be in the proper place at the mistaken time? I hope Oxenfree II doesn’t essentially reply questions like that – it’s the sort of time-loopy rabbit gap a narrative like this enables for, and I really like the potential this one sequence guarantees.
The time tears are as thrilling a possible route to discover as a participant as they seemingly had been to develop. “In the first recreation, the lion’s share of selection and interplay got here via dialogue… however these time tears have turn out to be one thing actually thrilling for us, as a result of it’s the sort of factor the place, as the night time degrades and as issues are breaking down, all of these areas that you just’re seeing could have some new issues that pop up within them that change contextually primarily based on the place in the night time the recreation is,” Studio Lead Sean Krankel stated.
“You can conceivably go discover most of Camena after which come again to an area that you just’re in and issues could have been modified a little bit bit,” he continued.
This time tear is one positioned alongside the fundamental narrative path, and whereas the tears will definitely come into play there, gamers can count on to discover a few of them, in addition to different sidequest alternatives all through Camena.
“[Time tears] are positively not all immediately tied to the precise story that you are going via now,” Hines defined. “So much comes out of the walkie talkie facet quest that you could encounter and select to do. Those facet quests will all be roughly associated to the occasion that is occurring in the night time, however the folks’s particular issues go off in wild and bizarre methods that you’ve to typically go round the overwhelmed path to resolve.”
But my introduction to time tears additionally represents a scene coming about an hour or so into the sequel’s story that feels larger than most of what the unique Oxenfree might pull off. Years later, Night School appears to have discovered loads about how to convey these characters and this world to life, not simply when it comes to the clearly improved character mannequin constancy, however in the complexity of sequences that additionally retain the haunting, stunning artwork type of the unique.
And it’s not simply the scale that appears to catch the attention of Night School; the extra expansive dimension of Camena doesn’t simply make for a much bigger world – it lets Night School fill the city with extra attention-grabbing goals, facet quests, and extra. The demo confirmed a few methods by which the builders are pulling this off.
The first is the use of a walkie-talkie that not solely permits for a wider group of characters to work together with the participant wherever they’re in Camena, but in addition provides the participant company in initiating conversations, whether or not to remind them of facet quests, or study extra perception into characters alongside the means. It’s a pleasant little bit of enlargement to Night School’s underlying theme of selection – not solely do you get to select what to say in conversations, now you will have a bit extra selection in if you need to discuss to some characters.
Screens – Oxenfree 2
“Having the walkie talkie in there and permitting the participant to begin conversations with folks that are not on display screen, with characters that they’ve met and wish to tag in with and see how they’re doing or ask for recommendation or one thing, was an enormous nut that felt nice to crack, the skill to begin a dialog to drive it in the means that you really want to,” Hines stated.
Additionally, motion and exploration has been expanded thanks to the inclusion of a rope gamers purchase early in the recreation. Riley having an ex-military background provides some plausibility to her extra adventurous leaning, and gamers can depend on that ability and the rope to navigate to bits of Camena you wouldn’t in any other case find a way to attain. It doesn’t instantly remodel Oxenfree right into a twitchy platformer, nevertheless it once more provides the participant extra selection, and, simply as importantly, extra strategies of satisfying their curiosity about what secrets and techniques Camena holds.
“There’s completely extra traversal constructed into the design, nevertheless it’s not heavy platforming and double jumps and swinging throughout issues,” Krankel defined. “It’s extra about wanting the participant to parse out the map in another way and never simply really feel like they’re urgent from left to proper and speaking.”
My quick time seeing Oxenfree II definitely indicated that there’s much more than simply strolling left and proper and speaking. As Night School famous, Oxenfree isn’t remodeling into some surprising style, unrecognizable from its predecessor. Instead, it’s aiming to deepen the promise of participant company and selection inside an authored world and story, and do this in ways in which prolong past selecting dialogue choices throughout a dialog. I, after all, nonetheless want to play Oxenfree II, and see how that sense of selection extends to the full journey, however the promise of its expanded potential appeared clear in simply this transient part. I hope the remainder of Camena is simply as memorable a spot to discover.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior Features Editor, PlayStation Lead, and host of Podcast Beyond! He’s the proud canine father of a BOY named Loki. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.