There was one thing fairly particular concerning the unique Oxenfree. Evening Faculty Studio’s walk-and-talk journey sport lets gamers uncover the mysteries of Edwards Island, fall for (or be sassy to) its ensemble solid of characters, and make loads of dialogue decisions alongside the best way as issues bought creepier and creepier.
Because of a hands-off preview session with Oxenfree 2, the sequel isn’t trying to break what isn’t damaged. As an alternative, it appears the builders, practically all of whom are again from the unique, have discovered intelligent methods to deepen the bottom of Oxenfree’s world and spin it out into shocking new makes an attempt to interrupt our brains a bit, and introduce some endearing new characters besides.
Oxenfree II is ready in the identical world as the unique, however focuses on a model new solid, with gamers taking over the function of environmental researcher Riley. She’s come again house to the city of Camena to determine why digital tools 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 evening threaten this charming coastal city.
A brand new solid doesn’t imply your time with the unique Oxenfree will probably be for nought, whether or not you performed years in the past, revisit earlier than the sequel, or are simply choosing it up now. There will probably be loads of acknowledgements to the primary sport’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 sport.
However the focus appears to primarily be on Riley’s story. Her assured tone, mixing a little bit of snark with an undertone of heat, matches proper at house in Evening Faculty’s chatty world. The primary sport’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 buddy Jacob explored Camena within the part of gameplay I noticed.
On the finish of the day, a sport like Oxenfree will reside or die by how charming, or at the least fascinating, these characters are, notably provided that gamers are continuously making dialogue decisions. Fortunately, Oxenfree II appears to proceed to nail that tone of life like, informal dialog that Evening Faculty excelled at in each the unique and Afterparty, and Oxenfree II seems to be 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 bit under. Jacob takes a a lot safer route, climbing down a rock wall to assist her again up. Even a small choice like that might result in new permutations in dialog, and I’m fascinated to see how scenes can play out otherwise, as a second like this was one thing emblematic of what the builders strove for within the sequel.
“It was positively an preliminary objective of ours: we needed extra decisions that are not dialogue-based. We needed you to be making decisions together with your bodily choices about what you are doing and the way you need to go about that,” Studio Lead Author Adam Hines advised IGN. “It additionally pushed us to design the environments in ways in which would permit these sorts of moments to really happen. There’s only a few instances when there’s only one path to stand up or down. You at all times have extra forks within the highway and extra micro-choices on methods to get to sure spots.”
One other explicit spotlight demonstrating the relatable nature of the characters got here when Jacob and Riley performed a sport by which they advised one another a narrative phrase by phrase.
I really like moments like that, and have in Evening Faculty’s previous video games, so if the group can proceed to ship these private, witty scenes like they do right here, I can’t wait to see what else we would talk about whereas exploring Camena.
That little sport, extra importantly, stems from a personality beat – Jacob is fairly freaked out by every little thing taking place, and the sport 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 admire the scene all of the extra. I suppose it’s additionally price mentioning that Jacob was nervous as a result of, nicely, he and Riley had ended up in 1899.
Gotta Go Again in Time
You see, time tears have began opening up round Camena. They’ll permit Riley and her companions to journey by way of time to a degree that may hopefully supply some help of their journey. On this case, the duo, whereas venturing by way of the tunnels that unfold all all through Camena (a absolutely useful exploration system for a world the builders estimate is about 2.5-3 instances greater than Edwards Island, although they famous gamers shouldn’t essentially anticipate a sequel that’s 3 times as lengthy to play), discovers a time tear that brings them again all the best way to 1899, again earlier than the mines had been deserted after a serious collapse. Fortunately, on this time interval, there’s a working elevator that, by way of a little bit of fast puzzle fixing, Riley and Jacob get transferring in an effort to assist them attain one other time tear and return to their level of origin. There’s just one downside – they’re attempting to tug off this little bit of platforming and puzzle fixing because 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 sport so targeted on its characters and site to deepen our understanding of these sides in ways in which simply couldn’t be performed on a regular 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 correct place on the incorrect time? I hope Oxenfree II doesn’t essentially reply questions like that – it’s the kind of time-loopy rabbit gap a narrative like this permits for, and I really like the potential this one sequence guarantees.
The time tears are as thrilling a possible path to discover as a participant as they seemingly had been to develop. “Within the first sport, the lion’s share of alternative and interplay got here by way of dialogue… however these time tears have turn into one thing actually thrilling for us, as a result of it’s the kind of factor the place, because the evening degrades and as issues are breaking down, all of these areas that you simply’re seeing could have some new issues that pop up within them that change contextually primarily based on the place within the evening the sport is,” Studio Lead Sean Krankel stated.
“You possibly can conceivably go discover most of Camena after which come again to an area that you simply’re in and issues could have been modified a bit bit,” he continued.
This time tear is one positioned alongside the principle narrative path, and whereas the tears will definitely come into play there, gamers can anticipate finding 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 by way of now,” Hines defined. “Loads comes out of the walkie talkie aspect quest which you can encounter and select to do. These aspect quests will all be roughly associated to the occasion that is taking place within the evening, however the folks’s particular issues go off in wild and bizarre ways in which it’s a must to generally go across the crushed path to unravel.”
However my introduction to time tears additionally represents a scene coming about an hour or so into the sequel’s story that feels greater than most of what the unique Oxenfree might pull off. Years later, Evening Faculty appears to have discovered lots about methods to convey these characters and this world to life, not simply by way of the clearly improved character mannequin constancy, however within the complexity of sequences that additionally retain the haunting, stunning artwork fashion of the unique.
And it’s not simply the size that appears to be a magnet for Evening Faculty; the extra expansive dimension of Camena doesn’t simply make for a much bigger world – it lets Evening Faculty fill the city with extra fascinating targets, aspect quests, and extra. The demo confirmed a few methods by which the builders are pulling this off.
The primary is using 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 offers the participant company in initiating conversations, whether or not to remind them of aspect quests, or study extra perception into characters alongside the best way. It’s a pleasant little bit of growth to Evening Faculty’s underlying theme of alternative – not solely do you get to decide on what to say in conversations, now you may have a bit extra alternative in whenever you need to speak to some characters.
“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 need 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 power to begin a dialog to drive it in the best way that you simply need to,” Hines stated.
Moreover, motion and exploration has been expanded due to the inclusion of a rope gamers purchase early within the sport. Riley having an ex-military background offers 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 be capable to attain. It doesn’t abruptly rework Oxenfree right into a twitchy platformer, but it surely once more presents the participant extra alternative, 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, but it surely’s not heavy platforming and double jumps and swinging throughout issues,” Krankel defined. “It is extra about wanting the participant to parse out the map otherwise and never simply really feel like they’re urgent from left to proper and speaking.”
My brief time seeing Oxenfree II definitely indicated that there’s much more than simply strolling left and proper and speaking. As Evening Faculty famous, Oxenfree isn’t reworking into some surprising style, unrecognizable from its predecessor. As an alternative, 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, in fact, nonetheless have to play Oxenfree II, and see how that sense of alternative extends to the complete 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.