Afterparty is the second game by Night School Studio, Well-known for their indie hit Oxenfree. They continue the same formula from their previous game, with “talking” as the main mechanic. Instead of a larger group, the focus narrows down to two friends this time around and the setting changed from a ghost-possessed island to the bowels of hell. Seems like they share my taste for the supernatural!
You play as a duo of recently graduated friends called Milo & Lola, who end up in hell. Since they were too late to get assigned their eternal torture, they have until the next day to outdrink Satan and possibly make it back to the world of the living. As far as elevator pitches go for a videogame narrative, this one is alright.
The story will take you from one party or bar to another, with the requirements for being allowed to challenge Satan changing along the way. You play by his rules after all and he seems to be making them up as he goes. As stated earlier, the main mechanic of the game is “talking” and Afterparty does this better than most other games: You can interrupt people mid-dialogue and you can even unlock various extra reply options by choosing a different drink at the bar.
This is a rather unique idea and while the scenarios will likely play out the same in the end, it’s fun to have different means of achieving them in a 2nd or 3rd playthrough. At a few key moments, Afterparty will have you choose between two branching paths.
I appreciate the added replayability this adds, but I can’t really say I felt enticed to start a new playthrough after seeing the credits roll. While the randomness of the situations our protagonists find themselves in does keep you wondering about what’s to happen next, the main plotline wears off rather quickly and I caught myself being happy when the game was drawing to a close. Had it been an hour or two longer, it would have easily overstayed its welcome.
To recap your decisions, and to immediately make you doubt the morality of them, Sister Mary Wormhorn, your personal demon, will taunt you and attempt to break your spirits. Your friendship will also be tested but Milo & Lola are two peas in a pod so the demon has her work cut out.
Between all the alcohol, cursing and talks of terrible torture methods, it’s clear this game is intended for a more mature audience. The exchanges are often humouristic in tone but sadly, Afterparty rarely made me laugh. Sure, I had a slight grin for most of the adventure and the witty banter keeps you interested, but to call it “funny” would be an overstatement for the most part.
— BloodyGoodReviews (@Bloodyspasm) December 28, 2019
There are also a few technical hiccups that plagued the version I played on the Xbox One X: Afterparty has frequent stuttering issues where the game seems to drop a few frames and characters move in unnatural ways. You’ll move from “island” to “island” in a cab on the river Styx, and while this is probably a loading screen in disguise it’s the single most frequent location to experience the aforementioned issues.
One Idea I thought was pretty neat was Bicker, Hell’s version of Social Media. Demons and humans alike spill their guts on it and you constantly see NPC’s with a phone in their hand and even live-bickering events as they come to pass.
The script itself also had a few unfortunate mistakes here and there. To name one example, there was one part where the game confused me for Milo when I was controlling Lola, asking me to “go get her” and “first get Lola”. There are a few tiny slip-ups like this but they all contribute to a feeling that the game needed some extra Q&A.
Now talking is not all you do, but the minigames aren’t particularly worth writing home about: you have a rhythm-game dance-off, a beer-pong game and a drinking game in which you stack the cups you’ve downed. It’s good that there is some variation but I would’ve liked to see these explored even more.
Now you can’t have a story with this much talking in it and skimp on the voice actors. Luckily this is one area where Afterparty hits a homerun! Both Milo & Lola are voiced perfectly and this is perhaps one of my favourite portrayals ever of our lord of darkness, the original fallen angel, Lucifer Morningstar. Due to his size, he’s also one of the few characters you’ll actually see in detail.
Afterparty has some nice contrasting visuals with its dark setting and neon-coloured environments, but it does a rather terrible job at showing off its characters. Because the camera keeps its distance, it makes it really hard to appreciate the Gorillaz-like cartoony designs.
Lastly, I’d like to bring some attention to the stellar soundtrack by SCNTFC; it does an incredible job at setting the tone and remained enjoyable throughout the game, even when it was playing on a loop.
Having an entire game revolve around talking is an interesting premise and Night School Studio has already proven it to work with their previous release. Yet despite its appealing setting in the underworld, Afterparty somehow managed to lose my interest near the final stretch. It frequently attempts to be funny but sadly misses the ball on more than one occasion and suffers for it. Add in some technical issues here and there for a game that shouldn’t be high-demanding on paper and I can only state that it felt like a slight disappointment after the superior writing and execution of Oxenfree. I would still recommend a playthrough for fans of the genre, but set your expectations accordingly.