Natural supernatural drunken conversations.
Afterparty is another talky-walky game by Oxenfree devs, Night School Studio. It’s a gameplay-light narrative adventure focusing on an engaging conversation system over needlessly inserted mechanics. Instead of an atmospheric teenage horror mystery like Oxenfree, Afterparty is a dark comedy biting into post-college graduate life – or death, as it were.
Two old friends, Milo and Lola, find themselves on the unfortunate side of the afterlife and their only way out is through Lucifer. Early on, they set on a path to challenging the biggest bad himself to a drink-off for their souls and bragging rights. Along the way, they encounter a bunch of demons, humans, and spirits generally making the best of a bad situation.
Most popular imaginings of Hell are usually violent, burny, pitchforky, and unpleasant. Scrap that image. Okay, it is still all of those things, but there’s an air of mundanity about everything. Demons have garages, Hell has janitors, and Bicker – Hell’s social network – consumes the time and energy of both tormentors and tormented. It’s like Monsters Inc. in Hell with an 18+ rating, and it feels entirely unique.
Most of us expect Hell to be filled with the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world, but what happens to intercontinental cross-promotional marketers, celebrity lawyers and people that will complain about a lack of cardio in their eternal punishments? I’ve tried my best not to spoil anything; all I’ll say is meeting and talking to new characters really is the highlight of Afterparty.
Conversations are the meat of the game; dialogue options appear as speech bubbles that will disappear if you linger on your choices for too long. Characters will react based on when you chime in, remarking on stalled replies and interruptions. Silence is an option in every interaction, and it’s amazing how long some characters will stutter with ‘ums’ and ‘ahhs’ if you leave them waiting. This is helped by some outstanding voice acting all around.
If you played Oxenfree, this is probably sounding awfully familiar. It is. Night School Studio built a dramatically different narrative on the same shell, and I don’t blame them. The hugely differing setting and narrative are enough to set Afterparty apart, even if it isn’t innovating in any dramatic way. They’ve shown again that they can craft natural, honest conversations in the most unusual circumstances.
The main influence on how conversations play out is through Hellcohol. New dialogue options open up after consuming different appropriately disgusting cocktails. A little liquid courage can make you more persuasive, or try a ‘Bloody Stool’ to flirt your way past a bouncer. It’s not all good though, you could piss off the wrong demon if you go too far.
It’s a more linear affair than Oxenfree, with only a few clear deviations determined by how you interact with characters. In Oxenfree you were given a radio to find broadcasts across an island, sometimes uncovering secrets and links to previous playthroughs. Afterparty has no similar mechanic, meaning once you’ve been through once, it doesn’t feel like you’ve really missed anything except for a few funny one-liners from sampling different Hellcohol.
I can think of at least a few ideas for subsequent playthroughs that I may try, but ultimately Afterparty only takes four-five hours at most, and it’s difficult to see how much the branching dialogue will affect individual story paths. But, there are visual and dialogue meta jokes all over the place, so many that it’s hard to catch them all the first time through. It wouldn’t surprise me if some secrets are buried for months after release.
Vibrant neon signs of bars and clubs pop against the hellish landscape, and Night School Studio has created a world about as contrasting to Oxenfree’s gloomy island setting as possible. Most characters are beautifully stylised and animated, especially your noodly personal demon, Sister Mary Wormhorn. Apart from a few minor animation glitches and a few conversations cutting short, Afterparty is a slick diorama-like world to be in.
Afterparty doesn’t vary much mechanically from its predecessor, but the unique worldbuilding, characters, setting and heart gave me some of my biggest chuckles of the year. What could have been a cringe-worthy meme-fest of drinking gags and vomit jokes (ok, so there is some vomit) ended up being one hell of a party.
[Reviewed on PC]