Hell is other people.
Afterparty is the latest game from Night School Studio and serves as a spiritual successor to their 2016 debut Oxenfree. A 2D side-scrolling narrative adventure game, Afterparty places you in control of Milo and Lola (Khoi Dao and Janina Gavankar, respectively): two lifelong friends who have met an abrupt end to their lives just out of college and suddenly find themselves in Hell. When they uncover a loophole that can send them back to the land of the living if they can outdrink Satan (Dave Fennoy), they set off on their quest to do just that.
Oxenfree was one of my favorite titles of 2016. I appreciated its characters and the way its central mystery ghost story unfolded around your choices over the course of an evening. Afterparty doesn’t stray too far from that narrative framework. When Milo and Lola arrive in Hell, lucky timing means the demon that is supposed to assign them to their eternal punishment has just reached the end of his shift so our dual protagonists have all night to explore Hell and familiarize themselves with the comings and goings of the underworld.
While still coming to terms with their unexpected demise, they come across underworld cab driver Sam (Ashly Burch), who helps them out and serves as a sounding board and transport for the evening. She also introduces the pair to the aforementioned loophole. Every night, Satan hosts a raging party at his place and there’s a standing offer to anyone willing to take on the challenge: outdrink the “Prince of Partying” and he’ll open the door for you to return home. En route to the big challenge, they’ll encounter a mix of demons and other dead humans in need of assistance, all the while tormented by their own personal demon Sister Mary Wormhorn (Erin Yvette).
As with Oxenfree, the central gameplay elements center around traversing the 2D animated environments and selecting dialogue choices from a series of speech bubbles appearing above the characters. But while Oxenfree was entirely driven from one character’s perspective, Afterparty juggles between its two leads. As the story progresses, the game typically dictates which of the two characters you’ll be controlling at any given moment but there are a handful of instances where you will have to decide if you want to play a sequence as Milo or Lola. Milo is a meek, easily flustered young man while Lola often exhibits a cold and cynical demeanor.
With the story centered around a drinking competition with the Devil, bar hopping is prevalent. Pretty much every area you visit will feature a bar and each bar will have a variety of “Hellcohol” for you to imbibe. With a drink in hand, a simple push of the button will have your character take a swig, which will have a couple effects. The screen will become a bit blurry and the audio will become a bit muffled to simulate your sudden inebriation. But more importantly, being drunk will usually give you a bonus third dialogue option to select in conversations. This third option is specifically influenced by the type of drink you have. Some drinks will have you talking like a pirate or a mobster, while others might make you a bit flirty.
The only other real gameplay in Afterparty comes in the form of one of three minigames. Beer pong will pit you against another challenger as you take turns trying to throw a ball into all of your target cups before your opponent. The beginnings of a dashed line will appear on screen to help you aim the arc of your throw, but as you might be drunk, there might be three dashed lines. The other drinking game variation centers around taking shots and stacking the glasses. You’ll see a prompt of where the glass will land and you just need to stack the glasses to a set height faster than your opponent but again, the drunken nature of the game will make the controls a bit tricky to accurately target the stack. Lastly, you’ll encounter a dancing minigame. No drinking while dancing so this tends to be the easiest of the three and just takes the form of an extended series of Simon Says-like button prompts.
Without going into spoilers, I found the overall story of Afterparty somewhat underwhelming. As Milo and Lola go about their adventure, they have to make a few “this or that” selections (e.g. do we go help this demon character or do we go help this human character?) but pretty much everything can be experienced over the course of two different playthroughs (save the ending, which has three variations). Having played through the game three times for the sake of this review, I would say the different paths don’t feel uniquely rewarding enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, especially because there are a lot of sections of the game that just feel somewhat empty. I often found myself having to slowly walk from the beginning of an area to the bar or vice versa with almost nothing happening, no other characters in the world to interact with or no dialogue between Milo and Lola.
The only thing that might make the branching paths worthwhile is that they each introduce characters that you might not otherwise see in the rest of the game. For example, when I rolled credits the first time, they showed illustrations of the main characters alongside the voice actor and there were one or two that I simply didn’t encounter until I went and played a second time and picked the other paths. But, again, that also meant I had to slowly trudge through the (let’s generously say) 70% of the game that played out in an almost identical way.
The novelty of the drinks changing the dialogue options runs out pretty quickly when you start to realize it is just a palette swap for that single line of dialogue and the other characters have a general response that doesn’t really change regardless of what you say. The delivery of these lines is occasionally good for a laugh but they don’t have any bearing on the story at all.
Lastly, and perhaps most egregiously, my time with Afterparty was riddled with performance issues. There was an abundance of frame rate issues and slowdown just from walking around the world. Milo and Lola spend a lot of scenes riding in Sam’s cab from one island to another. These scenes don’t seem like they would be too taxing on the game engine as they usually consist of a simple scene while Sam’s taxi boat bounces on the lake of lava in the center of the screen as a nondescript Hell backdrop shifts in the background. But over my three separate playthroughs, I don’t think I had a single instance where these transition scenes didn’t stutter. I noticed multiple instances of the subtitles not matching the dialogue being spoken or even the options selected (e.g. a character referring to me as Lola when I was very clearly playing Milo for that sequence). I also had a couple game crashes, including one instance near the very end of a playthrough that completely corrupted the save and made the game unplayable. I would have lost all of my progress had the save not automatically been uploaded to the cloud but even with that, I had to replay about 4 hours.
After Oxenfree was one of my top games in 2016, I was really looking forward to Afterparty. The premise of trying to outdrink Satan to get out of Hell had me intrigued since the game’s announcement. But the final product just fell short of those expectations. I appreciated some of the surprising turns the story takes in its closing chapters but the journey there was a rough one and the lack of substantive replayability and overabundance of performance issues meant the lasting impression of the game is more akin to a bad hangover than a good buzz.
5.5 / 10
That Mediocre Game
- Good performances from most of the cast
- Graphical performance issues
- Underwhelming story
- Large empty world
Afterparty was reviewed on a digital retail copy of the game on a PlayStation 4 Pro. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.