Developer: Night School Studios
Publisher: Night School Studios
Rating: Rating Pending
Afterparty is the follow up to Night School Studios’ breakout hit, Oxenfree. Much like in Oxenfree, Afterparty puts players in control of a group of young twenty-somethings. Only this time, the young protagonists wake up in Hell after attending what they thought was their College Graduation party. What follows is a sobering look at life, relationships, and what it means to be a “good person.”
Where do I even start with this one? Those put off by incorrect or downright kooky theology should look elsewhere. In Afterparty, demons only torture humans because its part of their jobs, after which everyone (demons and humans alike) retreat to the various bars and nightclubs to drown their sorrows before returning to work the next day. Its a tongue in cheek parody of how working a 9-5 job day in and day out can start to feel like our own personal version of Hell. Any depictions of nudity are pixelated and censored though the characters will humorously joke about what is going on behind the pixelation. There is not a lot of gore as this is a more lighthearted version of Hell (though the descriptions of torture that some souls have to endure are downright gruesome but funny at the same time). Aside from alcohol, there is no drug use but foul language is plentiful and it gets quite colorful and creative in some parts. Despite this, the game does have a lot to say about the dangers of drinking and partying every day or every weekend and the strain that it puts on our relationships. If these kinds of things make it a no-go for you, then I don’t recommend playing Afterparty.
Surprisingly, I found myself genuinely caring about many of the demons that protagonists Milo and Lola meet and befriend throughout their journey. I thought to myself, “If The Walking Dead: The Game could make me bawl my eyes out in its first season, then what would Afterparty do when I finally reached its conclusion?” Well, so as not to spoil anything for our readers, Afterparty has a lot to say about life, friendships, and what it means to be a good person. Who would’ve thought that a game’s portrayal of Hell could make players look at the afterlife a little differently (or at least Afterparty’s portrayal of the afterlife).
Much like in our day to day lives, the denizens of Hell go about their day working their 9-5 job of torturing humans. However, as these humans are already dead their job in Hell is to essentially endure this torture until their shift ends at which point everyone, both human and demon alike, retreat to the nearest bar to party and drown their sorrows. This cycle repeats ad nauseum forever.
Despite its humorous take on Hell and its somewhat concerning theology (God is lazy and overbearing and cast down even those Angels that sided with him during Satan’s rebellion) I had a smile on my face during my entire playthrough of Afterparty. The game opens with Milo (voiced by Khoi Dao) and best friend Lola (voiced by Janina Gavankar who played Iden Versio in Star Wars Battlefront 2) attending their college graduation party where they attempt to mingle with their fellow students before they all go their separate ways into the terrifying unknowns of adult life.
Soon, weird things start to happen and its revealed that Milo and Lola are dead and have just awoken in Hell. At first, the pair think that their peers are messing with them or that its all a dream brought on by a bad hangover. They quickly learn though that their fate is very real but before they can find out how they died and exactly why they went to Hell, they’re whisked away on a journey to out-drink Satan and get back home. Along the way, the pair meet and befriend Sam (played by Ashly Burch), a psychopomp, or essentially a cab driver, who ferries souls between the various islands of Hell. Sam introduces the pair to life in Hell and helps them navigate the different islands on their way to Satan’s party.
This is the crux of gameplay as the pair encounters Satan and his siblings they are tasked with navigating the various islands and completing tasks for its denizens before returning to Satan’s party and challenging him to a drinking contest. Most of these tasks and challenges consist of completing side quests such as interrogating bar-goers to find the impostor who snuck his way into Hell, helping a saleswoman sell her gross candy for a disguise to sneak into a demons-only bar, or engaging in a dance off with a lovelorn demon who just got dumped by the love of his life. This is just a sampling of the tasks available however, as once you choose a quest, the others are locked out until your next playthrough.
In a sort of fourth wall breaking twist, Milo and Lola are assigned a personal demon at the start of the game named Sister Mary Wormhorn. While its never really clear what Wormhorn’s purpose is throughout the story, it seems that her ultimate goal is to create a rift between Milo and Lola as they are undoubtedly strongest when they are together. Players can choose through dialogue to tell Wormhorn to buzz off (albeit with more colorful vocabulary) or they can let her continue and learn more about Milo and Lola’s deepest fears and regrets. This sets up some interesting story beats later in the game that lead to some of the more in your face messages the game tries to get across to players about relationships and how we lead our lives.
Dialogue is plentiful and just like in Oxenfree before it, players can select what to say using the face buttons on the controller or say nothing at all as sometimes silence IS the best option. However, if the protagonists have a drink in their hand and take a sip, different dialogue options become available. One drink might make you talk like a pirate, while another cocktail may make you insult everyone you speak with. The key to success in the various drinking games that players can engage in involves selecting the right drink for the occasion.
As for the rest of the gameplay, Afterparty is an adventure game at is core so players wont be doing much other than walking around the environment and talking as there is almost always a continuous dialogue between the two protagonists as they discuss the events that just occurred and plot their next move. In some cases, depending on how the story unfolds and the choices players make, Milo and Lola may begin to argue as a rift develops between the two. Its important to find the right balance in dialogue and who takes the lead in a certain quest to prevent too much strain on the pair’s friendship.
Despite the fun I had with the game, there are some faults that become glaringly obvious early on. When players make it to Satan’s house for the first time there are these demons that will fly you up to each floor in what is essentially a cage operating as an elevator. During these sequences, and likewise when Sam transports the pair to the various islands, there are startlingly noticeable frame-drops and stuttering. At one point, in the elevator cage I thought that the game would freeze and make me restart the checkpoint but thankfully this was not the case. Shortly after launch, a patch was released that reduced this choppiness a bit but it did not outright remove the problem.
The best part about Afterparty are the stand-out performances from the main cast. The acting is excellent throughout but Dave Fennoy (Lee from The Walking Dead: The Game) is easily the star of the show with his performance as Satan Morningstar. From the moment he enters the scene, he steals the show and players feel drawn to listen to what he has to say. Surprisingly, Satan offers some rather insightful advice to the pair throughout the story. At one point, Milo pointedly asks Satan what he and Lola did to deserve Hell to which Satan replies “The real question my dear Milo is what did you do to deserve anything else?” That line struck me as important and throughout the rest of the game the pair slowly start to reminisce about their lives before arriving in Hell and what it is they could’ve done (or not done) to end up where they are.
While I love that it makes players think about life, relationships, and the afterlife, Afterparty is also one of the funniest games I have ever played. There are several quotes from various characters that had me rolling out of my chair with laughter. For example, at one point Lola goes, “He smells like a burning courthouse,” shortly after meeting Satan for the first time. After their first drinking contest, Milo says, “I have this ringing in my ears that sounds like my math teacher crying.” There is also a mechanic in the game where Milo and Lola will comment on the social media posts the denizens of Hell make about their journey as these posts appear above the user’s head as a sort of comic book text bubble. At one point, when Milo asks Lola about her own social media habits she replies with, “I wasn’t on any social media when I was alive but that’s only because on Earth it gives you soul cancer.” And without saying too much, my playthrough ended on a great joke that I feel totally matched the tone and mood of the rest of the game and it had me itching to make another run through Hell.
All of these sequences made me laugh harder than most other games centered around their humor and its rare that a game’s humor is this pointed and consistent throughout. Afterparty knows what it wants to say to the player and its message and theme is consistent. Heavy drinking and partying can drive a wedge between family, friends, and communities and often its those closest to us who can help us overcome our biggest struggles in life. This message comes across well through varied and fun drinking challenges and conversations with the residents of Hell. Being able to choose different drinks depending on playstyle and the situation at hand offers a very slight layer of strategy to every encounter. If Christian players can look past the shoddy theology presented in the game, there is a heartwarming story of friendship, fighting personal demons, and personal redemption hiding beneath its burning layers.
The Bottom Line
With fantastic dialogue, an unforgettable performance by Dave Fennoy, and a surprisingly charming version of Hell, I think players from all walks of life and all belief systems can find something to love in Afterparty.