Review: Afterparty

I would imagine that for any artist, there’s no thrill greater than having your debut piece of work turning out to be an acclaimed smash. And I would imagine that the greatest fear for any artist is…having your debut piece of work turning out to be an acclaimed smash. Because now you have to face the lingering threat of the sophomore slump and it hits harder depending on how amazing your first try was. Granted, developer Night School Studio has Telltale veterans among their ranks, but their supernatural graphic adventure game Oxenfree was their first solo outing and it ended up being beloved by many, even ending up as one of my own favorite games of 2016. And now we have Afterparty, their follow-up that’s cut from the same cloth. But can it avoid the slump?

Afterparty sees you controlling a pair of protagonists, Milo and Lola, childhood friends ready to graduate college. The two are outcasts of a sort, not fitting in with all of the other students, getting by with the help of each other. But now they have new obstacles to face, debating over where their futures will lead them after graduation, and if they’ll even still be friends afterwards. Oh, and also there’s the fact that they’re trapped in Hell. Yep, Milo and Lola have died, with no memory of what happened, and no idea what caused them to wind up on the receiving end of eternal damnation. But after learning through a cab driver named Sam that a loophole allows one to leave Hell if they can beat Satan in a drinking contest, they now have to set out to outparty everyone in Hell, earning a shot at taking on Satan.

Well, before we get to that, Milo and Lola do have to get processed, get assigned their own personal demon, Wormhorn, and get assigned their torment…but just before our duo learns about what has condemned them to Hell, it turns out that it’s quitting time. Yep, the demons of Hell only work nine to five, it appears. When they’re off the clock, it turns out that they love to head out drinking, partying and socializing, just like the rest of us. Heck, they don’t even have any issues hanging out with most of the humans they torture, and neither do the humans. At the end of the day, it’s just a job they’re assigned to do, after all. As long as Milo and Lola can play by the rules, they’re fine with indulging them in their quest.

With such a setup, we easily lead right into Afterparty’s greatest strength: its writing. Which isn’t exactly a shocker, since Oxenfree was amazing in this department as well. But Afterparty’s twist on Hell and the various ways that it operates results in incredible world-building. Going by the various Monarchs of Hell and the landmarks that show up, it’s apparent that Night School did their homework and went beyond what they taught you in Sunday School, and had a ton of fun merging together several aspects of the darker parts of biblical lore, then giving them modern updates. The various circles and realms of Hell are still present, except now they’re made to resemble metropolitan city districts, from club-filled downtowns to gentrified tourist traps and more.

It’s all clever world-building and it’s thankfully backed up by some of the year’s strongest dialogue and a terrific story. As hinted earlier, there’s a larger journey beyond drinking Satan under the table, and it involves Milo and Lola’s relationship, which the two bring up in between the insanity, and which is a subject Wormhorn is more than happy to torture them over. Actually, even Wormhorn gets a good arc by the end as well. And pretty much every major character, who I found myself sympathizing with by the finale. Yes, I found myself actually crying for the devil (or devils) a bit here, so great job.

It helps that the more emotional moments, which hit just the right level of pathos, are balanced out by a wicked sense of humor that serves up a grand amount of levity for most of the game. We’re talking depraved scenery, cringe comedy, a dash of physical humor, quips concerning the various oddities of hell from deranged old-world foods to Satan basically converting his home into an amusement park, and even social media. Yes, social media is a huge part of Hell, because duh, and online posts will pop up from the phones of background characters to torment Milo and Lola and delight the player, in a nice touch that makes the duo unable to escape real-world torments. Heck, even the pop culture-related quips feel nice and natural.

Oh, and then there are the drinks, which is Afterparty’s significant contribution to the usual dialogue-based mechanics. Every bar has four unique drinks Milo and Lola can carry around, and when guzzling them down by holding down a button, the screen gets more distorted, but new dialogue options are gained. You then get the temporary ability to reply to characters using your standard drunk talk, the ability to act like a rich jerk, or a jock. But if you want to really experiment, you can go for the drink that makes you tell corny Vaudeville jokes, complete with accent, or a ’30s film mobster, or a love-obsessed character in a rom-com. It’s one the game’s highlights, hands-down. I do wish you could take the drinks outside of clubs, and I don’t know how much they affect your choices, but they’re still a welcome addition.

Speaking of choices, there are branching paths in Afterparty, relying on you having to perform different tasks in order to get what you need to take on Satan, and they can alter where you can go and what ending you get, depending on how you play your cards. That being said, despite the nice replayability to be had with these different paths to explore, drinks to find and characters to interact with, things do come off as too linear at times. Despite being ferried between a variety of islands, there isn’t much to explore on them, or a lot to interact with, and the objectives are always a bit too clear and straightforward. The game could just benefit from being a bit more open, so that we didn’t have to do entire playthroughs in order to properly see everyone.

And yes, you will want to see everyone. In case it hasn’t been made clear by now, Afterparty’s strong writing and dialogue extends to the cast and dialogue as well, creating fully fleshed-out characters to fall in love with. Milo and Lola are perfect as two friends who are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of personality (Milo being more shy yet desiring to be social, Lola being more brash and confident), yet the two have great chemistry as well that helps make their troubled friendship seem believable.

The voice acting is absolutely top-notch as well, from Dave Fennoy’s chill Satan to Erin Yvette’s perky, peppy and eager-to-work Wormhorn, but the MVP, hand down, is Ashly Burch as Sam, your psychopomp cab driver. Snarky, confident, almost serving as a trickster mentor and ally to Milo and Lola who also educates them on Hell’s background…basically, imagine a demon version of Nat the limo driver from Bob’s Burgers, a comparison I easily make in the best possible way. Other final praises include the perfectly cartoonish art style and the impressive club tunes performed by scntfc, which add a lot towards creating a perfect atmosphere.

The only other thing aside from the aforementioned linearity holding Afterparty back from true greatness at the moment, though, is that it does appear to have some bugs. There were the occasional animation errors, like one character moving awkwardly or one NPC passing through another, but those barely affected anything. But a text message constantly lingering on the screen that required me to reload things, a prompt for a building that I actually couldn’t get into at the moment or parts failing to load that effectively froze the game and required full restarts sadly couldn’t be ignored. None of these inconvenienced me for more than a minute or two, mind you, but it did create the impression that a little more QA would have helped.

Of course, Afterparty will have a day-one patch that aims to fix these issues when it launches, so hopefully that gets ironed out smoothly. But between a few bugs and the fact that New Game Plus won’t come until later, you may be getting the impression that Afterparty is a game that you should wait until later to pick up. I say you shouldn’t wait, though. Despite its issues, it’s still a terrific, witty game…just one that only gets slightly hit by the sophomore slump.

Closing Comments:

While Afterparty arguably doesn’t quite hit the same overall heights as its older sibling, it still manages to deliver one amazing adventure of its own, largely thanks to a terrific sense of humor, a unique story, and some truly astounding writing and dialogue. Hell has been transformed into a giant, twisted, colorful party and Night School has filled it with a terrific cast of characters and a unique drink-based mechanic that will all easily leave you wanting more. Afterparty is worth picking up and is easily one clever gem that shines brightly…especially when standing out among a city filled with puking demons and bodies lit on fire. It was, indeed, a killer rager.