By Leah McDonald / March 13th, 2020
|Developer||Night School Studio|
|Publisher||Night School Studio|
|Release Date||October 29th, 2019|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||Mature 17+|
Editor’s Note: oprainfall’s Quentin H also had a chance to check out Afterparty back in 2019, and you can read his impressions here.
What is free will? How does family – found and biological – affect that freedom? And how does substance abuse play into all of it? Afterparty, by Night School Studio, tackles these questions and more using the colorful backdrop of Hell. I mean, where better to explore some of humanity’s biggest quandaries?
The game starts innocently enough at a college graduation party with our intrepid duo, Lola and Milo. Lola is a brusque but honest woman who does her best to be above the petty gossip of her peers, while Milo is more often than not the butt of jokes and picked on mercilessly. Thankfully, they’re both about to say goodbye to that life — figuratively and literally. It’s not actually a party, after all. It’s a farce staged by demons, and they’re in Hell. How did they die? Why are they damned? And why are they being processed together? That’s for you to find out.
The game itself is mostly comprised of walking left and right through the neon landscape of Hell itself, talking with NPCs to learn about why you’ve ended up on the wrong side of Heaven. Neither Milo nor Lola can remember what happened to them, and every dialogue choice you make helps them — and you — piece together their lives and what it means for them in death. As it turns out, Hell is actually a 9-5, and Lola and Milo have arrived right at closing time, so those answers will take a little longer to find out. But in the meantime, Satan is throwing one hell of a party, and he might just have their ticket back to the land of the living. If they can beat him at a night of boozing, maybe they can go home and that soul-searching about why they’re in Hell won’t actually matter. But to get into Lucifer’s shindig, our duo are going to need to get an invite from one of the locals, all while fending with their own personal demon, and she’s new and eager to prove herself on the job.
Most interactions offer one of two choices for you to choose, though once you unlock the drinking mechanic — Afterparty‘s main hook — a third choice opens to you. Depending on your choice of drink, this third option can run the gamut from combative to flirty to drunkenly courageous, with your choices ultimately affecting yourself and the denizens of Hell — as well as playing into the themes of free will and substance abuse.
The drinking mechanic walks a fine line between advocating for teetotalers and rampant alcoholism. Sometimes the options move the dialogue forward (I found this happened most often if you drank something that gave you Liquid Courage). Sometimes they just lead to fun flavor text. In a game about drinking Satan under the table, booze isn’t always the right answer. And whether you choose the third option or not, there are times that choice just doesn’t matter. Some parts of this story are predetermined, but it’s what you do with the choices given to you that matter. Seeing all of the dialogue options is in and of itself a fun pastime thanks to the game’s stellar writing, so seeing how each interaction can play out does offer quite a bit of replayability, since the game locks in your choices. (Which, again, plays into the free will aspect of the story.)
Speaking of dialogue, it’s definitely Afterparty‘s shining achievement. The writing is witty and clever, with plenty of references to Biblical mythology and classical religious writings. The voice acting is solid all around, with fantastic performances from Lola’s Janina Gavankar and Milk’s Khoi Dao, as well as Dave Fennoy as Satan and Ashley Burch as Sam Hill. Considering the entire game is voice acted, having these stellar performances gave the entire experience a strong polish. The game even features its own version of Twitter, called Bicker, where Hell’s populace will remark on the events of the story so far, your actions specifically, or just reference their untimely deaths in humorous ways. There’s even an achievement for wasting your time on it, and if that doesn’t scream eternally damned, I don’t know what will.
Hell itself is also pretty awesome. The vibrant neon color-scheme and character designs are all gorgeous, and the art style is actually what drew me to the game to begin with. In a game about one endless afterlife party, the game could not have gone with a better aesthetic. Even the music is catchy, thumping electronica that just gets you in the mood to dance — which, funny enough, is one of the mini-games available to you in the underworld. At certain points throughout the story, the main gameplay loop of talking to NPCs will change up to allow Lola or Milo a chance to prove their moves on the dance floor. These sequences are simple Simon Says button presses, but they were a nice break in the formula.
Afterparty also features a couple different drinking games. There’s beer pong, where you have to line up a shot (pun intended) using some rudimentary physics; and cup-stacking, where you stack each cup you drink in the same way the Stacker arcade game works. Neither of the drinking games are particularly difficult, but they’re fun and thematically relevant.
I played the game for about eight hours on GamePass, and my playthrough was marred by a few issues, almost all of which involved lag. Afterparty features several sequences where Milo and Lola will travel with Sam on her taxi across the River Styx. These are dialogue-heavy load sequences, basically, and would often stutter and skip, with the boat clipping badly through the water. At one point near the end of the game, the boat ride glitched out so badly Sam could no longer sit and would glide across the ground with one hand permanently frozen half-raised in front of her. Restarting fixed the issue, but it occurred during an important story beat, which really pulled me out of the experience.
I also had some severe lag during one of the dancing sequences to the point where I almost failed from missed or delayed button prompts. Other less egregious examples would be characters popping in and out of the screen or randomly twitching, and one or two hiccups in the dialogue. Overall it wasn’t detrimental to my playthrough, but it did happen enough for it to be noticeable.
I also wish the game did more with its environment. Night School did an amazing job creating an interesting version of Hell, but you never really get to interact with it. It’s just set-dressing for each interaction with the NPCs. It would have been cool to have something to encourage exploration. Finding Bicker NPCs was neat, but with the mythos and history the team set up for Satan and his family, as well as some of the more unique residents of Hell, a little bit of a collect-a-thon for more information and world-building would have been a nice touch.
Overall I very much enjoyed my time with Afterparty. The world was gorgeous and filled with likeable, interesting characters. It tackled themes I found particularly compelling, and the dialogue options offer a lot of replayability. I would actually love to go back and see if I can’t get some different outcomes from the ones I got my first playthrough. It’s light on gameplay, but this is a game I would definitely recommend for those who enjoy narrative experiences.
Afterparty is available on the Xbox One for $20, or free if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
aFTERPARTYNight School studioRPGXbox Game Pass