Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Mac, Linux
Afterparty, the recent release from the same developers that brought you Oxenfree, feels like it is cut from the same cloth. It’s a narrative based adventure game with much of the gameplay consisting of dialogue choices and a few sparse mini-games. Oxenfree came out at the height of adventure game popularity, pushed forward by successes from Telltale and similar studios. Afterparty, on the other hand, is releasing during a time of adventure game fatigue. Nearly everyone has put a branching dialogue path together with some character models and published it. Now we are asking “what makes this adventure game different from the rest” or in other words, is Afterparty worth the price of admission?
A story over a couple of cold ones
There are two parts to every narrative adventure game, the story and the gameplay, and Afterparty has a story that hooks you right from the beginning. Two college graduates, Lola and Milo, wake up in Hell with no knowledge of how they died or even what they did to deserve eternal punishment. Wanting a second chance, they discover that Hell has a loophole: beat Satan himself in a drinking competition and get a chance to return to the realm of the living. Unfortunately, to outdrink the devil they will have to first outdrink his greatest demon monarchs first.
What follows is a multidimensional story, part personal journey into the sins of our main characters’ past, part rumination on the nature of good and evil. It’s intelligent and emotional but it never gets too heavy. The backdrop of a bar crawl through hell keeps things light hearted and tongue-in-cheek for most of the game. There’s always another demon NPC to talk to ready with some witty quip to make you laugh.
The characters are the strongest part of Afterparty’s writing, specifically Lola and Milo. All too often adventure games cast you either as the only good guy in a world full of backstabbing maniacs or as a completely blank slate that is fleshed out by player actions. Neither is true for our main characters. They are kind of jerks, but not in the evil villainous murder happy sort of way. They are just the sort of jerks that we have become used to as information technology has expanded and culture has changed. That’s part of what makes their journey through Hell so compelling. It was easy to see reflections of myself in Lola and Milo and that got me to question what It meant to “be a good person” at times.
Skipping the drinking games
So Afterparty’s story is on point, but what about its gameplay? Well, most of the “gameplay” in games like this revolves around making choices in dialogue trees with the presumption that they will have some sort of bearing on the plot. Unfortunately, Afterparty seems to suffer from the Telltale problem in that most of its choices are actually just smoke and mirrors. No matter what you do or say you always seem to end up in the same places doing the same things. Back when The Walking Dead Season 1 was new it was easier to buy this lie of freedom of choice. Now? The same lack of freedom feels restrictive.
Afterparty’s main gimmick is the ability to, well, drink yourself stupid. New dialogue options open up depending on what you drink, and ostensibly this is supposed to change your path through the game. Once again, though, this is more of a smoke and mirrors illusion than an actual promise of choice. Yes, the various drinks in the game do open up new and hilarious dialogue options ranging from basic emotions like anger and sadness to full out bits like talking like a pirate or a raver kid. Unfortunately, the story seems to progress in the same way no matter what you drink, making this choice superficial.
Drinking also makes you… well… drunk. On the surface, this is supposed to be some kind of tradeoff. While you gain more dialogue options you lose hand-eye coordination, which is supposed to affect your performance in scattered mini-games like beer pong.
The thing is, these mini-games also don’t seem to have a whole lot of effect on the plot. They are easy to win even if you are completely blasted and nothing really happens if you lose. As a result, there’s absolutely no downside to drinking at every opportunity, which severely undercuts the game’s more philosophical look into excess and how it interacts with morality. This is supposed to be a high stakes drinking competition for your very soul, yet the stakes have never felt lower.
In reality you are kind of just along for the ride. Afterparty only makes vague motions toward being an actual game. It feels like it fails to realize the potential in any of its mechanics, from drinking based dialogue choices to drinking games and the consequences for failing them. It’s really just a story that asks you to press buttons every so often.
Then again, that’s enough for a lot of people. It was enough for me. I had plenty of fun exploring Afterparty’s drunken neon version of hell. I can’t complain about the music, the character models, or even the animations despite a few graphical glitches I came across. It was a fun little six hour experience that I easily breezed through in an afternoon. It was a story worth experiencing, I just probably won’t be going back to it. It’s just going to gather dust on my shelf next to that one weird bottle of booze that I can’t pronounce and can’t remember buying.