I don’t like to be wrong. In fact, I hate being wrong more than I hate being right. But when I am, I’ve learned to own up to it no matter how much it kills me inside. So here I am, saying that I was wrong about Afterparty.
The new game from Night School Studios, developers of Oxenfree, was released last Tuesday and I couldn’t wait to get my hand on it. For those unfamiliar with the title, the premise is that the two main characters are sent to Hell and try to escape by challenging Satan to a drinking competition. Sounds pretty fun and unique right? I thought so too. So I made plans to stream Afterparty in one sitting on my birthday, October 30th. However, about an hour and a half into my playthrough, I found myself bored out of my fucking mind and decided to stop so I could enjoy the rest of my evening. I eventually finished the game off-stream, hoping that it was just a slow starter. It wasn’t, and let me explain why…
First, I think it’s important to say that I absolutely love narrative-driven games, so this isn’t a matter of taste. I cried at the end of Life is Strange, I loved Telltale’s The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, and I’ve played through (and enjoyed) Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, and The Stanley Parable. I’m a firm believer that you don’t need deep or innovative gameplay to make a good video game. But, if you’re going to go that route, everything else needs to be stellar. First, the story needs to be highly engaging. Throughout the entire game, the player should have some emotional response to what is going on, and it needs to be supported by strong aesthetics. Your graphics and/or artwork, soundtrack, and voice acting all have to stand out. That’s honestly why Night School’s first game, Oxenfree, was so good. Hell, the whole game is just one giant complex dialogue tree. But it keeps the player engaged with a story filled with mystery and suspense paired with decisions that heavily impact the end of the game. Unfortunately, I never felt anything near this level of engagement in my entire playthrough of Afterparty.
To start, the pacing is so damn slow that there were times that I put the game down after only a 20-minute session because I was so bored. You just get trapped over and over in these long conversations that are saturated with meaningless dialogue. I think the developers tried to offset it with wit and humor, but it rarely worked. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very funny moments to this game, but they end up drowned out by a bland narrative that takes way too long to get started. And on top of all of this, the ending is so anticlimactic. You would hope that a game that starts as slow as Afterparty and is constantly building to a final drink off against Lucifer himself would end with a bang. Instead, it just ends. Like abruptly. Like I stared at the screen for a solid 5 minutes after it was done thinking “what the fuck was that”. The two main characters, Milo and Lola, are very forgettable and there was never a time that I felt empathetic to their plight to escape Hell. In fact, the Hell that Night School created looks so fun that I don’t know why they’d ever want to leave.
That was the highlight of the game to me. All the different bars and demons look so cool in the neon art style that many times I had more fun exploring the environment than following the actual story. This is supported by a soundtrack that at first, I thought was pretty average, but I’ve been listening to it while typing this post up and I actually think it’s pretty good. I would absolutely party at a bar that was playing this music. The voice acting was excellent and helped demons like Satan, Wormhorn, Apollyon, and Sam Hill stand out. That’s not a knock against the main characters mind you; I don’t think the writers gave them much to work with. Another big highlight for me was the drinking mini-games. They are a TON of fun and I have no idea why Night School chose to put so little of them in the game. I mean, the whole premise is that you’re partying your way out of hell, so why limit that to only 20ish minutes of the 6-hour playtime? That just doesn’t make sense to me. I guess the new “choose you drink” mechanic was supposed to be the main way to convey that premise and allow the player another way to shape the story, but it didn’t land as well as they probably thought it would. And honestly, that’s the best way to summarize this game as a whole.
I’m not saying that Afterparty is absolute trash; this isn’t a Crackdown 3/Anthem/Mass Effect Andromeda level of failure. Believe me, if it was I would be shredding it to bits. The best way I can describe it is this: imagine if someone wanted to make a film like Quentin Tarantino, but missed on all the aspects that make his films so great. You can tell that they tried really hard, but they’re missing that spark of life to push it to the next level. That’s what this game felt like. It’s got a great premise and setting, the aesthetics are great, but overall the story, dialogue, and ending are what weighs everything down. I still believe in Night School Studio and I think they will rebound from this with whatever title they work on next, but Afterparty was a swing and a miss.