Something I find myself doing more of as I grow older is jumping into titles I have no idea what is about. This led me to discover Oxenfree, a phenomenal narrative game that anyone can appreciate, even if the gameplay is not everyone’s cup of tea. Although, I was initially reluctant to try out the studio’s next project; Afterparty. I never cared for parties at college where everyone was being dumb drunks, since I want to actually remember my interactions. However, one should not judge a book by its cover, so I decided to give this one a fair shot too. That was a mistake.
Forced intoxicated humour
After a strange intro, Milo and Lilo find themselves in hell with no clue as to how or why they ended up there. Despite being tormented by a personal demon and the only choice seeming to be drinking their sorrows away, the duo are determined to get out of the underworld by any means necessary. This is the basic plot of this adventure where conversation options are a key focus. Unfortunately, while the protagonists are likeable, they do not have much in terms of personalities except for their main traits. Milo is a bit dubious and shy, with Lilo being the headstrong one.
Because of their simple setups, none of the responses to pick becomes intriguing or comes off as believable. It is here where I wonder why not make these two teens into one character that could be memorable? Sure, they are college students and it is in this era where one tries to find themselves, but there is no good arc to speak of here either, making them lacklustre. It is all made worse by the entire cast of this eternal abyss, as every creature can be described as “awkwardly humorous”, leading to no one standing out. Your cab driver, the bartenders, and even Satan have minimalistic appeal to them, and this tremendously hurts the dialogues too.
Everyone is snarky or has the attitude of someone who got their first psychology lesson and suddenly knows everything. Due to this, what they say does not contribute to the story in any meaningful way and at best sounds pretentious. The prime example of this is your personal demon that I wish I could choose to ignore like any sane being would, since she is just there to spew out poor observations. Sadly, in some circumstances, you have to answer her no matter what.
This is also another terrible aspect Afterparty struggles with; immersion. You are often halted in dialogue sequences and not able to move, making these moments when everyone is trying to be funny or cute tiresome. I also want to add that the obligatory break up of the group before the end is just forced and Lucifer’s problems are not something even worth acknowledging. Honestly, the alternative pathways to take add nothing significant to the journey either, with the sole exception being who you meet at the end.
All of the characters are simply boring to talk to, even when they are trying to mentally corrupt or scare you. Nothing here screams horror or uncomfortable, just underwhelming and annoying. If I can give this world anything, I do like some portions of its lore that feature various mythological demons, a couple of the tortures are creative representations of people’s sins, and you see tweets everywhere. The last part does not contain any valuable reading materials, but is a fascinating form of communication device this universe depends on. Regrettably, when it is better to go to a real pub and chat with someone laying on the floor uttering gibberish, that is saying a lot.
Story Score: 2.5/10
Pick your poison
You will be controlling the duo in two directions and can respond to conversations whenever they are highlighted. In general, you only have two options to choose between that eventually fades away if you are able to give a silent reply. However, a third alternative can be unlocked through an interesting setup; drinking. Whenever you find a bartender, you can order one of their multiple liquors for free, each providing you with something different in terms of answers. Some might make you flirty, others give you an aggressive tone, and one can even make you speak like a pirate.
Frankly, this is a neat idea for creating engaging chats, though it rarely does so. More often than not, you get a similar reaction to what another beverage would have offered, making this concept underdeveloped. This is a shame, as it is actually absorbing to see if you could get something unique through your selected booze, but no such luck. Even the mechanic of you being affected by alcohol for a short time and only having a limited amount of sips is pointless when it basically makes you wait a bit for a refill.
Sadly, it is also here you will notice an awful factor of this narrative title; your choices do not really matter. The results are usually the same, with only a couple of crucial parts being anything to write home about. Even the sense of immersion is mitigated through how your responses can be off and yet still drive the story forward. Although, this game loves halting you from moving much as you speak, forcing you to partake in their dull conversations and neglect progression. The worst offender to this, are the quizzes your demon gives you on your personality. She constantly tries too hard to make these segments seem fascinating and it makes me wish I could completely shun her.
If I can say anything positive, then the minigames are at least adequate. Beer pong has you aim and throw balls into the opponent’s cup where your accuracy is affected by drinking and a similar setup is presented when you have to make Jacob’s Ladder using shot glasses, both being amusing diversions! There is even a decent QTE focusing on memorisation. However, these are minor elements in a project revolving around dialogue options, and when they do not count for more than an extra scene or detour, I have a difficult time caring.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
College towns can honestly be like hell
There exist plenty of bewitching takes on the eternal damnation, and while this one is not one of them, it is not without its commendable parts too. Being built as a university city, areas have bright neon lights, a bunch of bars, a giant schoolyard, and generally constructions based on those you would see in such locations. Unfortunately, this is also the problem; this is just a mash of different metropolia. It is at times hard to see this being depicted as the land of perdition, despite the molten lava separating the islands and dark caverns, due to how ordinary everything is.
Similarly goes for the inhabitants, as all are either mere humans with no distinct flavour to them or demons that are not much better. At best, you will come across oddly shaped devils with horns or questionable hairstyles, but they blend in easily with even those from the mortal realm, making no one leave any impression. Satan is especially disappointing, as he is too simply designed to be either mesmerising or intimidating.
However, I should stress that this is still a colourful game where everything pops out and I do admire the smooth animations of the creatures walking around. It is also nice to see the protagonists’ drinks being well represented by correct dyes and effects after ordering them, particularly since these liqueurs are truly remarkable and creative visually. These would not have been out of place at a Halloween party, but this version of hell is overall quite tame. Not even the subtle architects in the background representing the lore of this world can help, since they are not a focus and are barely present.
Probably the most difficult subject to tackle here is the audio. I do love every actor’s voice and their directions are impressive. Khoi Dao, Janina Gavankar, Ashley Burch, Sara Elmaleh, and the rest of the cast do an outstanding job with their deliveries, with Dave Fennoy as Lucifer being just wonderful. Sadly, they are all held back by the materials they got to work with. The dialogues are too superficial, making them blend too much with each other in characteristics and become forgettable. It is a tragedy, but this is to the point that Jim Cummings could not have helped.
I do enjoy the minor sound effects more, such as the one of a record scratching for whenever you jump between menu options. Though the compositions are too low to be noticeable and it is a terrible shame. It is filled with neat mixes of techno and liturgical music that are truly unique! Some tracks have a chill electric vibe with a fortepiano, others use a harsh guitar with a light keyboard, and a couple even features a choir with modern instruments. None of the melodies is diverse enough to be memorable alone, but the combinations are imaginative and their repetitive tones fit with the traditional college parties.
Presentation Score: 5/10
Who wants to go back to damnation?!
After I finally got to the ending, I dreaded the idea of a second playthrough. This is a slog of a trip that you solely revisit to see something alternative or get a different conclusion. Regrettably, these scenarios are not interesting enough for multiple runs due to being too formulaic. Getting to pet a damned dog was the only highlight for me, and that barely lasted three seconds compared to the five hours of tedium it takes to see the credits roll.
Extra Score: 1/10
This is pretty much everything I hate about parties. Dumb people to interact with, mediocre games, boring places, having my stay unnecessarily prolonged, and being nothing I would ever want to go back to. Some amazing tracks cannot save what is a forgettable journey and it hurts that the visuals are not more creative. This is a nachspiel I can easily reject. Better to invite good friends over for a nice movie night and popcorn.