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Afterparty has one of those premises that is immediately attractive. Outdrinking Satan to escape Hell is the perfect combination of silly and ingenious to be at least worth a look. This is only bolstered by developer Night School’s pedigree, as Oxenfree was a well-written game that was a meaningful step forward for the narrative adventure genre. Afterparty looks to keep all of Oxenfree’s strengths — from the clever writing to the unique dialogue system — but in a more polished and expansive way.
Just looking at Afterparty for a few minutes makes it readily apparent how similar it is to Oxenfree. The perspective, presentation, and style all line up, making the Venn diagram of the both audiences just one giant circle. It’s a good starting place but Afterparty doesn’t just rest on that establishment as its dialogue systems are more ambitious and seem like an intelligent, noteworthy improvement.
Speech bubbles do pop up during conversations and let players walk and talk; a seemingly small but actually huge benefit to the pacing. Although Afterparty has a few new systems that give players more options. Exploring the hellish nightlife naturally puts you in bars and other demonic ragers that often revolve around drinking. Buying different kinds of booze affects what options can appear in your dialogue wheel. Beverages can run the gamut of moods from flirty to angry but can also have more atypical side effects like talking like a pirate if yarr be willin’ to drink the right grog. Game Director Adam Hines explained how having a big, alcohol-stocked bar of options improves the game.
“For this one, we wanted to give you the opportunity to roleplay in that you could kind of emulate the feeling of going out on a bar crawl,” he said. “So if you were in a pissed off mood, you might drink a certain way. It’s to help the replayability of the game and you can beat the game only drinking in an angry mode or in certain ways and then you can play the whole thing in a different style too.”
Afterparty Preview | Pick your poison
Picking drinks is just one of the few ways the game can splinter. It also has more traditional branches where you’ll be able to choose between different parties to attend to. You’ll be missing one area to go to another and, combined with the array of drinks, you’ll likely have a unique playthrough each time. Studio Director Sean Krankel described how having different options not only gives it replayability but also more accurately emulates an eventful night bar hopping and further differentiates it from Oxenfree.
“You can play the game in a variety of orders and you can miss a lot of content,” said Krankel. “Like if there are two parties, you’re gonna miss the other party. Ideally, everyone’s playthrough is going to sound different like in what characters you meet or what you said. We wanted it to feel like a real night out where the best nights out partying with your friends are sort of like a blur of bouncing around. The game is intended, design-wise, to feel like that way. Whereas Oxenfree was very focused on getting the hell out of there, this game should feel like you’re brought into this crazy pub crawl.”
Diving into bars in hell is probably the most surreal pub crawl ever and a bit reminiscent of the 2013 Edgar Wright film, The World’s End. Wright is master filmmaker known for his humor and witty dialogue that he uses to craft likable characters. Hines talked about how big an inspiration Wright was to the whole game and using comedy to tell its story.
“We definitely took a lot of inspiration from that movie in particular but, in general, Edgar Wright’s tone,” he said. “He has the great vibe of it’s clearly a comedy and clearly a hyperkinetic kind of pitch to the hilt world, but he also has a lot of heart and you really care about those characters at the same time.”
Evoking such a noted filmmaker is a bold thing to say, but the game seems to have the skills to back it up. Conversations were quick and full of humor that were usually at least worth a chuckle, if not an actual laugh. The speed and quality of the jokes works with the fluid walking and talking system and results in a captivating, well-paced game with dialogue you actually want to listen to. While it’s unknown how long the game can keep up this relentless pace, its brilliant dialogue currently has everything going for it.
Afterparty Preview | Hell of witty dialogue
As Hines said, the cast benefits the most from this sharp dialogue. Solid, natural voice acting made them easy to root for and each seemed to take advantage of the slick script they were given. And if you’re going to be getting out of Hell, having good characters is a decent place to start. They’ll also often interact with the many beings of Hell, which is ripe for comedy gold, but also fills out the world a little more and tosses them into interesting scenarios.
This is where some of the game’s mechanics come into play. While you’ll mostly be talking, drinking minigames like pounding shots and beer pong can pop up to settle scores. While some of the activities are still under wraps, beer pong relies on knowing how to arc your shot and counteracting the dizzying effects of the alcohol you’ve consumed. The more cups your opponent sinks, the harder it is to win.
Just like in college, draining a shot into a red cup is satisfying but it serves a bigger purpose of giving you an open invitation to talk more crap and sling jokes. Layering in simple mechanics while also delivering the game’s signature silver tongued dialogue is a smart way to feed the player world building, character growth, or plot details while giving them something to do. It’s a key element that other adventure games often overlook. But these drinking games also help Night School achieve something bigger.
“Our big goal with it is that every goal you have or obstacle that you have to overcome, there are two ways to do that,” said Hines. “That feeds into the drinking or minigames that you can do. And that’s another big thing that we wanted to change from Oxenfree. In Oxenfree, it was a laidback easy game where you could make choices through the story. In this one, we wanted some aspect that you could get good at.”
Playing beer pong with demons appears to actually add something to the game, but the main focus is still going to be all the narrative elements. From the twisted, comical interpretation of the underworld to the ridiculous demons that inhabit it, Afterparty has got the premise to intrigue you to give it a look and the dialogue and characters to hook you once you’re in. The game is a lot like an actual bar that has some flashy signs hanging outside and a good music blaring from the streets. It sounds incredible from the outside and has a lot of promise. But we will just have to wait until it comes out later this year to see if it lives up to its promise and is worth the cover charge.