This review contains minor spoilers.
Oxenfree is one of my favourite games of this generation, which is a well documented fact in Respawning. This being the case you can imagine my delight at hearing that the next game from Night School Studio was releasing this year, and I picked it up the moment it appeared on the PlayStation Store on 29th of October. I went in completely blind to this game, without watching any trailers, looking into the plot or reading reviews, and so I was very happy to discover that the game features drinking heavily and is set in Hell! Two of my favourite things!
In some ways it builds very well on Oxenfree, and there are definitely components to commend in this title… However, as heartbreaking as it is for me to say, in the ways that really matter, Afterparty totally falls flat.
My main gripe is with the main characters, Milo and Lola, who are similar to Alex and Ren from Oxenfree in the same way gravel and dog shit can replace ham and cheese in a sandwich. They’re two of the most boring and whiny characters I’ve encountered in a video game, and their personally assigned demon, Wormhorn, is an absolute abhorrence whose every word seems crafted to piss me off. I have a suspicion that this is the effect Night School Studio were going for with Wormhorn’s dialogue, but that doesn’t make it any less fucking annoying, and I audibly groaned every time that they appeared on screen.
A point I will concede to Milo and Lola is that I’d probably be pretty whiny too if I was suddenly killed on the day of my graduation, combined with the fact I find myself sentenced to eternity in Hell! Unfortunately the game never really moves on from this, and their vexing and unaware tones carry on throughout the entirety of the game!
There are numerous occasions when the framerate plummets as the game loads new areas you transition to, that reduce Milo and Lola to a stiff and jerking movement where they are usually fluidly animated. Temporarily pausing the game or cutting to black would be less jarring than this visual annoyance, and at one point I lost them in the screen and found myself walking into a wall that I had previously believed to be a door.
There are also a couple of mini games thrown in that – and now I’m speaking directly to the trophy hunters out there – are a complete nightmare to get the trophies for. They’re easy to ignore, though they do impact the story, and they had me screaming at my TV in frustration for the shitty controls on more than one occasion.
Whilst I have lots of issues with Afterparty, I do want to clarify that it is not a bad game overall. As evidence, I want to talk about some of the moments when it truly shines and is most apparent it was made by the same developers as the masterpiece that is Oxenfree.
The visuals are absolutely breathtaking, and it is the first game in ages where I have felt compelled to use the PlayStation Share button to capture a couple moments of Hell’s gorgeous scenery. The soundtrack is top notch as well, and I particularly like it when it often smashes two genres together, for example, electronic and classical. This is incredibly well realised and implemented, and works well to compliment the current plot beats and atmosphere the developers wanted to create.
A lot of the background characters, particularly Satan / Lucifer (referred to as ‘Luke’ at a couple points which made me laugh), are interesting and well written and have enough screen time that they remain fun to interact with and don’t overstay their welcome.
Afterparty attempts to be funny, though as easily entertained as I am, I’d say only a third of the comedic digs made me laugh. The rest fall flat or only draw eye rolls from me, and feel like poor substitutes for moments where I felt good character development was about to take place.
The overall plot is uninspired and drags on an hour or so longer than I think it really should have, and while there are multiple game endings, I truly detest the laziness and banality of the one I ended up with. I know Night School Studio can do better than this, and I hope there are lessons learnt from Afterparty that they will carry into the future.
For a dull story, but great environments. For incredible sound design, but dislikeable characters who deserve to be in Hell for their personalities, and the frequent frame rate drops as the game scrambles to load in the background, I give Afterparty a 6 out of 10.
Thank you for reading, and do let me know your thoughts on Afterparty in the comments and on Twitter @RespawningUK. While I am unimpressed with the game overall, Oxenfree is great enough that I will continue to pay attention to Night School Studio for whatever they bring to the table next.Become a Patron!