It's a version of hell that we socially awkward types will instantly recognize – a party full of people you don't know that never ends. That's where the heroes of Afterparty, the new game from the people that gave you supernatural science fiction adventure Oxenfree, find themselves, and their coping mechanism is smart comments and heavy drinking. Finally, a game that really understands me.
"The first thing we wanted to do post-Oxenfree was just to do something more fun, for lack of a better term," laughs developer Night School Studio's Sean Krankel. "Something that felt, at least on the surface, to be a little more lighthearted and that could be a little bit more comedic. That was the first goal."
The section I played was about 30 minutes into the action, as Milo and Lola are given a tour of one of hell's districts by their cab driver, Sam, and end up in a bar. This is also when they find out about a very specific loophole. Out drink the devil, party harder than the prince of lies, and he'll let you out of hell. The first time you get your hands on the controller, the game plays a lot like Oxenfree. You swap between main characters Lola – sassy, cool, voiced by Janina Gavanker – and Milo – anxious, voiced by Khoi Dao – and choose from dialogue options that appear above your head as speech bubbles. The twist in Afterparty is that drinking different types of infernal alcohol will unlock new speech options, which is key when trash-talking demons.
"The bar idea really came from Just playing games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Skyrim and all these games where there are pubs, but people don't really do much in them other than play an animation where you stumble into walls and the screen gets blurry," explains Krankel.
Your booze gauge hangs over your head while you're drinking, so you know when you need to top yourself off with a sip from your glass. I kept my Famous Last Words cocktail with me while I played beer pong with a nice, friendly guy called Tommy and his demonic friend to get access to a private Death Day party in the backroom, and used it to make sure I could sling insults as well as the ball. It'll be interesting to see how this mechanic works later in the game, I only got one extra option from drinking and it didn't seem to matter too much what drink I had, but I predict that will get more complicated and nuanced as you get further into the hell party scene.
"Like Harry Potter potions, is how we thought about it," says Krankel. "A drink will open up all-new dialogue options. So in the case of Oxenfree, it was three sets of choices. Here you'll have your two choices that always exist for the player, and then whatever drink you have there's an entirely new script based on that. Each bar has between four and six drinks, so the script is a hell of a lot bigger."
The drinks might make you funnier, flirtier, smarter, turn you into a mobster or a make you literally vomit up your conscience. Who hasn't been there after one too many Moscow Mules?
The game looks great too, all stylized demons and neon and detail–- built from various cultures' ideas of hell – but it's the writing that really makes it feel like something special. Friendly Tommy turns out to be a serial killer called the Night Scalper, someone else explains that a tech startup guy is in hell after dying hunting homeless people. It's dark, but funny, something Krankel compares to an Adult Swim show or Netflix's Bojack Horseman. Lola and Milo feel like people you might actually want to hang out with at a bar, rather than bland drones or walking banter machines.
"It was important to us that this was a buddy adventure," reveals Krankel. "When we look at Bill and Ted or Superbad or a lot of the Edgar Wright movies, in all of those you really want to see the dynamic between the two of them."
We'll get to see the relationship between Milo and Lola develop, and just like a real night of heavy boozing, the effect of your actions can last longer than the hangover. "I think that's going to be the really surprising thing to people, because yes on the surface it's a boozy romp through hell, but it's actually a really deep exploration of the friendship of these two characters. You as the player start as both of them, in a very symbiotic fashion, and then depending on how the player plays that can change pretty dramatically. Even the central goal of the game, to get out of hell, by the middle of the game that might have changed for you."
Having had a taste of the devil's drinks, I can't wait for more, and I'm ready to make some really terrible decisions. You'll be able to pull up a stool at the Afterparty bar on October 29, and the game will be released on Xbox One and PC.