AFTERPARTY (2019)

Talk your way out of Hell.

Flirt your way out of Hell.

Cheat your way out of Hell.

Dance your way out of Hell.

Party your way out of Hell.

(PC/macOS/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xboxes) AFTERPARTY is another narrative-forward videogame from OXENFREE developers Night School Games. Unlike OXENFREE, a deft interactive teen horror adventure, AFTERPARTY focuses on two platonic 20-something best friends — Milo (Khoi Dao) and Lola (Janina Gavankar) — just about to graduate from college.

Then they die and go to Hell and, in order to escape they need not only outdrink Satan, but also come to terms with each other, their past, and their future.

What follows is an extremely visually striking and darkly comedic game, perhaps containing some of the filthiest, well-crafted jokes I’ve ever encountered in a game. AFTERPARTY is also brilliant with its character work — not just its honest and complicated portrayal of a platonic friendship between a man and a woman — but also with its ancillary characters, including psychopomp ferrier Sam (HORIZON: ZERO DAWN’s Ashly Burch) whose life/death is both over-shared and enigmatic at the same time.

It is worth noting that, while OXENFREE featured some intriguing interface tools apart from dialogue trees, AFTERPARTY’s non-dialogue interactivity is reduced to a number of routine mini-games. While thematically that makes sense — beer pong and rhythm mini-games make perfect sense for the material — they often feel like they emptily get in the way of what you’d rather be doing: advancing the story and learning more about the characters.

Nonetheless, it’s perfect for playing over the Halloween weekend with a friend. AFTERPARTY doesn’t overstay its welcome, and while it actually takes place in Hell, it’s more emotionally substantive than scarring.

PARADISE KILLER (2020)

It took a while, but I just wrapped up PARADISE KILLER, an extremely stylish, absolutely bonkers murder mystery game for Switch/PC. It’s so bonkers that, when my wife asked why it was named PARADISE KILLER, I had to think for a bit and then responded: “It’d take me at least five minutes to detail why, and I don’t have the energy for that right now.”

That said, I do love a challenge, so here it goes: humanity has been visited by gods and, in a way to appeal to the gods’ sensibilities, a faction of semi-immortals (who go by the moniker The Syndicate) have been building ideal islands — this may or may not be a riff on Gaunilo’s ‘Lost Island’ argument, who knows? — by kidnapping mortal humans to build said islands. Unfortunately, each of the prior 24 islands have been corrupted by demonic influence, causing them to self-destruct the island and move on to a new, more perfect island. The immortals get to ascend to the new island, whereas the mortals are ceremoniously slaughtered. Island 25, dubbed Perfect 25, has been built and The Syndicate are transferring over, but halfway through the migration the leaders of The Syndicate are murdered. To solve the mystery, Syndicate investigator Lady Love Dies is brought out of her multi-million year exile. (She’d previously been tricked by a demon to help undermine an island.) The game itself has you navigate Lady Loves Dies throughout the mostly empty vaporware aesthetic of Island 24 to interrogate the remaining Syndicate members, gather evidence, and then dole out sweet bullet justice.

Phew. See? Absolutely bonkers, and I didn’t even go into the blood crystals, reality drive, or lingering ghosts.

Now, please don’t take this post as an ecstatic recommendation. This game is practically tailor-made for me, thanks to its high-concept pitch, exceedingly idiosyncratic dialogue, non-sensical item collection, low-anxiety stakes, absolutely infectious soundtrack and casual romancing, but it’s not exactly a ‘good game’. Most of the time you’re roaming around the island for hours to find someone to talk to, all while getting distracted by the numerous items that litter Island 24. You can purchase a few power-ups, which consist solely of ways to allow you to explore more of the island, slightly faster, which you’ll appreciate because you will get lost, a lot. It’s an open world game, but lacks the hallmarks of what one expects from open world design, such as sensible urban layouts or proper landmarks, or even easy fast travel. (You can fast travel, but it’ll cost you.)

Also, the end is more than slightly underwhelming. It’s worth noting that, while it’s a murder mystery, you can accuse anyone you want, regardless of evidence. Even after the trials are over, you can dole out justice haphazardly by executing or exiling anyone left on the island.

That said, it was a perfect game for me at this time, as it helped me through the tail end of winter and eased me into spring. I desperately need to pick up a copy of the soundtrack.