I’m not too sure this is a huge surprise to anyone, but humanity isn’t exactly doing the greatest job at preserving the planet in which we inhabit. Whether it be pollution, deforestation or the various issues that arise from overpopulation, there’s no doubt that in order for humans to maintain their current ways of living, the Earth, animals, and ultimately humanity itself suffers as a consequence.
This is the message portrayed in After Us, a surrealist 3D platforming adventure developed by Spanish team Piccolo Studio, placing players in a post-apocalyptic world where the environmental impact of humanity has led to the destruction of the planet and the extinction of life as we know it, and your goal is to bring it back.
Who would’ve thought the end of humanity would be so pretty?
You play as Gaia, the Spirit of Life, who awakes in a forest inhabited with numerous different animal species. As soon as she attempts to get a cuddle with a woodland critter, the animals in the forest quickly begin to disappear, and it’s abundantly clear that something terrible is going on. Gaia heads to the Mother spirit present in the forest for answers, and is told that Earth has been destroyed by Devourers, and that all the world’s animals have unfortunately perished as a result. Thankfully, the Mother has managed to save their souls from a similar fate, storing them in the body of vessels scattered throughout the world. Gifted with the Mother’s Heart, Gaia’s task is to head out into the desolate wasteland, recover the souls, and bring them back to the forest location known as the Ark, making sure to also take fight to the Devourers, the corrupted oil-soaked human entities that inhabit the Earth and snuff out any sign of life.
The narrative of After Us is rather simple, but it does a solid job at providing reasoning for Gaia’s globetrotting adventure. In regard to direct storytelling though, this is pretty much all you can expect to see throughout After Us, with the rest of the voyage relying on its excellent use of environmental storytelling and atmosphere to get its message across. Broken-down cars, mountains of rubbish, substantial oil spills, and dilapidated buildings paint the picture of a world so heavily disrupted by human impact that it has reached its breaking point, and each area throughout is presented in a fascinating abstract fashion. The City area for example, which serves as the first of eight core locations you’ll encounter throughout your travels, sees chunks of decayed architecture and rusted vehicles suspended in the air above a barren and lifeless city that is overwhelmed by rubbish and oil spills that pose a threat to Gaia.
Things are rather grim on Earth
The visuals of After Us may not be the most impressive from a visual fidelity standpoint, but the unique aesthetic of each environment and the vibrant colours present throughout most of the locations more than make up for it. Both the visuals and the soundtrack, which impresses with its range of emotional and epic tracks, come together to create a strong sense of atmosphere, which in turn makes the world of After Us and the message it’s attempting to convey all the more powerful as a result.
The goal as you gracefully traverse through the world of After Us is to locate and retrieve the Life Force present within the remains of the last animals that died. There are eight such vessels that must be retrieved in order to fulfil the Mother’s wish and complete the adventure. After retrieving the first vessel in a linear fashion, After Us quickly gives you the freedom to collect the others in whichever order you’d like, with branching paths along the way allowing you to decide which vessel you’d like to try to rescue next. While I more often than not opted to just head to the closest vessel to my current location, being given the keys to drive the adventure makes the experience feel less linear as a result.
To reach these vessels, you must make use of Gaia’s various platforming and special abilities. She only starts out with a jump to begin with, which doesn’t leave the greatest first impression with its relatively stiff and floaty nature. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long until you gather greater movement capabilities, such as the ability to hover, double jump, sprint, and airdash, making Gaia a much more enjoyable character to control. Further abilities such as the wall run and the ability to grind on rails further aids the smooth and freeing sense of movement. Gaia’s jump is still occasionally frustrating due to its aforementioned floatiness, but the vast array of abilities at her disposal after playing through the early stages more than help in compensating for it.
Gaia’s movement is enjoyable for the most part
Gaia’s Burst of Life ability, which repels obstacles such as oil spills and replaces them with lush green grass and a welcome smattering of dandelions is also crucial for progression, serving also to knock back approaching Devourers and activate grind rails. Different locations have their own unique mechanics and quirks as well, which does help the gameplay loop from not getting stale. The Factory for example has fast moving assembly lines that can be slowed and traversed upon pressing a button on a generator, whereas the Ocean level has swimming mechanics and requires you to activate water pipes in order to progress further into the level. They don’t all nail it, with the swimming mechanics present in the Harbour and Ocean levels feeling quite poor and unreliable, but for the most part they add a welcome bit of variety.
Most important to the collection of vessels is the aforementioned Mother’s Heart, which serves not only to store the vessels, but as a throwable ability that can be used to defeat Devourers, remove oil and obtain collectibles such as Memories that can be found in the bodies of particular Devourers, or the additional optional animal spirits that can be collected along the way. Both Memories and optional spirits can be easily tracked down with Gaia’s singing ability, which provides a visual cue that points players in the direction of where they lie via a trail of yellow or blue particle effects respectively. Freeing the spirit results in instances of that animal spirit being present throughout the world, a welcome reward that serves to highlight the positive progress you’re making. They don’t provide any crucial reward, but they do make the lonesome adventure just a little bit less so. You can pet most of them also, which is probably enough of an incentive to begin with.
The sense of movement and platforming throughout After Us is an entertaining experience, however I wouldn’t really say the same for the combat segments, which feel awkward in comparison. Combat essentially boils down to running away from Devourers and using the Mother’s Heart to cleanse them of the oil that covers their bodies. This resorts to pretty dull moments where you essentially just play a game of cat and mouse while spamming the heart at each enemy. It’s not much fun, and its inclusion feels pretty unnecessary. Also awkward at times is the camera, which does sometimes get stuck or aggressively zoom in. It’s not a huge deal and only happened in a few instances, but it can be a tad frustrating in moments.
The Burst of Life ability produces some beautiful scenery
My playthrough through After Us took just over ten hours, with only a handful of Spirits and Memories undiscovered through the initial run. There is a particularly wholesome reward for completion of the game, which in turn is used in a unique multiplayer mode that will grow as each player rolls credits.
While the journey of After Us is undoubtedly a captivating one, there are some rather disappointing issues that need to be addressed. By far the biggest negative throughout After Us is its shoddy performance, with hefty framerate drops and straight up freezing in some instances leading to plenty of immersion breaking moments. Unfortunately, these issues occur in both the 4K 30FPS Quality Mode, and the 2K 60FPS Performance Mode, where I spent the majority of my time with the game. They don’t seem to be as prevalent in the early hours of the game as they are towards the end, and for the most part in Performance Mode the framerate is a solid 60FPS, but in an experience such as After Us, where the portrayal and atmosphere of its dire and desolate world is paramount, performance hiccups like these do a fair bit of harm.
Does anybody need a couch?
Although some of the mechanics may not work as well as others, and the less than stellar performance hinders the atmosphere in moments, I still managed to find plenty to like about After Us. Its platforming gameplay provides plenty of amusement with its satisfying movement and tight for the most part platforming, while its visuals, environmental storytelling and soundtrack work in unison to produce a fascinating and atmospheric world.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Piccolo Studio
- Private Division
- PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
- May 23, 2023