The End of The World As We Know It
HIGH Beautiful, scenic and cathartic vistas.
LOW Some slippery platforming.
WTF Those human statues creep me out.
Ever since Journey popularized the story-driven 3D platformer, many titles have tried to follow in its footsteps of telling captivating tales through gameplay and world design, rather than text. After Us is the latest to take a crack at it, and while it creates some beautiful moments, they are ultimately fleeting when combined with occasionally tedious exploration and imprecise platforming.
As suggested by the title, After Us is set in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of human and animal life. The player will control an entity known as Gaia, the Sprit of Life, whose quest is to rescue the spirits of deceased animals and return them to the Mother’s Ark — the place where all life is born. Using jumping, dashing, and gliding powers, the player will guide Gaia through 3D platforming exploration and challenges to recover the lost spirits.
After Us’s biggest strength is its ability to orchestrate beautiful and memorable landscapes. After climbing seemingly endless towers or trudging through dark desolate underworlds, Gaia will be greeted with views that are simultaneously beautiful and haunting, reflecting devastation the world suffered at the hands of humans. It stunningly encapsulates the developers’ aim to examine the effect of humanity’s tampering with the world’s natural resources, while also putting a magnifying glass on the animal kingdom.
Gaia will need to platform her way through this desolate world to rescue eight trapped animal souls, in addition to over 100 smaller optional animal spirits that act as collectibles for those wanting to explore every inch of the landscape.
Unfortunately, the platforming feels slippery. This might reflect Gaia’s ethereal persona effectively, but it’s frustrating when failing precise platforming challenges — it often felt like the fault of the game, and not a fault of my input. Though Gaia’s double jump and glide can help correct imprecision, they don’t prevent multiple moments of frustration. Luckily, the penalty for death is minor, as Gaia will be put back on the nearest ledge after an untimely fall.
Gaia’s other abilities allow her to dispel patches of darkness by creating greenery, and also sending out a spiritual orb projectile to either collect animal spirits or attack enemies. Both of these abilities are useful for situational puzzles, but mostly feel like an afterthought. The same goes for combat, as the presence of enemies provides more menacing atmosphere than actual challenge.
However, those things aside, my biggest issue with After Us is the exploration and collectables.
Though the beautiful and chilling surroundings are a pleasure to discover, they grow stale after a while, especially as there is no real difficulty or gameplay progression after acquiring all of Gaia’s abilities in the first hour or so, meaning there’s no tangible motivation to find all of the optional animal spirits hidden in the furthest reaches of After Us’s world. This gives the animal preservation message of After Us a slightly more passive aspect, and it doesn’t feel as relevant or as vital as it should.
Despite its immediate beauty, After Us doesn’t generate the emotional response I would hope for from a title in this genre. Perhaps if it were a bit shorter and more focused, I would have been more motivated to explore and rescue every spirit. Instead, the unpolished platforming and surplus of unnecessary collectibles diluted its intensity. Though there are certainly some memorable moments here, there are simply other titles in the genre that are much more successful at doing what After Us is attempting to accomplish.
Score: 6.5 / 10
Disclosures: This game is developed Piccolo Studio, and published by Private Division. It is currently available on PS5, Xbox X/S, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game is rated T by the ESRB for Blood and Gore and Violence. From the ESRB: “This is a third-person adventure game in which players control a nymph trying to rekindle life on Earth after widespread extinction. Players explore eight environments/areas while traversing platforms, solving puzzles, and avoiding hazards and occasional enemies. Some levels depict instances of mild violence: avoiding bear traps; ghoul-like creatures menacing characters; oil puddles with tentacles that grab players; gunfire from an unseen hunter. Large animal corpses are sometimes seen impaled by harpoons or hanging from meat hooks; some animal corpses are stained with black blood. During the course of the game, players frequently encounter grey, statue-like representations of a lost/extinct humanity (e.g., statues holding hands, standing still, embracing); all statues are depicted nude, though without genitalia or nipples.”
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitles, though they cannot be resized. Audio cues are not needed to progress the game, making it fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.