Humans are perpetually reminded of the future that lies in store (or lack thereof) if they don’t take proactive steps toward conservation. This is the basis of After Us, the latest adventure from Arise: A Simple Story developer Piccolo Studio and publisher Private Division. After Us explores a surreal world where its human inhabitants once took nature's resources for granted, which led to the demise of all remaining life. As Gaia, the Spirit of Life, players must embark on a challenging journey through desolate environments in order to free the spirits of extinct animals and uncover the underlying causes behind the world's downfall.
Light on your feet
Gaia must embark on a dangerous journey through a grim, post-human land ravaged by pollution and over-consumption. While platforming through crumbling cities and contaminated waters, Gaia must track down a series of extinct animals whose souls are trapped in their bodies, known as Vessels. Several optional spirits can be found on the way to each Vessel. Freeing them will send their spirit back to Mother’s Ark, a lush landscape that acts as a safe zone in between expeditions.
Gaia is imbued with a special life-giving power that serves as her primary means of interaction with the environment. Manifested as a radiant ball of light, this power can be tactically thrown at a distance, enabling Gaia to manipulate objects, overcome obstacles, and even confront adversaries. Furthermore, Gaia can harness the energy within her to charge up a potent burst of life, capable of repelling enemies and forging a grassy path forward through each bleak landscape.
A leap in the dark
Most of the time spent in After Us consists of leaping, gliding, and wall-running through barren regions, freeing any spirits you may encounter. The game requires the use of a controller, which I found conducive to Gaia’s mobility. Her intentionally floaty movement allows her to dash and soar across vast expanses. While the movement controls are fluid and responsive most of the time, it can be tricky to stick the landing in some cases. Luckily, there is a small circle that appears on the ground under Gaia as she floats down to the surface after jumping, which helps you judge exactly where to land. The game is also forgiving enough to recognize when you're having trouble platforming, as dying multiple times in a row will cause you to respawn ahead on the platform you are trying to reach.
Vessels are often discovered after making an extensive trek through a region. The environmental puzzles are themed around the setting they are in and figuring out which way to go often involves careful observation of your surroundings. Gaia’s special power lets her interact with objects and reveal hidden passages. Along the way are a series of oil drills that Gaia can deactivate to create a spawn point that you can return to at any time. Players have the freedom to explore regions and pursue Vessels in whatever order they prefer, using the oil drill checkpoints to save time.
Small, glowing tree saplings and the spirits of animals you’ve freed act as visual markers that inform where to go in each area. Gaia can sing to call out to nearby freed spirits and determine which way to go. However, I didn’t feel the need to do so very often and would seldom sing during exploration. You can also pet the freed spirits that you come across in the world, though there doesn’t seem to be a purpose in doing so other than for the novelty of it.
The human inhabitants of the surreal world who had not turned to stone have been transformed into hulking, gelatinous shells of their former selves known as Devourers. Some Devourers are aggressive and will chase down Gaia in an effort to stamp out her life. Gaia can take down Devourers by tossing her light orb at them so that it passes through their body. This is easier said than done at times, as some Devourers will carry a shield that prevents them from being hit from the front.
Though not strictly a narrative game, After Us does have an underlying story that is gradually revealed by freeing Devourers. Certain Devourers unlock memories, which appear as a series of images depicting how humans led to their own demise. Completing the game and unlocking every memory requires a meticulous and thorough exploration of previously visited areas, a task best suited for completionists.
Bring me to life
After Us serves as a compelling reminder of the far-reaching consequences of environmental neglect. While there are stories to glean through memories, the game is primarily a tactile experience, emphasizing parkour and puzzle-solving over delivering a strong narrative. The game has approachable puzzles and straightforward controls that should be easy for most to pick up. Its engaging gameplay mechanics, stark visuals, and poignant message make for a satisfying puzzle-platformer overall.
This review was based on a pre-release PC review code provided by the publisher. After Us will be available on May 23, 2023 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Steam.
- Platforming is responsive and forgiving
- Environmental puzzles are plentiful and satisfying
- Simple control scheme that is easy to pick up
- You can pet the spirit animals
- Easy to misjudge jumps and overshoot landings
- Singing not very useful