Review – After Us
Not even two months ago, I reviewed an environmentally-friendly game by Devolver Digital called Terra Nil. A game which, despite not being exactly one of the indie label’s most prolific hits in recent times, managed to come up with a neat gameplay loop while also managing to deliver its ecological message without ever sounding overly pedantic. Sadly, games like this are a rarity. Such is the case with After Us. Between its “in your face” attempts at telling us what we already know (humanity sucks, humanity is ruining the environment) and limited appeal, I can’t say I had the best time with it. That being said, it wasn’t a bad experience. Far from it, as it does feature some major positives.
Getting a hold of the plot in After Us isn’t difficult, but it’s not particularly well-told. You, a spirit of the forest, are tasked with restoring the ravaged Earth by reviving the spirits of animals you’ll find along the way. It’s a somewhat obtuse story, told in part through a bit of text and a LOT of completely speechless cutscenes meant to hit you in the feels. The land around you is ugly, destroyed, polluted, ravaged. People have died. Everyone became a stone, part of the wasteland that is Earth. Hell, even the doggies are stones. You even cry at the sight of a petrified doggie. A very cheap and melodramatic shot, to be honest.
I can’t say I was intrigued with the game’s plot. It was too on the nose. We get it, we suck as a species, we aren’t helping with pollution and global warning. This was the reason I wasn’t very keen on playing that one game about ensuring that your baby foxes would survive a cataclysm, released earlier this year. Don’t try to make me feel bad, game. If you want to deliver the message, entertain me at the same time. What can you offer? What about a by-the-books, but overall functional platformer?
I guess it’s not entirely bad. After Us is monstrously elevated by its excellent art style and one thing that also worked phenomenally well in Terra Nil: the contrast between the bright greens you can summon, with the press of a button, on top of the polluted wastelands you explore. You explore desolate landscapes in search of hidden spirits, all while cleaning pools of sludge with two types of, uh, “nature-based moves”: you can either tap L2 for a slightly ranged shot of your spirit force, which can act like a boomerang and bring over animal spirits and interact with certain objects; or you can hold down L2 and perform a blast of light, cleaning up everything in your vicinities, and also covering objects and the ground with beautiful foliage.
There’s no denying that After Us is a gorgeous game. Even though it doesn’t exactly take the PS5’s hardware to its limits, its art style, color contrast, lighting effects and overall performance are great. Gaia, the protagonist, is superbly well-animated. I did complain about the game being excessively melodramatic at times, but it manages to convey its emotions through her facial expressions. She cries, laughs, feels relieved, and so on. It’s the highlight of the game’s overall presentation, considering the fact that its soundtrack, while not bad, doesn’t reach the same heights.
The platforming itself is good. Gaia lacks a bit of momentum, but she can jump stupidly high, and perform some nice aerial combos. Given how the level design is based on linear levels with some open areas where you’re given free reign to explore and unveil secrets, I had quite a bit of fun coming up with different ways to reach isolated platforms hiding animal spirits and the like. The camera controls hampered the experience a bit, however.
Another main issue with the gameplay lied, once again, in the level design. The levels open up so much at times, turning the sole act of going from A to B way harder than it should have been. After Us‘ minimalistic interface does a really poor job at telling you where to go, resulting in you wandering aimlessly throughout a level until you are finally able to figure out where to go next. That being said, Gaia rarely feels endangered, despite how harsh the world around her might look, so getting lost just ends up being a waste of time, and not exactly a risk for her safety.
After Us is a game of contrasts. A game where the harsh grays and pollution of its desolate landscapes contrast with the gorgeous rays of light and greeneries summoned by its protagonist. Where its unwelcome setting contrasts with its easy-going gameplay loop. It’s also a game where the decent gameplay loop contrasts with its excessively on-the-nose story. I appreciate its well-natured intentions, but it tried way too hard to deliver that same old message that we are destroying the environment, and we are to blame for it all, but mother nature is much more powerful than us, feeble humans. We get it, we suck. Thankfully, there’s a decent platformer behind the preachy premise. One that’s fairly enjoyable if you can put up with some technical issues.
I like the contrast between the bright greens you can summon on top of the polluted wastelands you explore. It’s a beautiful game, despite not exactly looking next-gen, and it does run surprisingly smoothly.
Some good instances of platforming, hampered by poor camera controls and some confusing level design.
Mostly ambient music and minimal sound effects. It’s just decent enough, I suppose.
Fun Factor: 6.0
As entertaining as the platforming can be at times, the cliché plot and themes do nothing to make After Us feel more engaging.
Final Verdict: 7.0
After Us is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of After Us was provided by the publisher.