After Us Review – Beauty in Destruction

    Title: After Us
    Developer: Piccolo
    Release Date: May 23, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Private Division
    Genre: Adventure

Developer Piccolo delivered an emotional experience with their 2019 release, Arise: A Simple Story. However, I’d say their approach to storytelling is everything but simple, as seen in their creative platforming designs and heavy subject matter. Given that they’ve already tackled the afterlife, why not just tell the story of the end of the world? After Us highlights a possible future for humanity, but with the promise of a second chance.

After Us begins with players taking on the role of Gaia, who is tasked with reviving the spirits of creatures long after the end of the world. The opening moments depict a world that has been consumed by debris left behind by humans across many different environments. There’s a looming sense of loneliness as you find your way across deserted cities and demolished structures, but Gaia acts as a beacon of beauty in this chaos as her steps leave behind flowers and grass, and her eagerness to complete her tasks shows in her facial animations.

However, the journey to the end is a long one, in fact, way longer than I had assumed an indie adventure would be. Each environment literally stretches across the cosmos, and they are connected with branching paths and various challenges. The hopelessness that you may feel as the player to complete such a daunting quest begins to show in Gaia in the later of gameplay. The sadness of this post-apocalyptic world turns into a nightmare as the dangers become more significant.

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Gaia has access to a few abilities, but none that would surprise any fan of adventure platformers. You have a double jump, dash, wall run, dodge, etc. However, it’s how the developers use these very straightforward genre staples that make the entire adventure continuously unique from a design perspective. You’ll constantly be using Gaia’s abilities in new ways.

For starters, she has the ability to blast an energy field around her that grows life around her and clears out oil spills. While this is used in very simple ways at the beginning of the adventure, you’ll later use it to clear out mountains of garbage or even to knock down enemies. The use cases of each of her abilities evolve across each environment, so you’re never completely comfortable. I felt this allowed me to connect with Gaia, who likely felt this same way.

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Progression is celebrated with small victories between collecting the required animals. Animal spirits are scattered throughout the world that reward exploration as well as test your platforming skills. Gaia is able to perform an action that gives you an idea of which direction collectibles are in, but getting to them can be difficult at times.

Further, getting from point A to point B sometimes requires some out-of-the-box thinking in navigating the world. There are some challenging moments, but you aren’t heavily punished for failing a platforming section with the liberal checkpoint system, but it always felt relieving when I was able to get through a tough section.

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While most of the time, you have a rough idea of where to go. There are moments when navigation is an issue. The environments can get pretty large, requiring you to simply use landmarks to remember where you have or haven’t been. I got turned around several times, while in other moments, I simply didn’t know which direction to go. Getting lost is a common theme here, and sadly, there isn’t a traditional map to double-check where you’re going. On the other hand, a marker will sometimes be available when you have an objective, but if it’s not there, you’re left on your own.

While there isn’t a map of each area, there is one to show where you’ve been and where you need to go. This map of the cosmos also highlights missing collectibles, branching paths, and fast travel points. It took a bit to understand how to navigate it, but you’ll likely be using it more in later parts of the game to revisit sections.

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Exploration and platforming is the most significant part of gameplay, but there is a bit of action. Enemies known as Devourers can be found that resemble humans. Your only attack against them is a light that can be used as a projectile. Like other aspects of this game, it takes practice, but I found the encounters to be tense and challenging. There’s a nice mix of enemy types as well that require you to take chances if you want to cause damage. Similar to failing a platforming section, dying will rarely send you back too far. Allowing you the chance to jump right back in and try again.

Given that After Us is mostly an exploration platformer, I would have liked Gaia’s jumps to be a bit tighter. I just felt like I could never properly judge the distance of objects. I’m not sure if this was due to the camera angle or the physics of her jumping, but I would often under or overshoot my trajectory to a platform and die. The camera can be controlled, but at times it locks into a position that makes running along a wall while timing a jump on a moving platform very difficult. Still, these moments don’t make up the majority of the experience.

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The design of the environments and enemies made a huge impact on the narrative. There was time spent on making sure the player had an idea of what went on without really explaining anything. Through this imagery, we’re taken on a journey, and sometimes that leads to some scary situations that we just have to face.

The music and sound design are excellent and do well to immerse the player in each area. During my playthrough, I did encounter a glitch that caused me to restart my game, but the checkpoints are so often that it wasn’t a big deal.

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As beautiful and serene as After Us is, it tells a painful story of a world destroyed by the impact of humans. As you save each animal, the darkness that plagues the environment grows more pronounced, and you’re left wondering if this is a world even worth saving. This adventure will pique the curiosity of any player through its clever platforming sections, environment design, and strong narrative message.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.