After Us’ tone sounds like the perfect mix of post-apocalyptic recovery, no Terra Nil, and a classic story-based 3D platformer in the vein of Psychonauts. In fact, this lumbering beast is often a bit directionless for its own good, relying heavily on challenging platforming and mind-numbing combat to pass the time between tearful but brief reunions with the various spirits of the forest you’ll need to reclaim before you get to the credits. In theory, this kind of light, silent storytelling is forgivable in a game like this – assuming its platform is narrow enough to carry it around. But in this case, it’s very inconsistent.
The premise of After Us is pretty simple: you play as a super-powerful forest spirit called Gaia, or a life spirit if you want to fancy it. But she doesn’t always handle it well, and sometimes her standard platforming moves can jump between feeling slippery – which was the case when she accidentally launched her airburst too quickly – and feeling like a boulder sinking to the bottom of a river when it looks like the glide button should have worked , but… he didn’t, for whatever reason. This case has caused hundreds of needless deaths.
What’s most interesting about playing as Gaia is her ability to use her “Heart of the Forest” ability to bring life back to the land, one plant or animal at a time. She can throw it like a boomerang with a quick flick of the left trigger, giving a satisfying bit of force feedback, but all it’s really used for are some lackluster fights and the rare moments where you’ll need to reach for a key from a distance. The latter can be uniquely frustrating because the Gaia automatically aims at distant objects at roughly the same height, which means you’ll need to do a lot of extra jumping where jumping usually doesn’t seem necessary.
Instead, holding down and releasing the left trigger causes Gaia to fire the core of the jungle in a radius around it, creating a cool effect as nearby surfaces are covered in grass and flowers. Most of the time, it’s just a visual interface with no permanent power, melting back into the ground after a few seconds. That is until you find one of the eight forest spirits and use the same power always Bring them back to the Ark, a central area you can visit that serves as a petting zoo containing all the ghostly animals you’ve collected during your travels. Yes, you can pet a ghost dog, but I would have preferred a live one.
Anyway, that’s all you need to know about Gaia or the paper-thin story After Us tells us. Each forest spirit is connected to an open world filled with passages that allow movement between each area, and I found myself wandering between each of its eight visually and mechanically distinct areas, using the convenient fast-travel system to take them all in one place. fancy.
At the same time, there is no real sense of direction because you can do anything in any order you choose. As a result, I got to a point near the end of the 12-hour story where I no longer felt like it was guiding me towards its end at all. I spent a lot more time than I would have liked trying to figure out which path would take me to the final level. The “final level” is subjective here, as there is no progressive difficulty to speak of among these open areas, and the mechanics are often replaced rather than built upon. And without spoiling anything, the campaign finale is just as hostile as you might expect from a game that has no dialogue and also doesn’t adhere to a linear story.
The primary villains you’ll be dealing with are the Predators, which are basically just malevolent ghosts of humans who have destroyed the Earth through rampant consumerism. They’re not very fun to fight, since the only thing you can use against them is your boomerang ball, which doesn’t do that much damage and forces you to run back and forth while shooting it and bringing it up over and over again. There are also not many types of enemies, and if they catch you, you can easily tap the X button to break away from them easily. Battles mostly boil down to running back and forth in a circle, and it always felt like After Us was just trying to mask its boggy story with unnecessary combat encounters. I probably would have had a better time if there was no fighting at all.
At least the graphics are great. The visual design is the real star of the show in After Us, and there’s a huge amount of mechanical and visual variety across its campaign. Many of her ideas are bold. For example, there is a level where I need to avoid ghostly saw blades while racing through a ramshackle national park. Another level had me teleporting between TV screens and racing between electric pylons with a railroad grinding mini-game not unlike Ratchet & Clank. Everything looks great when played back on a 4K TV in the PlayStation 5’s 2K Performance mode, and I have to commend it for its mostly consistent performance, save for a few hiccups and hiccups here and there.
But these visual and story ideas sometimes only come together naturally in action, and since the level design is so inconsistent in terms of instantaneous platforming, accessing many of these sections with unstable controls often amounts to doing a lot of guesswork. Too many times to count, crossing a section I was dying felt so much until I tried a jump that seemed so unbearable it somehow ended up being the thing I needed to do all along. It’s not always fun or satisfying, but it’s hard to call it particularly challenging given the proliferation of autostors that sometimes I died and respawned, miraculously, at the save point I died.
Whether I’m enjoying it or not, I’ve been treated all the time to a groovy synth-based riff that conveys Blade Runner’s instantly recognizable sound. Again, it’s almost all industrial, but his sawtooth pads and arpeggios are so much fun, they feel right at home in the often dark and bleak post-apocalyptic world of After Us. The only thing missing is a man lamenting the C-Beams and attacking ships off Orion’s shoulder. At least there is a scene with tears and rain.