After Us review: Lifeless and uninspiring

Piccolo /

Title: After Us
Developer: Piccolo Studios
Publisher: Private Division
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed on), PC, Xbox Series
Release Date: May 23, 2023

After Us is one of those games that had me interested as soon as I saw the announcement trailer. Puzzle or platformer games with a good narrative based story are a niche of mine, so I was curious to know more about the adventures of Gaia. Pegged as an emotional journey on Earth after an apocalyptic event, After Us was promising a game along the lines of a 3D Ori. Unfortunately, all that was promised yet none of it was delivered.

I began After Us excited for what was to come. A brief prologue takes you through the game’s slight backstory. The only voiced character in the game is “Mother”, a giant tree who gives her spirit of life to Gaia, which she can then use to find souls of past living animals throughout the world. A quick few jumps through the tutorial level and I was in the main game. Unfortunately for After Us, there is much still to be desired.

First, let’s start with what I really enjoyed. The art design and lighting was really enveloping. A truly 3D environment that saw Gaia stand out amongst the background and blend into the foreground throughout my play was good to see. It looked really nice, however, that’s where it stops. As good as it looked color and lighting wise, the level design itself made absolutely no sense.

Set on Earth after the end of the world is one thing, but After Us gives us no indication this is what’s happening. Even being told this, the game is not set up to depict this type of story.

First, there are random cars all over the map. This is normally fine, but the issue is that they are just suspended in mid-air. Some of them still even have their lights as if batteries didn’t exist on this Earth. When Gaia jumps on a car to try and reach another level, it moves up and down like a see-saw on its edges. So, it can move yet somehow doesn’t, you know, fall down? For example, other things like working construction cranes just populate levels. How? A traumatic event occurred that decimated the entire world and everything in it, yet somehow a construction crane still has power. It would be one thing if Gaia had some electric ability to re-charge the crane, but that doesn’t occur here. There just isn’t any reason for it. Random whales swimming around the sky simply kills the aesthetics.

Before I get more into the design and gameplay, it’s necessary to know the story. Gaia receives the spirit of life from Mother. With it, she is able to sing a couple of notes. This sends out the game’s version of a homing beacon, and the notes sail off toward the direction of a spirit contained in the level. Gaia needs to find these spirits in order to restore life to the world. Each level has 8 smaller spirits and one large one needed to clear it. That’s the only navigation there is in the game.

Each of these spirits correspond to a smaller animal. The spirits are white balls of light scattered throughout the levels. When you find one, you’ll need to tap or long press L2 in order to capture it with Gaia’s spirit of life to restore it to the world. This is another issue I had with the set up. The entire game from the very beginning we are told that we need to restore life to a dying world and its only hope is finding these spirits. The issue is these spirits don’t come back to life or restore any life to the world. All it does is transform them from a ball of light into their animal’s spirit form. Both they and the rest of the world are still dead and dying. How are we saving life again?

After capturing all 8 smaller animals, finding the main large animal of the level grants a SMALL glimpse into the story. Unfortunately, even after several levels, what is shown doesn’t provide any semblance of clarity and only further clouds the gameplay. Combat is sparse in After Us. A few “enemies” are tossed in here and there so as not to distract from the game’s main enemy; The navigation system. The enemies that are around are just out of place. For one, the “people” in the game Gaia sees are frozen in time apparently from whatever event transpired. They are encased in solid ash or stone. For some reason, however, they are giant people.

At first, I thought that maybe Gaia was just perhaps a very small spirit, but that isn’t the case. The people are huge and they are the same size as the cars strewn about. Needless to say trying to understand how these people fit in the cars and why the cars are suspended in mid-air to begin with found me battling a new enemy; a migraine. Even worse, some of these frozen people just come back to life to attack you. There’s no reason for it, no explanation – it just happens. If there were no random people, then the floating jellyfish blobs get you. These are just random blobs flying around the world that home in on your location.

Defeating enemies involves another ironic method of design. In order to take out the re-animated giant people, floating blobs or the other randoms that pop up, Gaia needs to throw out her life spirit toward them. This is the same one we use to release the spirits we find scattered throughout the world. The confusing part is how this spirit of “LIFE” somehow restores the animals yet decimates the people and other spirit blobs instead. In a game where we supposedly need to restore life to a dying world, it would have hade made more sense for this ability to save enemies rather than destroy them.

I’ve played games of this genre for a long time and have liked most of them. Games such as Limbo, Inside, Never Alone, Ori, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons have a lot going for them. While their characters don’t often speak, it is made up for with their gameplay, aesthetics and narrative backstory. While the story in Inside was honestly very bad, at least the puzzles and background environment design made up for that. Never Alone was an incredible game that was slept on by way too many people. Limbo’s story and puzzles were top tier and were only enhanced by the noir type black and white environmental design. These games used what made them great to help offset what wasn’t so prominent with them, whether it be by intentional design (Never Alone) or failing to do what it tried to do (Inside).

The issue with After Us is each of these parts act independently from each rather than cohesively. There is absolutely no speaking other than “Mother” at VERY scattered parts in the game. The back story or gameplay don’t do anything to make up for this due to the aforementioned issues. In Ori, the beautiful colors and gameplay made up for this lack of immersive conversation. Even with the story of Inside being ridiculously overblown philosophically, at least the gameplay and puzzle navigation were immersive and kept you wondering until the very end. None of this occurs in After Us.

After Us (PS5) Score: 4 / 10

Unfortunately, what was promised with After Us did not come to fruition due to lackluster design and aspects that worked in contrast to each other rather than cohesively. Instead, we are left with a nice looking world yet below average platformer and hope for what may have been with a worn out “humans killed the planet” trope and poor execution.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.