The end of the world. A trope that is quite overused in games.
Zombie apocalypses or the rise of the machines are scenes that pop up in countless games. We have post-disaster races, the trading of old-world artifacts, the chance to be uber cool in second-hand clothes.
But there are not many games that deal with the very serious and tragic events of us, the human race, destroying ourselves and all the inhabitants of the planet. Climate change is a very real thing and After Us is not frightened of reminding us of the currently occurring events and the possible effects. But it is also a beautiful and clever game, one that is engaging and absorbing.
After Us plays as a platform adventure set in the not-too-distant future, where the world is devoid of life as we know it. We play the role of Gaia, the spirit of life, who takes the form of a girl dressed in white. We follow her as she goes on a quest to restore the spirits of all the animals that have been made extinct. You travel across eight areas, rescuing many different spirits of animals, with each world focusing on a main animal to restore.
The game’s story is told mainly through visual storytelling and a devastated, abstract world. The traces of humans are seen as distorted statuesque figures, littered across a landscape. Sometimes these figures point at things or signal the way. Other times they tell a small story that gives you a thought of what might have happened in the area. The overall story is about Gaia collecting animal spirits from around the world and bringing them back to the ark; a sort of otherworldly paradise which serves as a hub.
The main thrust of the game is to grab everything and then restart the world. Honestly, the themes of the story might be too much for some, as it does reflect what is happening environmentally across the world right now, hinting at possible outcomes. This might be way too depressing for some, bringing forth despair at times. But I think that, ultimately, the story is one of hope.
The gameplay works like a platformer. You can explore the world, guiding Gaia around the levels in multiple directions. Sometimes the open world will seem huge and confusing, but there are linear clues of where to go, clearly placed inside the game through light and camera positions. You can jump, double jump, and gain a little boost as you run around this world.
You also have a little ball of light that while pressed down and charged can ensure murky areas are hit full of light and greenery; sometimes permanently and sometimes temporarily. The little orb of light can also be used as an activation switch for certain objects and a weapon against enemies that you encounter.
There is some combat to be had and it’s here where After Us falls down. Luckily there isn’t ever too much of it, and what is there is fairly easy to get through, chucking your ball of light, dodging and jumping away. Each of the eight biomes comes with its own unique bits of gameplay and puzzlements. This ensures that After Us begins to feel like a massively big adventure over land, sea, and air.
However, there is the odd visual glitch, although thankfully nothing overwhelming. And if you’re looking for timings, After Us should take you around ten hours to complete, helped by some forgiving checkpointing. That in itself is handy because there is a bit of dying to be had.
Visually, After Us is stunning. It is full of amazing abstract landscapes filled with environmental horrors and vistas that go on forever. Like a mixture of the artists Francis Bacon and Salvador Dali, it does an amazing job of creating something unique and spellbinding at times.
And as you go through the world you collect spirit animals and the ghosts of badgers or lions will then appear in the level, grazing away, letting you watch them go about their business. The ability to suddenly change the environment to green is very impressive as well.
It hits the marks in terms of audio too. The score by Daniel Elms has over three hours of original music to have. It’s dreamy, beautiful, and soulful as you weave across the levels; a perfect accompaniment to the game.
There’s a chance that you may find After Us a bit too depressing, and it has to be said that the combat is highly repetitive. But the scale of the level design, visuals, and soundscore found here are outstanding. After Us is a good size game, fit for completionists as they hunt down all the animals and secrets hidden in every level.
After Us is not only a great experience, but a warning to us and the world we live in.