After Us wants us to know, just in case we need reminding, that humans are the worst.
This adventure platformer, coming to PC and current-gen consoles later this month, is set on a post-human Earth. Or what’s left of it. Of course, the planet has been ravaged by man, its once-bustling cities now empty, ruined shells. Nature is taking over, reclaiming the land that man has ruined, and you’re going to help it out. After Us casts you as Gaia, the Spirit of Life, and it’s your job to salvage the souls of creatures trapped on Earth’s sorrowful remains.
As Gaia, you can speed around the world, gliding over large gaps, running up walls and riding rails. Gaia’s quick on her feet and, for the most part, a joy to control – at least, she is once you get accustomed to all her abilities. There’s a lot to take in, and thankfully After Us does a great job of drip-feeding abilities one by one. You’re not powerless for very long, but they’re unlocked just slow enough to allow you to get used to them before a new ability is added to the mix.
The areas you’ll explore are rather large, and there’s scope for exploration. You won’t find loot or equipment – it’s not that type of game – but you might find a lost soul, needing your help to be freed. The first we found was the soul of a cat. Upon freeing it, our world became inhabited by the spirits of free, happy cats, simply going about their business. Oh yes, you can pet them. Eventually, they’ll be joined by dozens of other animal spirits that you free: horses, lizards, birds, hogs.
It’s the larger spirits you find that will tug at your heart strings, though. We found the world’s last dog, a skinny, emaciated creature lying dead on the ground. But Gaia has the power to free it from its sad, mortal end; she can use her power to free its soul and send it to her Mother’s Ark – a beautiful, green land free of suffering.
It isn’t just animal spirits that you’ll come across in After Us. Roaming the world are Devourers; husks of the humans that destroyed what was left of the Earth. Some are harmless, simply a reminder of what once was. These dark, silhouetted creatures wander through streets, holding hands, clutching their children. But some of them want to hurt Gaia, and so you’ll have to use her powers of light to defeat them.
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It’s not exactly combat – this isn’t a game of tense, action-packed fights. But you’ll need to dodge incoming attacks and use your abilities to stop the Devourers in their tracks. Gaia is powerful, but she’s tiny and fragile: it doesn’t take much to be overpowered. Thankfully, if Gaia does get thwarted, you’ll never lose too much progress, simply being put back at the last checkpoint.
There’s something captivating about After Us‘s stark, thought-provoking world. It’s impossible to play it without considering the implications of man’s actions on the Earth. It might be a fantasy tale in the realms of magic and science fiction, but there is a dark truth underlying the game’s narrative. It does make you think. It wants to make you think, and feel.
We’ve only played the first 90 minutes of After Us, but we’re keen to play more. It’s clear Gaia’s journey holds an important message – to cherish life on Earth – and it’s delivered in a beautiful way. Controlling Gaia as she glides gracefully across a ruined world, climbing structures and freeing souls, is a compelling experience, and it’s one that deserves some attention when it releases later this month.
After Us is coming to PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC on 23rd May.