Did you know? Humans are bad. There’s a good chance you already did know that, because it’s a fact that all kinds of media likes to drill into us these days. The latest to do so is Piccolo and Private Division’s new adventure platforming video game, After Us. There, humans are so bad that they’ve ended the world.
As you’re (presumably) a human reading this, it’s probably a hard pill to swallow, that you and your entire species is so terrible that you’ve caused the world to end. You and your corporate greed, your gluttony, your toxic materials. You, yes you, are responsible for the destruction of not only your species, but pretty much every other species that existed on your tiny planet. Does that make you feel awful? Good. It should.
Okay, maybe After Us doesn’t ram it down your throat quite that strongly, but it’s hardly subtle about its themes. Set in a surreal depiction of a post-human Earth, After Us casts you as the Spirit of Life, an ethereal being sent to the world to rescue the last remaining animal spirits. Free their spirits, and two things will happen: ghostly cats, frogs, lizards, horses and more will roam merrily around the ruined Earth. And their spirits will also appear in the much more beautiful, serene Mother’s Ark – a heavenly place. A place so heavenly that you won’t find any humans there. Well, not quite.
Humans in After Us come in two forms: some are stone statues, locked in place as a reminder of what once was. Others are animated, and they are in fact the enemies that you will come up against as you play After Us. This isn’t a particularly combat-heavy game, but you’ll encounter your fair share of animated Devourers out to get you – that’s the name given to the husk-like people remaining on Earth. They’re everywhere. Crowding the streets, wandering aimlessly, nothing left to do now they’ve destroyed everything they once loved.
You can read more about After Us‘ gameplay in our hands-on preview. There’s a lot to like here, though: controlling Gaia is joyous, thanks to her fluid set of movements that see her glide, dash and wall-run through the world. And as stark and ruined as it may be, the world you inhabit is strangely beautiful – it’s certainly unlike anything we’ve played before in terms of visual design.
And sure, sure, enjoy the game if you want – no doubt developer Piccolo wants you to have a nice time playing – but make sure that you don’t forget how terrible you are as a human being. Make sure you soak in the destruction all around you, and make sure you remember that it was, in fact, you and your brethren who caused it. Make sure you stare at the dead, starved giant dog you come across and weep a little, knowing you were the one who caused that.
Oh yes, that’s an actual thing you’ll come across in the game. But it’s okay: Gaia saves its spirit, and the dog, reanimated in a spectral form, happily skips away to a better life on Mother’s Ark. But the image of its poor, skeletal form is going to haunt you for a while.
Out today, After Us is worth your time. We’ve enjoyed what we’ve played so far, even if it occasionally gut-punches us as it reminds us, time and time again, how bad we are and how fragile our planet is. But it’s perhaps a reminder that does need drilling into us. So, by all means, give the game a go. But also respect nature, love your planet, and hug your dog a little tighter next time you see them.
After Us is available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. If you’d like more games that remind you how terrible the human species can be, may we recommend Endling: Extinction is Forever?