After Us offers a glimpse of our future and a warning of things to come.
Key art for the video game After Us.

A gaming experience where you engage in thoughtful introspection, wordless encounters, and some platforming across Earth's many diverse locations to undo the devastation caused by global warming sounds like an intriguing idea on paper. Its execution in After Us, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired. Some awkward platforming, poor combat, and performance woes will ultimately leave you feeling a little less than hopeful once all is said and done.

After Us places players in the role of Gaia, the Spirit of Life, as she makes her way across several diverse biomes. As the main gameplay mechanic in After Us is platforming, you would probably expect tight movement controls from start to finish. Unfortunately, that just is not the case. Often, Gaia would either slide too far when trying to land on a platform. Other times, she would sometimes fail to move much at all when trying to execute the glide ability. Controlling Gaia in the moment-to-moment gameplay never felt quite as tight or as responsive as I would have liked, especially in the early game. Thankfully there is a very forgiving auto-save system at work in After Us, which ensured the frustration was kept mostly in check.

Upon reaching her intended destination Gaia is tasked with using her unique ability to bring life back to the Earth. This "heart" ability of hers can be shot out and recalled with a quick tap of the trigger, which honestly felt quite nice with the PlayStation 5's DualSense haptics and adaptive triggers. Though this ability is meant to restore life, it can also be used to take life, in a sense, during the game's combat encounters. It can also be used to hit and activate buttons that are out of reach for Gaia. Though admittedly it was a bit cumbersome hitting some distant buttons as Gaia tended to not lock on to targets that weren't around the same elevation as her.

Screenshot from After Us.

Holding down the same trigger results in a small blast of life extending outwards from Gaia. This blast temporarily restores a bit of life to nearby surfaces. Grass and little flowers quickly sprout up in a circle around Gaia, bringing a bit of colorful juxtaposition to the dead world. This restoration of life is typically short lived, with the grass and flowers fading away back to the barren landscape it was prior. The burst ability on display here looks rather neat but it's largely useless outside of some combat encounters and when you need to use it on each of the game's eight main spirits. Blasting your heart at these spirits returns them to the Ark, a central hub where you can view and engage in some light interaction with the spirits you rescue.

After Us allows you to visit, explore, and complete any of the game's eight levels in any order you want to. Though the open-endedness might be welcome in some titles, it ultimately left me feeling like a ship lost at sea here. I felt as though there wasn't a natural sense of progression or direction in After Us. Some gameplay mechanics and abilities never really evolved so much as they changed over the course of the game. Difficulty also never ramps up because of this open-ended approach. The ending sadly also falls a bit flat for my liking.

Throughout the game, Gaia will encounter some evil spirits called Devourers. These are some oily ghost creatures born from the spirits of the humans that created the mass extinction on Earth in the first place. Encounters with Devourers often lead to some very unwelcome and clunky combat situations. Gaia can use her heart ability to attack, damage, and ultimately defeat the Devourers she comes across. Combat largely consists of running around the enemies and chipping away at their health until they're defeated. Sometimes the enemies will grab you, but quick taps of a button will free you without incurring much, if any, damage. It's not that the combat was necessarily bad per se, but it just felt like it maybe didn't need to be in there at all? It felt more like combat was included to pad out the gameplay time a bit. I liken the inclusion of combat in After Us to the inclusion of combat in Scorn. Both games focus on exploration, wordless storytelling, and a fair bit of puzzle solving. Neither game benefits from the inclusion of combat in any way. Gaia "killing" these enemies also comes across as a bit at odds with the game's theme of restoring life.

Screenshot from After Us.

I will say this about After Us: The diverse locations you get to explore are very well done. Though After Us isn't pushing the latest advancements in graphical technologies, it is still quite visually impressive. Each level shows the far-reaching devastation caused by humanity's inaction. This creates this somber, almost haunting visual atmosphere throughout the entire game. Remnants of the world that once existed are seen throughout every level from rusted cars, to decaying architecture of a dead city, to charred and barren forests, dead seas, and more. The morose feeling perpetuated by the devasted landscapes is further enhanced by an emotionally charged soundtrack and exceptional audio work. All these factors combine to create a very solid bit of environmental storytelling that few games can achieve.

The atmosphere of the game would be hampered a bit if the performance just wasn't there. Thankfully, After Us manages to deliver a relatively solid framerate in the game's Performance mode setting. The only times where I noticed poor performance came when battling the Devourers. Framerate would get hit hard and fast during some of these combat encounters, which certainly did not nothing to improve my opinion on the inclusion of combat in this game. Outside of combat, the game ran extremely well. I can only hope that these severe framerate issues during combat are something that can be addressed with future patches.


After Us manages to deliver an experience that is largely enjoyable despite its flaws. Loose gameplay mechanics, framerate hiccups, and superfluous combat encounters are mostly offset by solid environmental storytelling, a poignant message, fantastic soundtrack work, and almost rock-solid performance and visuals. After Us is also very aggressively priced at $29.99, which undoubtedly helps to lessen the sting of some of its flaws.

Review scale showing a rating of 3 stars out of 5 stars.

Additional Information
  • After Us
    • Developed by: Piccolo
    • Published by: Private Division
  • Price: Starting at $29.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PlayStation 5 (also available for Xbox Series X|S and PC)
  • Release Date: May 23, 2023
  • ESRB: T for Teen (Fantasy violence, mild blood, partial nudity)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes from Piccolo and Private Division.

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