After Us Preview: The World Is Dead And We Killed It

After Us Preview: The World Is Dead And We Killed It

It’s hard to pinpoint the last time a game made me feel the same way that Journey did. After Us comes close to replicating that feeling in its environment, how it moves, and how it made me feel. But it also sets itself apart where it matters.

After Us is an explorative puzzle platformer developed by the Barcelona-based Piccolo Studio and published by Private Division. You play Gaia, a young spirit tasked with bringing life back to a world with little left to give. That is, of course, except for the various now-extinct animals from whom Gaia must gather life force.

We were given the chance to give a preview build of After Us, and from the hour-and-a-half I’ve played so far, I’m pretty comfortable in saying that it’s got the potential to be something truly special.

Image: After Us / Private Division

Your journey begins in a lush forest filled with fauna, as you awaken and take in your surroundings in. And then suddenly, everything starts to fade as an sourceless, omnipotent voice tells you know that it’s up to you to find all the animals that have disappeared, completely set them free, and bring their spirits back to this oasis.

It is then that you are thrust into a dark and lifeless car park. The world is dead, and all that remains is vengeful trash, oil spills, abandoned vehicles, and human statues. Every step that Gaia takes is a step full of life as grass and flowers grow in her path, and bursts of life save her from imminent danger. You are the natural world’s last hope.

The message of environmentalism in After Us is set up to be a tearjerker. Our protagonist is shown to have an emotional reaction to the decaying world around her, and a negative one at that. If the first hour and a half are enough to make me wobbly here, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the full game. I’m a freakin’ sook!

after us
Image: After Us / Private Division

As After Us seems to be a platformer at its core, it would only make sense for moving around and getting from one point to another to feel as good as possible. As a spirit, moving around and jumping feels incredibly fluid once you get the hang of it. The double jumping, the air-dashing, the zipping down power lines, and the zooming up walls felt fantastic. As well, a ring appears below Gaia to signify where she’ll land, which is perfect for a platformer like this.

And then there’s the collection of animal spirits. In each area you’ve got a handful of little spirits as well as one big great one. The little spirits exist as shining little lights around each map, and you can make Gaia sing a little song to guide her towards the nearest spirits. It almost felt melancholic in a way, as there’s no possibility for call and response and yet an inkling of the animal’s spirit lives on just enough to signal where it’s hiding.

Once you collect a spirit, the game lets you know which animal that spirit represents. Afterwards, you’ll end up finding said animal spirit all around the map, with the game giving you the option to greet or pet the animal. As we all know, being able to pet an animal in a video game is a huge bonus, and After Us seems to be well aware of that.

Image: After Us / Private Division

And then I found the giant sausage dog surrounded by trash. Folks, I felt SICK. I was so sad. These are the big spirits, who are simply holding onto that last piece of life and are waiting for you to help free their souls. For a world so desolate, this was an opportunity for the game to represent its message of giving life a second chance in quite the moving way. Watching the dachshund soul leap from its body was truly something else.

It makes sense that After Us aims for your heartstrings and gives them a tug, considering its creators are also responsible for the critically-acclaimed tearjerker Arise: A Simple Story. Piccolo Studio clearly know how to tell a story in a way that really grabs the player, and I really felt that in even the short time that I’ve had with After Us so far.

Even though this is only a preview build, I’m personally very excited with what After Us has to offer so far. With its smooth traversal mechanics, visually spectacular worlds that tell their own stories purely in their visage, and its story of life, death, and rebirth, I’ve not no plans to put this one down any time soon.

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