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June 2024

After Us

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Private Division
Developer: Piccolo Studio
Release Date: May 23, 2023


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'After Us'

by Cody Medellin on May 3, 2023 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

After Us is a riveting exploration adventure where you explore the corners of a surrealistic post-human world to give life on Earth a second chance in this touching story about sacrifice and hope.

The adventure platformer is an ideal way to convey a narrative in games. There's more engagement than simply walking around, and it is often good enough to get players to pay more attention to your tale, especially if those players have become immune to the novelty of the walking simulator. After Us is the latest game to try this, and we had the chance to check out what is likely the final demo before the game's planned release.

The story opens at night in a wooded field where several animals are roaming about. The only thing to clue you in that something is off is the fact that some of the ocean life is swimming in the sky, and all of the animals have a bluish hue. The game focuses on Gaia, a girl who has woken up from a nap and is soaking in the nature. Things go awry rather quickly, as a fawn she is petting disappears in a puff of smoke, along with the other animals. The spirit of the Earth tells her that the Ark housing the animal spirits has been destroyed. The animals have been destroyed by invaders known as the Devourers, and while the Ark may be gone, their spirits are still roaming the desolate earth. With the promise to bring them back to life, Gaia accepts the power of the Earth spirit and goes on a journey to rescue those spirits.

There are a few scenes where there's written dialogue, and all of them involve the Earth spirit. For the most part, Gaia says nothing, and your journey on Earth has her crying, gasping or screaming when getting hurt. The story is conveyed wordlessly while you get clues on what happened based on the environment and the multitude of slightly grotesque human statues in various groupings and positions. There's a big change that happens once you rescue the first key spirit, and while it foreshadows what kind of ending you'll get, it'll be interesting to see if the ending matches up with that prediction.

In the demo, After Us shows off how nimble Gaia can be. Normal jumps and double-jumps get more height than a running jump, but the latter is better for covering distance. Double-jumps give you the chance to float for a short while before falling to the ground, but you can also add a dash at the last minute to cover more ground. In addition to the jump and the dash, you can run up certain walls, giving the game a bit of verticality. Gaia can throw an energy heart to capture and free the stray animal spirits and knock out the few enemies in the game. She also has an energy burst that clears out some of the oil in the area to create a walkable space and small fields of grass for a few moments.

All of this is done in an environment that has the same surreal vibe as Death Stranding. You have the typical stuff, like broken highways and abandoned cars buried under decades of dirt. There are garages full of broken appliances stacked to the ceiling amidst large mounds of trash and other decaying structures. There are also objects randomly floating in the air. Those broken highways seem to be held up by nothing, while cars float in space as if they're frozen in time, but they still buckle under your weight when you leap on them. Like the story, there's enough mystery to make you want to keep going.

There are only a few minor gameplay concerns. The camera does a great job of showing the environment, but it does so at the cost of the platforming. The circle that appears underneath you when jumping shows where you'll land, but it is tough to judge the distance between moving objects. There's also the matter of being unable to control the dashing distance when jumping. Like the camera, it isn't harmful most of the time, but you will curse it when misjudging the distance between floating cars. Perhaps improvements have been made since the demo build was generated.

The presentation is well done. Gaia animates fine, and her hair is a big highlight. The environments get more of a focus, and they look great despite being in ruins. It starts to shine when grass and flowers appear, you step on something, or unleash your internal power burst to clear off oil. It looks excellent and serves as a stark contrast to the ruined surroundings. Despite a few hitches here and there, the frame rate holds steady on our test system.

For those planning to run the game on the Steam Deck, know that the game's cloud save doesn't adjust any of the settings except for the resolution. If you set everything to Epic on another PC, then you'll get the game on the Deck set to Epic. Set everything to low, and the frame rate fluctuates between 30-60fps. Locking the game to 30fps produces much more stable results, but there's also a good deal of visual noise since the game has a ton of fine detail on many elements, including the ground and Gaia's own suit. No matter what you choose, prepare to charge the Deck often, as a full charge nets about 90 minutes of playtime.

So far, After Us is proving to be an intriguing adventure. There's still some fascination to this desolate world due to the various structures and statues attempting to wordlessly convey a tale of how it all came to be. You can hazard some guesses about the final outcome after completing the first main chapter, but there's a draw to continue playing to see the ending. The platforming can be tricky, but infinite lives and nearby spawn points are certainly helpful, and the presentation hits more than it misses. There's less than a month to go before the game's release, and we're curious to see how After Us ends up.

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