After Us has something positive it wants to say but it often feels lost in translation

It’s not often I come away from playing a game at length and not really knowing what to make of it.

After Us has an intriguing premise, with some enjoyable platforming, crisp visuals, and the underlying message is positive, important, impactful. Yet when playing the game I found myself pretty switched off from what was going on, not really thinking much about it after I stopped playing.

With subject matter like ecological damage and the impact it has on animals and humanity as a whole, you’d think the whole thing would give pause. But it didn’t and that worried me just a little bit.

It’s not that Piccolo Studios have made a bad game and it’s certainly not for want of trying. But mechanically, I kept feeling pulled out of the experience because it felt too padded, or was quite bland, and relatively aimless.

As Gaia you have to regenerate this post-apocalyptic hellscape with greenery, restoring lost spirits, and spreading heart. This is a game that tries to find life after and within death and so has a feel-good factor reverberating throughout.

Its sinister undertones do keep it interesting as you wander past darkened skyscrapers, burned-out cars, old train stations, and abandoned fairgrounds. As you walk alone, you meet lost souls, some shells of themselves, others aggressive and eager to shake the life from you.

But it’s all about giving our planet a second chance after it suffers from years of abuse. It seems we reached the point of wiping ourselves out completely and the innocent wildlife that got swept up within it. That’s the premise upon which the game is founded and you, as the spirit of life, must use this broken-down wasteland as a playground to skate, climb, and glide around, regenerating everything and spreading some positivity.

It’s definitely a deviation from many games in this 4K age that rely on vibrancy, on saturation and colour to really sell the experience. This game is mostly grey, cloudy, murky and moody, which is a bold, if not appropriate art direction for this setting. And in this case, it really works and sets a clear tone.

The rare use of color becomes more noticeable as a result, making its implementation more impactful. And it can help you pay attention to background nuances, like flying debris rolling across the skies within a massive dust cloud.

The thing is, this is probably the most I’ve thought about the game’s underlying messages. While playing, I didn’t really feel connected to anything. And like I said, it’s not for want of trying. The game really wants you to know it’s eco-friendly as you casually sprout trees and spread greenery at the touch of a button, but many of the game’s emotional moments are quite subtly woven into the campaign. And despite such powerful themes and mechanics that lean into pure tendencies, the game feels as empty as the world it’s depicting, mechanically struggling to really stand alongside the genre’s best in class.

There’s some puzzle-solving to be done inbetween sections, like finding where to power cables that are no longer live, but the vast sandbox areas full of mini shortcuts get a bit frustrating as you aimlessly just try to find a way forward, then get hounded upon by subsets of unrelenting enemies.

As you progress, so you try to convert these lost, very naked souls, to break through their armor and reach inside them. Defeating some will gather memories which you can piece together within different districts and learn more about what life was like in the old days, reconstructing memories. Other enemies just simply dissipate and evaporate into the ether.

While there’s more of a focus on evasion and avoiding these enemies, you will need to fire some hearty projectiles at them to break through their funk and free them from their pain. It sort of suggests a less violent approach than you’ve seen in other games. But it all feels a bit chaotic at times, with enemies often faster than you and your speed ups randomly slowing down at inopportune times. It makes timing your shots trickier as the game starts to pile the opposition on.

Equally, you can revive the spirits of extinct animals, learning about their last moments and salvaging their essence. The whole aim is bringing them together and helping to heal the world just a little bit. This is where the game is at its most endearing and emotional, leaning ever so slightly into Ecco the Dolphin territory with his focus on ecological impacts but also tieing into the game’s Spirit chain which necessitates freeing larger spirits, like eagles, deers, and whales, connecting them up to smaller spirits and empowering all of them at an ark at the center of a constellation.

As you free spirits and visit locations, so you open up fast travel locations, making it easier for you to move around and head toward your next objective. And this is all part of traversal, which is the one thing the game nails and does best. You have a really satisfying glide that takes you across the skies, a double jump right out of the gate to make sure you’re not looking too longingly at high platforms, as well as the option to grind rails, travel through TV sets and hitch a ride on moving objects.

Still, there’s a clunkiness to the movement. Jumps feel a bit too weightless at times, so sticking a landing can be tricky as you seem to hover forever before planting down onto a surface. Equally, scaling walls saw me trip up and slip more times than I can count. And even hopping between rails, the game forces a pause each time you land, which nulls some of that speedy momentum it tries to build up.

There’s definitely magic and charm here. And at times an emotional moment will pop up or a subliminal message might illicit a passing thought. The Ark itself bathed me in its warmth and the music really helps to bring a bit of substance to a decrepit world that once held some beauty.

But to be honest, that’s about all I have or can say about After Us. While it’s certainly not a terrible game and is doing things differently from others, the emptiness, clunkiness and lack of really committing to its message just make it feel quite shallow.

In that regard, this is probably one to wait for in a sale or when the gaming landscape is a little less populated. Because for right now, with so much goodness at our fingertips and much more to come, this isn’t really doing enough to stand out from the crowd for the price or the time sink. And considering the messaging of what I think the game is trying to say, that’s a crying shame.


After Us may appear to be a game with a profound message at first play, but the deeper you get in, the more its grip lessens on the player between drawn out traversal sections, reptitive puzzling, clunky controls and a profound emptiness permeating throughout. While I appreciate what I think the game is trying to say, unfortunately, I don’t think it gets that message across as well as it would have liked. 


+ Wonderful use of colouring and some well-composed music
+ Some powerful moments do break up the game’s emptiness well.
+ Traversal can be quite satisfying and there’s a decent flow on puzzle variety.


– There’s a clunkiness and weightlessness to the controls which can be quite frustrating
– Game’s messaging seems to get lost beneath its emptiness and shallow nature
– Becomes repetitve and feels padded out quite quickly

After Us launches today on PC, PlayStation and Xbox

Code Kindly Provided by Private Division for Review Purposes

Played on PlayStation 5

About the author

Sam Diglett

Sam grew up with a PS2, spending hours howling at the moon in Okami and giving students wedgies in Bully. Fortunately, she also likes Pokemon because otherwise life could have been quite annoying for her.
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