Review – After Us (Xbox Series X)

After Us: Saving Mother Nature One Jump at a Time

After Us, the puzzle platformer from Piccolo Studio and published by Private Division, has flown under the radar for many gamers. The game opens with you, the protagonist Gaia, exploring the world after the last living creatures have died. A spirit entity that is meant to represent Mother Nature tasks you with recovering her essence from several creatures around the now lifeless planet.

At first, the game’s environmental conservation themes are heavy handed and easy to roll your eyes at, like the plastic bags aggressively pursuing you in the first level. However, as you progress through the game, the muted brown and gray colors of the wasteland are offset by the life that blooms in Gaia’s wake. Even statues of humans resembling Pompeii are clustered around what appears to be a combination of a mining drill and an electricity pylon in what’s almost religious reverence.

Gaia’s Quest

Gaia’s joy at reseeding life into a barren environment is infectious, and the game’s heavy-handed premise eventually becomes intertwined with the gameplay mechanics. After releasing all the spirits and freeing the first vessel, a pooch, Gaia returns to the ark and appears to be injured. Mother apologizes that Gaia is hurt, stating that saving the planet requires sacrifice. As you progress deeper into this desolate planet, humanity becomes your greatest foe. Some human spirits are mired by the pollution of human existence, and these tainted humans will try and grab at Gaia and hold on to her in an effort to drain her life force.

Throughout the game, you’ll come across glowing saplings and animal spirits that you will need to rescue using Mother Nature’s heart – a projectile in the form of a glowing orb with limited range. Using the platforming mechanics, you’ll need to explore the world of After Us to get close enough to free the spirit animals. As well as animal spirits, you’ll also come across glowing saplings. Using the LT, you can charge up a burst of life as nature blooms around you.

Exploring the World

Visually, each oasis is themed around a different aspect of human life, which is both varied and poignant. The game makes use of perspective, often zooming out to make Gaia seem minuscule, imparting a sense of how herculean her task seems to be. While gameplay is fairly standard, After Us focuses on being solid where it counts, with jumps, double jumps, air-dashes, and glides, all familiar to anyone who’s played a platformer.

After Us made me care about the collectibles, something I’ve never experienced before. Even backtracking to find ones I’d missed, which goes a long way to redeeming humanity in the narrative of the game. After Us is a well thought out and deeply meaningful title, and its emotional resonance stays with you long after completion.