Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available On: Xbox Series X/S and PC
Price: $29.99 USD – Digital Only
Developer: Piccolo Studio
Publisher: Private Division
Release Date: May 23, 2023
Please Note: A review code was provided by Private Division but does not influence opinions in this review.
Piccolo Studio crafted an amazing experience with the release of Arise: A Simple Story Definitive Edition for Nintendo Switch last year. It was one of my favorite releases of 2022, and I really was hoping to see more from this studio soon. I was stoked to see them announce their new game at The Game Awards in December 2022. Well, the day has finally arrived when After Us has released and thanks to the publisher, Private Division, I got to play it early and do I have a lot to say about this game. Please note with the images and videos below, I played the game on performance mode for 95% of the time, so that is what is shown below.
The story of this game is a complex one that is told to you in two different ways which intertwine with one another. First off, you have GAIA who is your protagonist that you play as. In the beginning of the game, all of the animals start to disappear out of the ARK, which is the hub area, and you need to figure out what is happening and why. Soon after, you quickly learn that the Devourers are starting to take over the world in search of the remaining life. You are tasked with finding a total of eight vessels and to free their life source from their bodies; while avoiding and defeating the Devourers that roam the earth. What exactly are these enemies… well let me explain the other piece of the story first.
The other part of the story is each individual specific section of the game. There are eight different vessels and in order to reach these, you need to get through many different areas in the game. I won’t talk about all of them as I do not want to spoil too much, but I will mention two areas. The first section I want to talk about is the countryside. This isn’t really a countryside anymore, rather it is a dump full of garbage and excavators. The other section I want to describe is the National Park. This one has lots of buzzsaws and shows the destruction of all the trees in the area. All of the different areas throughout the game show spots of human involvement, mostly negative.
So… what are the Devourers? Well, they seem to be humans who became lost in their way; at least based on how the game ended and the connections made throughout the memories found in the game. Destroying a national park and making a countryside into a dump are just two examples in the game that reflect images and sceneries that we could potentially see in the real world, maybe not as big compared to in the game. It is a painful reminder of the current state of the planet and in which we take things for granted. When we do take things for granted for too long though, its not possible to reverse it and that is kind of what is being told to you here. I really dont want to share more about what happens throughout the game, but I think this has described enough without spoiling the whole game. The story is definitely a solid one throughout the entire almost eleven hour adventure that it took me.
There are multiple parts to the gameplay. First off, it is an adventure puzzle platformer that requires you to look at many aspects around the world. It wants you to explore nooks and crannies to find the collectables that are optional things that expand the world. In order to do this, you need solve both basic and multi-step puzzles, time different jumps correctly, and a whole bunch of other things. There is a fast travel between specific points in each of the areas and it is very helpful. One of the commands you have in your wheelhouse is the ability to sing. In order to find the collectables in this game, you need to sing a bunch of times. There are three colors that could come out of singing. White means there is nothing around you, yellow means there is a memory near you and blue and that means there is an animal spirit near you.
These are the two collectables in the game. Memories are separated by each area and they all have a group of pictures that when they are fully collected tell a story. In order to get these, you need to clean the corruption off of some Devourers; both stationary ones and ones that are attacking you. The animal spirits are extra on top of the vessel and each vessel has a group of animals that are connected to a specific style of person who helps or studies animals in the world. One example of this is veterinarians, another one is animal shelters, and a third is polar scientists. In order to find these memories, spirits, and ultimately the vessels, you need to make use of the other abilities besides singing; including the dash, heart throw, and “burst of life” abilities. This isn’t a heavy combat game so the abilities that you have are limited but that is about all there is to it. Combining these things into figuring out puzzles, beating enemies, and more in the world is critical. It eases you into all of this and helps the player when needed.
Man this game an absolute stunning piece of art work. Not just in the way in which the imagery of the animals and spirits or other characters, but also the way in which all of the sets are designed. While I didn’t love the feeling of the controls underwater personally, I thought the art and beauty of the ocean sections was powerfully crafted. The beauty throughout the world when slowing finding all of the spirits expand over time and makes the areas more stylistic. Some of the sections may seem basic at first, but when there are so many spirits, the areas are flowing with life and look beautiful. The beauty of the “burst of life” move that can sprout trees, greenery, and more makes even an area that isn’t beautiful into one that is.
The music in this game was an absolute joy to listen to. Overall, the game has a calming but intensive feel while also at the same time having an eeriness about the way in which the different effects come across to the player depending on the location. When enemies come into the mix, the beat changes to a fully intensive rush of heavy sounds and isn’t calming anymore and, at least for me, felt like I had to really figure out how to stay alive. Each of the different sections have a way in which it comes across from the industrial sounds of the countryside to the more tranquil and quiet sounds of the ocean and harbor areas. The music at the end of the game was well crafted as well and hits you in the feels. The audio design was on point as well as the music throughout the adventure.
There are actually a few issues that I had with the game. The first complaint that I had with the game was the fact there was stuttering and loading hitches when sometimes going into a new part of the same section of the map. The team is aware of this bug in the game and is working on a fix to solve this, but still was something I thought I should mention was currently in there while I played the game. The second, and albeit a smaller issue for me, was the small performance issues throughout when there were a lot of Devourers on the screen at once. Lastly, I had a single crash in the game. Otherwise the game was good throughout in terms of performance and graphics, but the hitches are indeed something I hope is fixed soon as it does pull you out of the experience overall.
This game is currently in my top ten games of the year. Just like Arise: A Simple Story last year, I am pretty sure After Us will make my top games of 2023 list when I put it out at the end of the year. The story that is in the game, when all of the pieces come together make for an emotional rollercoaster of an experience. The gameplay was fun and engaging throughout. The art, music, and, for the most part, performance throughout the game is also solid overall. If you love puzzles, platformers, adventures, and everything that I have talked about and showed, I think you should play this game. Piccolo Studio has created two games that I have loved, and I hope that their next game, whenever it comes out, will also be a knockout just like with After Us. So far, based on all the other indies that I have played this year, if there was a single game for an indie that I hope gets a physical release this year, I would love for this to be it! This game is 100% worth the $30 and also your time to play and explore the world.