After Us Review
After writing for Jump Dash Roll for a little more than three years, I’m starting to think that I may sound like a bit of a broken record. While I pride myself on rarely reusing introductions for modern military shooter reviews, and my analysis of emotional narrative games are part of my portfolio alongside the work I did as a news photographer, all my pieces about artistic indie titles seemingly haven’t had an ounce of impact on the industry. I mean, I’ve submitted 20-odd stories about why games like Season: A Letter To The Future or Not Tonight 2 are almost worthless in a medium that’s also home to South of the Circle, but developers keep putting out crap like those games out with no cares given to my valid critiques of their genre. And while After Us isn’t exactly crap, it suffers from the same sodding issues that almost every game designed to win awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts does, which makes it hard to enjoy (and review, for that matter).
Like in every artsy fartsy game to release since the dawn of mankind, in After Us, you play as a little girl whose pristine world is suddenly ruined by some sort of vague disaster that’s probably an allegory for corporate greed. After a brief tutorial teaches you how to move around using somewhat in-depth platforming mechanics, you’re thrown into a quasi-open world and tasked with saving the spirits of various animals in an attempt to regenerate Earth or some such nonsense. Over the next ten-odd hours, you gather up those spirits, explore a city that has more symbolism in it than whatever book primary school kids are supposed to be reading these days, learn a few new abilities and before long, wrap up the scant plot in a way you can probably predict.
To be clear, if you aren’t jaded by whatever genre After Us is technically part of, all of these things are fine and dandy. The title’s gameplay specifically is almost interesting, with it frequently evolving over the course of the campaign to include things like combat, wall-running and interesting parkour challenges. The narrative also isn’t overtly terrible, even though it’s generally too obtuse to warrant paying attention to, and as expected, After Us looks fantastic and has a soundtrack that are worth studying to in a lo-fi manner.
The problem, however, is that all of these things can be said about any number of games to release in the past few years, half of which we’ve reviewed using roughly the same words that you’re reading right now. For as much as people love to complain about the first-person shooter genre, at least Call of Duty’s stories vary from year to year and nobody can guess whether the franchise will take a deep dive into the reality of conflict or be as fun as a wet sock. The same simply isn’t true for After Us, and games like it, because there isn’t a lot that can be done with narratives that focus exclusively on environmental storytelling and go hard on the metaphors about how we should be saving the trees or whatever other understandably anti-capitalist nonsense is popular this week.
A lack of ingenuity aside, too, After Us also has a couple of issues worth mentioning. The biggest one of those is that, at least on PC, the game needs to be played with a controller and has very frequent FPS drops, creating a serious problem with input lag — especially during the game’s most intense moments. There also isn’t any easy way to know where you’re going, so you can frequently become lost in its quasi-open world. While neither of these things ruin the overall experience, that’s more because it’s hard to ruin something that isn’t great to begin with than anything else.
Needless to say, then, After Us is a tough sell. While it’s far from the worst game on the market right now, and it could even be considered one of the better art-filled nonsense titles, that’s not really saying much. If you want to ruminate on how Earth is being destroyed by humans or why the real victims of capitalism are animals, send an email to your primary school English teacher and ask if they want to go out for a beer. If you want to enjoy a solid puzzle-platformer, Goat Simulator 3 is still for sale on the Epic Store. And if you’re a developer trying to learn how to appease games journalists, I suggest incorporating more explicit violence into your titles, because at least Martha is Dead didn’t require a rant about the nature of the industry to justify its review.
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