After Us Preview: Take Heart, Captain Planet

After Us is not subtle. It presents a world in which humans — now extinct — devastated the environment. With its last, gasping breath, the embodiment of Earth bestows its heart on Gaia, our protagonist, begging her to traverse the oil-engulfed, plastic-entangled planet and free the last remaining souls, represented by animals. After Us is a climate change warning story in the form of a platformer that offers floaty traversal and foliage-based powers.

Waking amongst the verdant grasses and abundant wildlife, my surroundings seem dreamlike. That is until it turns into a nightmare. My character, the fairy-like Spirit of Life Gaia watches as all the animals begin to fade one by one right in front of her eyes.

Silver hair and rising tears flow behind her as she runs desperately toward a vision of light. The Mother explains the last of the animals on Earth have perished and her power, which she infused into their souls to save their essences, is imprisoned in their lifeless forms.

Tossing me a glowing orb, the Mother sends me on a task to free the animals’ spirits, which will return her power and the creatures’ life force to the world.

For this preview, I played an early build of the game which is set to release later this month. With that in mind, this Garden of Eden didn’t strike me as hard visually as I would have liked. The art direction is simplistic and stylized, which — in cases like Sky: Children of the Light — can radiate beauty. Hopefully, this aspect gets a little polish before release.

My mission takes me from a cradle of green to a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Cars — rusted and long-abandoned — dominate the environment. The surrealist nature of the game allows for some of them to simply float in the air. These make for good platforms where I try out my bevy of superhuman skills.

I leap into the air, propelled further than I expect, and gravity seems to take a second before it brings me back down to the ground. Using my law-defying properties, I check out my double jump, mid-air dash, and glide (which is a little more like controlled falling). These powers help me reach the open air where the red-tinted smoggy skies loom over a disconnected series of highways.

The game is linear despite the vast environment, and I can only move forward by following the correct pathway. Soon, I realize I have more than just traversal abilities. I can charge and release a Burst of Life that momentarily covers the nearby ground in plant life and I can throw the Mother’s heart to collect stray souls.

With these abilities under my belt, the loop becomes apparent. My job is to run from one desolate area to the next collecting minor souls, fighting off threats — like animated plastic grocery bags — and reinvigorating dead trees with Burst of Life, and eventually locating and freeing the level’s major spirit. In this first zone, that turns out to be a dachshund, who runs happily around in the air once I release it from its sad, calcified form.

The imagery is often evocative. My nope instincts kicked in as I passed the life-sized human statues craning hungrily towards a broken oil tower and I felt repulsion at the piles of junk choking an area dotted with storage units. However, I’m unsure how well the gameplay matches up. The controls never feel very precise — leading to some frustrating platforming. However, I am playing a pre-release version of the game and, like the visuals, this element may get some tweaking before launch.

After Us is on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Does dashing around a wasted planet saving animals with the power of Heart catch your fancy? Because, if it does, this is probably a game you’ll want to check out.

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