Jusant review – climbing into the unknown – Metro.co.uk

The creators of Life Is Strange return with a peculiar sci-fi climbing sim that may be be their greatest achievement yet.
French studio Don’t Nod, with their palindromic name and weirdly eclectic mix of game releases, are an enigmatic bunch. Probably best known for Life Is Strange and its sequel, which told supernatural stories in a surprisingly human and realistic way, they’ve also made the Capcom-published single-player fighting game, Remember Me and action role-player, Vampyr. Some have been critical darlings, others not so much.
Their latest game, Jusant, conforms to their tradition of encouraging you to expect the unexpected. The name is apparently a French nautical term for a receding tide, and it begins on an endless sandy plain strewn with the broken hulls of alien-looking boats and discarded anchors. You control a character that’s at least as unknowable as their surroundings. Nameless, and neither obviously male or female, they carry a tiny animal in a backpack, and wear a pair of slit sunglasses that look a bit like Inuit snow goggles.
You soon discover the real setting for the game, which is a vast, naturally occurring rocky tower jutting from the sand, extending so far into the sky that the top is hidden in cloud. Ascending a short flight of stairs, you simply start to climb it. Unlike a number of other games, from Assassin’s Creed to Uncharted, the climbing involves a great deal more than simply pushing a joystick skywards and watching.
Instead, your mysterious protagonist clips in a carabiner at the beginning of each stretch of the tower, a process that’s already much closer to real rock climbing. Alternately pressing the left and right triggers, you climb hand over hand, using the joystick to search for rusted old ladder rungs or subtler handholds in the rock, hoisting yourself ever upwards.
As you ascend, there are numerous moments where the obvious line of grips and outcroppings ends, forcing you to traverse the face of the tower looking for a way forward. That can involve hammering in a piton to anchor your rope, before swinging across the rocky surface in search of a new route or leaping upwards towards tempting indents higher above you.
Climbing, and especially jumping, deplete your stamina bar, which once exhausted means you simply let go and fall to your last anchor point. To avoid that, you can rest briefly, holding on with one hand while you shake the other back to life, regaining a small amount of stamina before continuing. You can also knock in one of your four precious pitons, so that if you do make a mistake it won’t be too devastating.
Once you’re on solid ground at the top of each climbing pitch, holding down the circle button reels in your rope and collects the pitons you’ve used, ready for the next section. It’s a magical process, and easily the most involved and realistic simulation of climbing ever seen in a video game. And while it’s not especially difficult, it has enough challenge to make you feel both exposed out there on sheer vertical walls, and skilled for making it onto a welcoming ledge, to the extent that you regularly realise you’ve been holding your breath as you get to the top of a particularly tricky section.
As you climb you discover more of the tower, which only increases in its mystery as you get further up. Along with the stairs, mechanical lifts, ancient ladders, and vines, you’ll find all manner of brightly coloured bric-a-brac, with signs of human life infesting every corner. There are chairs, scarves, ropes, doors carved into walls, and musical instruments, but more puzzling is the fishing tackle, and the hulls of broken ships dangling from cliffs way up in the sky.
Although the game has no speech or voice acting of any kind, you do start to find notes left by the tower’s former inhabitants. Those start out chatty and conversational, but as you progress they begin to tell a story of a time when the tower stood in a deep and bountiful ocean. We wouldn’t be churlish enough to spoil the plot, but it’s a journey of discovery that matches your own as you stumble across new routes and areas of the tower, which gradually changes in character as you ascend.
As well as cliffs and rocky outcroppings, there are cavernous interiors, with multiple routes through each. You’ll frequently reach the top of a long and technical pitch, only to find there’s a ladder leading up to it further along a ledge, or ropes dangling from it, that make the game’s world feel even more complex, and as though any route you take inevitably misses all sorts of potential clues and treasures.
To add to the mystery, you’ll also find gigantic pieces of arcane machinery that you play like huge musical instruments. The small animal you carry completes their activation, with its own small melodic noises. Its adorable R2-D2-like squeaks can also illuminate strange artworks you’ll find in some of the harder to reach interiors, and trigger vines to grow, offering fresh handholds to get you past seemingly impassable sections.
The deliberate, meditative pace of its climbing, which comes with a wealth of elegantly designed puzzling as you pick your way up its varied surfaces, is a joy that never gets old. It’s perfectly paced, with trickier sections interspersed with exploration of its interiors, finding plot-expanding notes, and entire ancient cities within its vertiginous halls and buttresses.
The silence, puzzles, and skilfully constructed ambiguity are reminiscent of Journey or ICO, two other games where you find yourself pausing just to gaze at your weird and beautiful surroundings. It’s an alchemy that occurs all too infrequently, and one that’s worth savouring rather than rushing through.
Petition to cancel Assassin’s Creed Shadows hits 38,000 signatures in Japan
PlayStation Store sale is live in the UK with games at 90% off
Horizon Zero Dawn TV show cancelled thanks to disgraced showrunner
Games Inbox: What is the best arcade racer game?
You will sometimes get hooked up briefly on more complicated bits of scenery, and we had one crash during our playthrough, but other than these momentary glitches, Jusant is a rare and beguiling experience, and one of very few games we found ourselves starting again only a few hours after completing it.
It’s not a long game, but the glorious views, copious secrets, and sense of missing out on all those alternative routes and letters you didn’t read, make it a place that’s easy to return to after letting its poignant ending sink in. Even more than Life Is Strange, this may be Don’t Nod’s masterpiece, and occupies a peculiar space between genres that’s a pure to delight to get lost in.
In Short: A perfectly paced vertical exploration of a lost civilisation, that offers the most authentic climbing simulation ever seen in a game and retains its air of mystery and discovery right up to the closing credits.
Pros: Stunning vistas, varied puzzle-based climbing, and a wonderful sense of a slowly unravelling mystery, with many routes through its honeycomb of rooms and passages.
Cons: Its challenge is pleasant rather than taxing. There is the odd glitch and the camera sometimes gets confused in tight crevices.
Score: 9/10
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £19.99*
Developer: Don’t Nod
Publisher: Don’t Nod
Release Date: 31st October 2023
Age Rating: 3

*currently available on Game Pass
Email gamecentral@metro.co.uk, leave a comment below, follow us on Twitter, and sign-up to our newsletter.
MORE : RoboCop: Rogue City review – I’d buy that for several dollars
MORE : World Of Horror PS4 review – surviving cosmic horror in MS Paint
MORE : Alan Wake 2 review – go back to sleep
Follow Metro Gaming on Twitter and email us at gamecentral@metro.co.uk
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.
Sign up to all the exclusive gaming content, latest releases before they’re seen on the site.

Get us in your feed


Leave a Comment