Jusant is the latest game from prolific developers DON’T NOD, the team behind the Life is Strange series, and more recently the visual novel, Harmony: The Fall of Reverie.
Jusant is a climbing action-adventure game, which puts you into the shoes of a climber who starts the journey of ascending an enormous mountain; a natural tower in the middle of a desert. The reason why they have taken on this mammoth task is not revealed at the start of the game, all you know is that you need to go up.
Jusant promises to be a true explorer
DON’T NOD are true explorers themselves, travelling up the path of innovation, looking to create games that just haven’t been done before. The only other ‘climbing’ game we can think of is Horizon Call of the Mountain, which was released on PSVR2. However, this was more of an action game, which combined climbing with other aspects such as hunting and crafting. Jusant is a much more slow-paced, calmer affair, fully focused on the climbing.
Why create a climbing game? DON’T NOD explain:
Climbing bears a strong narrative meaning for us. It can illustrate a way to overcome a challenge, the necessary effort to achieve something. The allegory behind it was powerful. We used it to create an imaginary world to tell a positive story about the importance of water and helping one another, and about our connection to nature. We tried to find the right connection between gameplay and narration. The actions our characters carry out, the places they will discover, why they climb; everything has a reason. Players will need to explore paths and trails to put the pieces together.
Jusant is a French word for the tidal period during which the sea retreats. The meaning behind the title of the game becomes apparent once you start climbing – the mountain is an abandoned relic, a once thriving community full of people that literally retreated, leaving behind their homes, workplaces and belongings. It is now home only to strange other-world creatures and bears the resemblance of a lost Atlantis (albeit a dry one), encrusted in coral and barnacles. It is clear that this landscape was once underwater – were the people also sea-dwelling? Where did they go and why?
Mysteries to uncover
This is a mystery that you can solve by piecing together information you glean from reading letters that you find scattered amongst the remains containing lost conversations from the inhabitants. There are also other clues that hint at Jusant’s lore, including frescoes, altars and shells that reveal aspects of the past when you hold them to your ear.
We got the opportunity to play a few hours of Jusant and were immediately immersed in the world. Even though what we played is a game still under development, the visuals were stunning and offered total immersion in this strange world.
Playing Jusant is an almost meditative experience, and is about the nearest approximation of what we think climbers must experience in real-life; concentrating on finding the best path up a rockface, before revelling in the stunning view by looking down to see how far they have come.
The soundtrack of your climbing in the game adds to this – it’s peaceful and atmospheric, and is punctuated only by the sounds of the local fauna.
The climbing is near perfect
The climbing mechanics work perfectly. Dotted around the mountain are places where you can clip in your rope and you move up the rockface using ladders, gripping onto the rock itself, plants or even creatures, using a method of pointing the left stick in the direction you want to go and alternating the left and right triggers to move your hands to grip onto new holds. You can also jump to overcome large gaps.
There is no peril involved as your character can’t die; if you fall you simply hang from the rope, which you can climb up or down or even swing to reach a hold. There is the option to place an anchor (piton) into the rock at any point, which means that if you fall you don’t have to start this section of your climb all over again, a clever addition that is somewhat like a save point. The skill level needed to climb steadily increases as you go through the game, starting with a simple demo with more complex mechanics kicking in later on.
The developers promise that you can explore Jusant at your own pace, and whilst this is true to a certain extent, while climbing you are under a bit of time pressure. Climbing uses up stamina, its depletion being shown on a meter. Pausing to rest (and holding in the left thumbstick) will help build it up but ultimately if you are climbing too long it will run out.
Jusant – scaling serious heights
The path you need to take is not always very clear, which we found to be frustrating at times. But the developers promise there are multiple paths to discover and spotting them got easier as we played and got used to the game. Plus, you soon get to meet your companion, a small creature made of water known as a Ballast, that you carry with you. The Ballast is able to wake up nature, which provides more methods of climbing, such as holding onto rapidly climbing vines.
Jusant promises to scale some serious heights.
Jusant is releasing onto Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 and PC via Steam in Fall 2023. A free demo is now available on Steam, which allows you to play the first 45 minutes of the game. We highly recommend checking this out if you have access.
There’s an Xbox Store page up if you are interested. Just note, you won’t be able to play Jusant on Xbox One – this is a new-gen only title.
Huge thanks go out to DON’T NOD for providing us access to the early stages of Jusant on Xbox. We’ll be playing the full game on release, and following up with a full review.