Rock climbing could be one of the most under-represented activities in video games, so when I first caught wind of a new game from French developers DontNod the last thing I expected was climbing simulator, but here we are on a cold November morning and I’m climbing walls, on a scorched barren planet.
when you start off with Jusant, there’s not much true direction, you’re given a basic guide to climbing by using the triggers to grab and release each hand, and soon told about planting an extra hook (X) to hang from incase you fancy a break half way up the wall, as well as reeling in your rope with B when you find solid ground. You start to venture up the nearby mountain face, unsure of where you’re going or what you’re doing.
Considering this is from DontNod, maybe we’ve been spoilt in the past, but their character building and scene setting has been top notch through titles like Life is Strange, Twin Mirrors, Tell me Why and even the not great, but I enjoyed it ‘ Vampyr,
Right back to Remember Me, (the game that almost single handedly destroyed DontNod before they were known for their narrative fame), I still remember knowing more about the Gameworld within minutes, but back on the mountain, there’s no narration, no deeply intriguing cut-scenes, you just climb…
Eventually, on your travels, you’ll start to discover a few things, there’s a strange blue blob in your rucksack, known as a Ballast, and this little dude allows you to Echo, this echo can grow nearby vines, and activate large glowing markings on the wall, alongside a shell-like horn you suddenly discover the Ballast can also ‘ping’ giant shrines as you progress up the mountain, usually triggering a few visual out-of gameplay changes.
If you’re worrying about storyline, you’re not the only one, gone are the well voiced characters and relatable personalities, Instead you’ll be finding notes and journals as you travel which give some background on the dissapearance of the water, leaving the world struggling to survive in the heat, as well as floods of people (pardon the pun) leaving the tower.
It all leaves you feeling quite isolated and alone, but I really wish we had at least got some meaningful flashback cut-scenes as I struggled to build any level of care for our protagonist or the owners of these random messages I kept reading.
One thing that did keep me interested was the climbing mechanics, it’s somewhat peaceful, while still proving a challenge, as you have to start judging your movement, your reach and when to use a new anchor point, there’s small abseiling sections or the option to swing to help reach new locations and a jump mechanic that rewards trial and error because there’s always a hook point to fall back on.
I found myself enjoying the game most, when I just had a large section to climb, with a few off-shoots to explore, which usually leads to more of those notes to read, or maybe a pile of rocks play Moana and add another stone on top.
There’s a few sections where Jusant really shines and gives me the freedom of exploration, with some challenging climbing sections, while taking the occasional breather to top up my stamina, but there’s sadly times when you’ll feel a little lost, walking in circles as you try to find the correct path forwards, only to find the Ballasts trick of sitting on your head and showing you where to go, nothing more than a useless glowing blob, showing you a vague direction.
This lead to a few frustrating moments, when a simple path of breadcrumbs once or twice would have keep the serene challenge of climbing more relevant.
Graphically it’s pretty impressive, the world feels believable in a scorched earth kind of way, the tower gives a great sense of a gargantuan mountain you’re scaling, and there’s a few parts where a view catches your eye and makes you look twice.
Progressing thorough the game and discovering additional gameplay elements, such as the vines you’ll need to echo with Ballast, or the glow-flies which can carry you a short distance, everything is visible and recognisable. Making climbing fun and not a chore. The downside is that navigation aspect, usually when in a large area with no clear sign where to go, just leaves a sour taste when you’ve wasted half an hour unsure of where you’re going.
Audio again has it’s strengths and weaknesses, namely a strong, serene soundtrack that really helps with the isolated feeling of climbing this massive behemoth, however the lack of any narration or voice acting really kills what could have been a pretty interesting character to explore with our protagonist and his odd relationship with the huggable ballast, I stead I was left caring less about the people and more about climbing more, that the none climbing sections soon felt a little tedious.
Im sure some people will spend hours reading every paragraph of the many, many text filled documents, and they may invest themselves into the world and characters far more than I did, but despite losing that emersion, I still thoroughly enjoyed the climbing and exploration of the game, which more than made up for the lack of Emerson from hour the “story” was presented..
At launch Jusant is available on Xbox Gamepass, and even if my criticisms worry you, it’s still worth checking out, because the unique vertical platforming of the climbing system and the welcomed exploration make Jusant more than worth your time regardless, what makes Jusant even better value is the low £22.49 price tag, so even if you’re not subscribed to Gamepass, it’s still well worth considering at a very, very fair price, though paying that you may be a little more concerned with the length coming in at around 6 hours.
the unique QAvertical platforming of the climbing system and the welcomed exploration make Jusant more than worth your time