I’m a sucker for something different, and part of the appeal of Game Pass is in getting to check out new and interesting looking indie games with little extra investment. Jusant recently arrived on the service and, well, it might just be one of the most enjoyable titles not only that Game Pass has afforded me the chance to check out, but possibly one of my favourite games this year even outside of the subscription service.
Coming from Dontnod, I had somewhat high hopes going in having enjoyed their brand of storytelling and gameplay in previous titles such as Life is Strange. Jusant though is quite different than those titles. Instead of dialogue choices and direct storytelling, here we’re exposed to the tale via environmental elements and found notes; the premise being the world we inhabit has run out of water, and an old children’s tale tells of creatures in the sky that can bring back the rain. It’s all nicely handled, offering up enough intrigue to have us go hunting for more notes while also not forcing players to sit through more than is necessary to get the gist of what’s going on. Paired with excellent use of music to help accentuate key moments, Jusant manages to keep us invested without uttering a single, audible word.
Creatures in the sky need finding, and the only way is up, so across the 5 or so hour it takes to complete Jusant we’ll be climbing – a lot.
Luckily, the climbing mechanic here is supremely satisfying to use. Using the left and right triggers for the associated hand, we alternate between trigger presses while using the analogue stick to guide our path. After initial falls while trying to get the rhythm, once I got into it I found it really enjoyable to scamper up, around, and over the vertical pathways from ground level to our eventual destination in the clouds. There are extra elements to consider when beginning a climb – our (generous) stamina meter, the ability to jump or hang slack and swing on the rope, the finite (although also generous) length of the rope – but it rarely tripped me up. In fact, Dontnod seem to have crafted the pathways with Playdead’s gameplay philosophy in mind; often, we just have enough slack to make our destination, or our jump gets a slight ‘invisible hand’ boost if we’re just shy of making it.
That’s not to say we can’t fail, and it’s entirely possible to get to the top of a section only to slip and fall right back down. We can place up to three pitons along our route to act as semi-save points for this, though these also get used to help us in other ways so are best saved for when we absolutely need them.
We’re accompanied by a super cute companion throughout who’s able to activate some of the fauna on the walls, sprouting out new hand holds to grasp, or calling levitating sprites to give us an extra boost. They can also give us a hint as to where hidden collectibles are or where we’re supposed to be heading next. And yes, you can pet them.
In truth though, we don’t often need guidance as to where to go. Jusant is a very linear experience, offering up small alternate pathways where extra story and collectibles are hidden, but we then mostly need to follow our steps back to get to the main path. There are no bogus routes or ways to get lost otherwise; if we can climb something, it is certainly the way to be going next. This isn’t a massive knock as it keeps the game flowing nicely, and means we’re always on target, but it might have been nice to have a few harder routes or more freeform options for getting to the next rest point.
Using Unreal 5 was also a smart move, as Jusant looks stunning throughout. The painterly, almost flat-shaded art style is capable of some genuine moments of beauty, and seeing as we’re mostly looking up Dontnod take the occasional moment to give us a stunning vista for our troubles. Later areas absolutely burst with colour and excellent art direction – but those are best discovered for yourself.
Jusant has utterly wowed me these past few evenings. The simple but effectively done climbing mechanic is supremely rewarding to use, giving us a great sense of accomplishment even though really it’s probably harder to fail than succeed. Combine this satisfying gameplay with a touching, well told tale and some stunning audio visual work, and you have a game that is all but essential playing in my eyes – Game Pass subscription or not.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S (via a Game Pass Ultimate subscription). All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.