Because It’s There
HIGH There’s a button just for petting the cute sidekick.
LOW Trying to track down those last few letters.
WTF That last climb is CRAZY.
The tower is tall. Beyond all reason and beyond all belief, it stretches from the floor of a dry ocean up to the edge of space. Its existence makes no sense, but it doesn’t exist in a place of logic. This is a place of fantasy — of what we dream mountain climbing could feel like, if it were stripped of all toil and hardship, and all we were left with was the sheer joy of surmounting the insurmountable.
A third-person climbing sim, Jusant asks players to scale walls. And then some cliffs. And then a stalactite. And then… well, to say any more would be to offer gigantic spoilers. Beyond a door or two and some collectibles to be picked up, Jusant has no interactions for the player other than climbing, and it’s all the better for it, because it allows the player to focus on just how well that climbing works.
Divided into six distinct areas, Jusant takes the player on a journey that begins in the dried-out remains of a fishing-focused civilization and ends higher than any human has ever climbed. Why have the oceans dried up? Why is this climber so dead-set on making it to the top of the tower? The game isn’t particularly concerned with questions like that. Diaries written by long-dead denizens of the tower offer some clues, of course, as do a series of murals that the player can find scattered throughout the levels, but that’s not the focus. No, Jusant is only concerned with the joy of climbing, and it should be judged at how effectively it shares joy that with the player…Which is pretty darn well, actually.
Jusant uses the kind of climbing controls that have become something close to an industry standard, with the the controller’s shoulder buttons representing the grips of the left and right hands. Climbing a wall is as simple as letting go of one button to release a grip, pushing the left controller to stretch an arm in the direction of the next handhold, gripping with the shoulder button, then repeating with the other arm until level ground has been reached. There are complicating factors to keep things interesting, of course. The player has to deal with perilous jumps, manage a stamina meter, and use pitons strategically to establish a safe route across the world’s many sheer cliff faces.
Great lengths have been gone to in order to ensure that the player never feels like they’re just doing the same thing over and over again. Each one of the six stages introduces a new mechanic that adds a wrinkle the climb, from ziplines to blooming flowers to handholds with a mind of their own, there’s always something new to push the player to the limits of their endurance. That said, the game is extremely fair, offering alternate routes through many of its areas. Players frequently have the choice between pushing themselves up a fast but dangerous path, or taking a slower route with more rest areas.
Regardless of a player’s preference, things are about to get even more accessible – while I enjoyed the challenge the controls offered, the developers are patching in a number of accessibility features to ensure that anyone will be able to experience Jusant’s charms. Soon players will be able to turn off the stamina meter and use the thumbstick for all movement, with grabbing happening automatically. It’s not a suite of features I see myself spending much time with personally, but anything that gets more people into this experience is worth doing.
As fantastic as the controls are, they wouldn’t mean a thing if the level design wasn’t spectacular, and the developers haven’t disappointed in that area either. It’s not just that each one of the levels has its own distinct challenges to keep gameplay fresh, it’s the way the look of those levels tells most of the story.
The title itself refers to a tide going out, and the tower’s escalating levels tell the story of a civilization falling apart as the sea, its primary resource, moved further and further away from them. As the player climbs the tower, they’re effectively transported back in time, bearing witness to the remnants of technologically complex society that existed before they had to abandon their homes and move further and further down the tower. Jusant’s story is a somber, affecting one, and it accomplishes that emotional connection almost entirely via the environments the player explores.
Though I’m loathe to bring up a complaint when discussing a game this beautiful, I can’t avoid the fact that the story which I found so enthralling is – at best – incredibly oblique in its presentation. Jusant’s levels are huge, and the player isn’t given much direction in how to explore them. The letters and diary entries that will offer context to the visuals are strewn about haphazardly, with no cues to suggest where the player might search for them. Unless players are willing to absolutely scour each of the levels, they’re guaranteed to miss huge sections of the backstory. I’m confident that the level design is brilliant enough to make the point clear, but if players care about the finer details of this world’s history (or getting trophies for completion) they’ll have to be ready to put in more effort than is reasonable.
Collectibles aside, Jusant is a magical experience from beginning to end. From the very first time I had my avatar grab a handhold and hoist herself up the side of a cliff face I was hooked, and the rest of the adventure never once failed to deliver that same thrill. This is a special experience — one that tosses aside realism and simulation to capture the idea of mountain climbing that exists only in our fantasies. Yes, the story is beautiful, and yes, the level design is impeccable, but what Jusant offers most is the perfected version of climbing beyond what reality can offer, and I’m glad I got a chance to see it.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by DONTNOD. It is currently available on PC, PS5, and XBS/X. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was rated E by the ESRB and has NO content warnings. This is literally the most child-safe game imaginable. There’s no questionable content of any kind. Go nuts.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without audio and encountered zero difficulties. There is no dialogue to subtitle. Text cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.