First revealed back in June as part of Microsoft’s showcase at Summer Game Fest 2023, the latest project coming out of Life Is Strange creators DONTNOD is peculiar, to say the least. Rather than being narrative-heavy with impactful choices to make, Jusant is a much more meditative affair as an action-puzzle climber, where the journey is of your own making.
The mysterious nature of the overall narrative of Jusant, with its focus on the secrets of a bygone civilization, depends heavily on environmental storytelling, with the main character functioning as more of a lens for players to view this world through. Scattered letters and notes provide contextual clues about the people that once were and a time before now, but only if you make the effort to find them, oftentimes requiring venturing off the beaten track.
With the storytelling seemingly taking a backseat, at least during the preview, there is more of a need for the gameplay loop to come to the fore and DONTNOD’s take on deliberate climbing certainly lives up to the promise of feeling different.
While the starting sections are linear as players get used to the controls and the limits of this world, alternate paths soon appear on the journey up an everchanging tower. As long as you are headed up, there is almost always a choice for your next climb. This structure also allows for the aforementioned secrets to be hidden in nooks and crannies, ensuring that players are rewarded for spotting various routes during their journey.
Most possible paths in Jusant are indicated by a hole in a wall, which the protagonist will use as an anchor point for his climbing gear just in case there is a loss of grip. Relying on just the hands, the main character is more than capable of scaling great heights. The controls are intuitive enough to make it a seamless experience throughout. On a controller, alternating between the two bumpers will allow the left or right hand to grab a targeted handhold, creating a climbing rhythm that feels quite satisfying.
And when there’s climbing, there is bound to be a stamina system like in Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, but this game isn’t too adamant about making players sweat too much. You can take a rest during a climb at any time, restoring said stamina to a more manageable level before soldiering on, all while being surrounded by the distinct visuals of the various biomes that color this world.
It doesn’t take long before longer climbing sections reveal themselves, and Jusant adds more variety to the moves that the player can attempt. Secondary pitons can be attached to walls, serving as a checkpoint system of sorts in the game world itself. Should you fall, the piton will ensure you don’t have to go all the way back to the start of the climb.
Gaps can also be navigated using jumps, keeping things interesting as the ascent continues. There are also occasions where going down is the only way forward. Attaching the rope to a surface, players can then lower themselves down to a suitable height, before either swinging or running to gain momentum before attempting a fateful jump to the next handhold. The variety of sequences available, even in this early preview, keeps things fresh, and it is likely that as players progress deeper into Jusant, more and more surprises will lie in wait.
One of those surprises that did arrive this time around is the adorable Ballast, a creature companion made of water that doesn’t just look cute, but is also helpful in making sure you are on the right track. The Ballast’s echo will reveal possible points of interest, and more importantly, awaken elements of nature that will lead to new paths to move forward. Think of a plant that grows even taller, complete with key points for you to climb, and you get the gist. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg of what the Ballast can do, and just like the rest of Jusant, the mysteries that await are intriguing thus far.
The stylized look of the game is also a treat for the eyes, with the flora and fauna thriving in the absence of any discernable human life. The scale and height involved are breathtaking, and instead of being so focused on just making the climb, there were several instances where taking a break mid-climb felt right to me, just to take in all of the sights. The same goes for interior environments, especially when there is bioluminescence involved in lighting up dark tunnels and caverns.
This more relaxed approach adopted by DONTNOD for the game will definitely appeal more to a certain group of players, but that’s not just what should matter. Considering the expertise of the team, the potential of the storytelling that can be done in this manner is noteworthy even if it takes a different form, so fans should keep an open mind even if an action-puzzler is not your usual cup of team. I, for one, will be very excited to see just what the full adventure in Jusant will look like, and so should everyone else.
Jusant will release in the Fall of 2023 on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5.