Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Don't Nod
Developer: Don't Nod
Release Date: Fall 2023


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PS5/XSX/PC Preview - 'Jusant'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 24, 2023 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Jusant is an action-puzzle climber and meditative journey where players try to reach the top of an immeasurable tall tower and uncover clues along the way.

Climbing is a game mechanic that populates a wide range of titles. Despite being around for so long, climbing is rarely a main focus for any game, although developers have tried to add a stamina meter to make it more exciting for players. VR games like The Climb naturally lend themselves to making the act fun, since so few actually take up rock climbing in more dangerous places, but you have to go back to the likes of Crazy Climber in the arcades to find an example where climbing is the main objective. This is one of the reasons why Jusant seemed interesting, alongside the fact that it's developed by Don't Nod, a studio that has dabbled in other genres but is more well known for narrative adventures. We got a chance to check out a preview build and came away more intrigued.

Jusant takes place in a world where the oceans have dried up, and the remaining people make do with ramshackle dwellings on or inside the rocks. You play the role of a nameless boy who wanders the land alongside his companion, a small, blob-like creature. He soon finds himself at the foot of a large tower of rock, and like the rest of the inhabitants of this world, he decides to climb.

As mentioned before, Jusant is focused all on climbing. Like the VR game The Climb, this is accomplished by alternating between two buttons that signify your left and right hands for gripping the next available handhold and releasing it to grab onto the next one. The game does a great job of automatically determining where your hands will go, but you can also point to exactly where you want to grab onto. Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the game employs a stamina system where you have a limited amount of time to climb before reaching a flat horizontal surface to quickly catch your breath and continue the climb.

The game does a few things for climbing mechanics that is rarely used by other games. You can anchor yourself with up to three pitons to prevent yourself from falling too far. You can jump from walls, but that drains the stamina and reduce the amount of stamina you can regain before finding a flat surface. You can shimmy up and down the rope to reach handholds below you and give yourself enough room to do a swing or a wall-run to another handhold. At any time, you can lean on the wall to recover stamina, so you aren't always relying on larger flat surfaces to regain stamina.

That last part is significant because it shows how Jusant still has its narrative adventure senses built in. Just about every climbing surface has a built-in piton that you automatically attach yourself to, so you can never fall to your doom from a missed handhold grab. You can't just walk off a ledge to your doom or purposefully jump from high places to the ground far below you. Like many games of this type, there are no enemies to fight off, so there's no fear of dying, and that puts the focus squarely on exploration and story.

Speaking of story, the game is also unusual in that it doesn't present any conflict whatsoever — at least during the preview build. The different biomes can range from calm to slightly harsh, but you never get the sense that this is unnatural. There's wreckage left behind, but nothing reminds you of a great calamity. The letters you find seem like they're from a "slice of life" story rather than something more woeful, transforming the game into a relaxing instead of a harrowing experience.

The build is still in an early enough state that bugs are expected, but we didn't experience any big issues that need fixing.

Graphically, the game looks stunning, and that's all thanks to the art style. The flat colors work well for the environments and characters, while the lighting in some areas accentuates the look. The characters stand out due to their eyes, which give the game a more cozy feel due to their cartoonish appearance. On the audio side, the lack of voices (aside from grunts during climbing) means that the sound effects are doing the heavy lifting. The soundtrack is present but only shows up during cut scenes, as the ambient sounds of the world fill the speakers most of the time. The tracks are good for the moment, but we really want to hear more of it before passing judgment.

For a game that's still in an early stage, the Steam Deck performance isn't that bad. The game can average 60fps during cut scenes with a few small dips, but during gameplay, the frame rate ranges between the low 20s to mid 40s, depending on what you're looking at and how many objects are on-screen. This is with the game set to low and with FSR 2.0 off and an unknown value for the resolution scale, so there is room to make the game run better, especially since the art style makes the title still look great at these settings. The battery life averages below the two-hour mark, but that can be helped with a 30fps lock, since this isn't the type of game where twitch action matters.

Jusant feels like a refreshing change of pace for a narrative adventure game. The focus on action over dialogue keeps it interesting for those who aren't normally into these kinds of adventure games. The pieces of story that you uncover are lighthearted instead of focusing on something dour or of utmost importance to the world. It also helps that the game has a gorgeous art style. Jusant still has no formal release date, but we can't wait to check out the full game to see where the experience goes next.

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