One of my biggest complaints about Uncharted 4 was just how frequently we, as international thief and treasure hunter Nathan Drake, were forced to climb. The climbing “puzzles” (if you can even call them that) were not particularly interesting or challenging for the most part.
Others disagreed. But to me, the climbing was tedious after awhile. I suppose that the game’s strengths were not in its puzzles at all—the dungeon puzzles were pretty simple also—but in its wonderful storytelling and characters and the adventure itself. The puzzles in Uncharted just felt like relatively uninteresting speedbumps, and the climbing wore thin fast.
If only Uncharted had climbing as interesting and engaging as Jusant. The upcoming platformer from French video game developer DON’T NOD has some of the best rock-climbing mechanics I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Of course, the audience Jusant will appeal to will only have some overlap with Naughty Dog’s rather more violent games.
This is not a game about shooting or fighting or high-speed chases. It’s not a game about characters, either, at least not in the couple of hours I spent with the game’s totally silent protagonist. This is a lonesome game. Lonesome and hushed.
The world of Jusant is remarkably quiet. There’s a stillness to the landscape. This strange monolith you find yourself ascending was clearly once underwater. The trappings of a former ocean are scattered everywhere. But like the sea itself, whatever humanity once inhabited these sandstone vistas has vanished. Only the vestiges of this hardscrabble civilization remain, scattered about in long-empty rooms, in little notes and diaries.
Jusant is both a platform puzzler and a mystery. In many ways it is a “chill” game where you can just enjoy the views, solve the climbing puzzles and take it at your own speed—though you’ll fall and find frustrations impeding your path. Your odd-looking hero will climb and swing and clamber, and you’ll begin to discover, piece by piece, what to this once-watery world now barren and dry and uninhabited.
Early on you’ll meet a companion named Ballast, a strange spirit made out of that rarest of elements: Water. Ballast will unlock new paths along the way, activating the desert flora to give you new footholds up previously unscalable heights. (A ballast in a ship is a section at the bottom that fills with water to help balance the ship as it floats).
Outside of the rich world itself, what really makes Jusant shine is just how detailed the climbing mechanics are. When climbing you need to press and release the left and right triggers to grab and let go of handholds. You’re fully kitted out with mountaineering gear also, and before each new climb, you attach a rope to an anchor. You can add new anchor points along any climb, which can be useful if you need to change direction, swing on a rope to reach a far wall, or rappel in a new direction.
A stamina bar slowly empties as you scale surfaces, but it’s simple to refill it by just stopping and catching your breath—again, this is a very chill game. There are puzzles and challenges that will make you think, but it’s not punishing.
This combination of rich atmosphere—a heady blend of ancient nautical ruin and mountainous desert terrain—and tight climbing mechanics makes this one of the more atmospheric platformers I’ve played in recent years. The various secret paths you can wend your way along, wringing clues from the desert, add rich layers of mystery.
There’s a haunting sparseness to Jusant. A dizzying minimalism that hints at a world brought low by a devastating climate apocalypse. It’s beautiful, peaceful and as grim as any game I’ve played all year.
Jusant releases this Halloween on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S where it will be free on day one with Game Pass. I highly recommend you take it for a climb.
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