Playing Jusant in the right headspace is key to its magic, I think.
I came to it after finding a small window of opportunity to throw myself off a runaway train of blockbuster video games, each vying for my active, undivided attention, and wanting to perpetually challenge my reflexes and acute mental comprehension for days on end, often after draining days at work. I appreciated them, but it was exhausting.
Jusant gave my mind the space to unravel, like releasing a goldfish into a big tank after carrying it around in a plastic bag all day. It’s a beautiful, wordless game that asks you to climb a seemingly endless mountain, but focus only on where you’re going to put your hand next.
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, but only if you want to put your energy into it. The game takes place in a far-flung future where water is exceedingly scarce. Your journey begins in a desert that was once the ocean floor, as the protagonist begins to climb a rocky tower with an unspoken determination to find out what lies at the very top.
You soon discover the remnants of a civilization that had once inhabited the mountain, through the things they abandoned – infrastructure, homes, and tools. Newspapers and personal letters lend a clearer voice to some of the imagined stories, but the most evocative discoveries come from finding things like conch shells, which force you to take a moment and absorb beautiful soundscapes that imagine what things were like in the once lively environments.
It’s not so much the narrative curiosity that keeps you scaling the mountain, but rather the motions of climbing itself. In what is perhaps one of the most tactile and considered imaginings of rock climbing in a video game, Jusant asks you to consider every individual movement when scaling a surface.
The left and right triggers on the controller are mapped to the grip of each hand, asking you to squeeze and release them as you guide your arms to the spot you want to grab onto next. Stamina and rest are a constant consideration that makes you really think carefully before making any risky jumps or manoeuvres – though mandatory anchors that tether you to a stable surface provide consistent safety and peace of mind. There’s no dramatic crumbling of rock faces like in an Uncharted game. Jusant instead makes a compelling argument that suggests vertigo or a fear of danger aren’t necessary to make climbing in a video game deeply engaging.
The joy comes from discovering that optimal path on a wall with many options, or working out the best manoeuvre to let you reach a certain ledge – it may involve exciting ideas like creating another anchor to let you rappel off a cliff freely, or running along a wall. There’s a magical element of Jusant that eventually comes into play, too. The protagonist’s companion – a cute magical blob of water – can effect the environment and open up temporary new paths, and an ecosystem of rock-like bugs are often used to create a wall of moving handholds, which make them delightful to scale.
In making you focus so much on the minutiae of your actions, you come away with a greater appreciation for the details, too. I loved hearing the gentle creaking of the makeshift wooden structures as the wind blew, and seeing the clutter of a home left hastily, jostled by the elements over however many years. How Jusant creates a sense of awe is interesting, too – the focus is always squarely focused on the majesty of the mountain in front, and almost never on the vast vista behind.
Seeing Jusant to the end felt like returning from a brisk walk in the woods, your lungs full of fresh air, and your mind alert from a cool breeze – which is an astute achievement for a game with such deep connections to the natural environment, and the act of physical human movement. You come away feeling sated, satisfied, and refreshed, the sense of achievement and clarity of thought it offers clearing your headspace for whatever challenge comes next.
Four Stars: ★★★★
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass
Developer: Don’t Nod
Publisher: Don’t Nod
Release Date: 31 October 2023
The PS5 version of Jusant was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a 5-point scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.