Normally I would never start with a definition, but I guess “jusant” translates to “ebb”, the movement of the tide out to sea. And that’s where Justant’s Steam demo begins. What kind of post-apocalypse is this? It’s a sec. The water is gone, we’re walking on sun-scorched land whose smoothness suggests it was once far below the ocean, and there’s more to climb here because there’s less liquid moving around to cover everything.
It’s an apocalypse that does double duty. It not only gives you an end of the world that you can understand, but it also gives you insight. When I first saw Jusant in the Xbox Summer Showcase, I thought it channeled Gaudi a bit. Pottery shards and bleached bones and all that jazz. It turns out that Gaudi’s inlaid art style matches quite closely with the things the sea leaves behind. Arches in whalebone, rust, shimmering coral. Metal things with rubbed corners, paint long gone, shapes partly eaten away, partly broken.
This stuff is all over Jusant’s demo, which is, I’ll tell you right now, a bit of a treat. You are a lonely traveler facing a huge tower to climb. A mountain, but also more than a mountain. There are pieces added, pieces drilled into it. It goes up but in a very human way. You climb, but you also explore upwards, starting with old fishing nets, spools of rope, planks of wood, through broken metal rungs, rocks sticking out of wasted aggregate. Higher and higher, stranger and stranger, outside and inside. Even in the demo, it’s quite a journey.
Jusant uses the escalation system I first encountered in Grow Home: a trigger for each of your hands. It’s a beautiful way of doing things, because it grounds you in the body and makes you consider your reach, the movement of the arms, the potential for limbs to intersect and tangle. This pressure on the triggers also makes it densely physical. I feel, in a way, the exhaustion of the climber, because I grab this thing with him.
But Justant goes further. It launches a wonderfully physical jump – an absolute blinder of implementation, in which you hold a button to power on, then flick the left stick in the direction you want. The character leans. You check your angles. You let go and jump and you hope to connect, you hope to hang on in time. This is one of the best things I’ve seen in games in ages, great control design. I never started taking it for granted in the demo. I never internalized it to the point that I could forget it. It was always a joyous terror, a real risk.
Beyond that you have a carabiner you can grab onto to arrest your fall – I gloriously tangled the rope once or twice and the game made it work – and you can slam into pitons for you help when you’re really stuck. You have three pitons to use at once, so you have to pace yourself, and there’s a really nice flash of ritual as you pull yourself up onto a ledge and magically retract the carabiner and pitons: done .
The other thing you need to watch out for is stamina, which you can temporarily reset on the wall by holding a controller. The stamina drops and the sound drops, you hear the blood in your ears, you imagine the limbs getting heavier, you fall. It’s funny: Jusant is clearly sci-fi, but he’s in love with rock climbing in a way that feels – to me at least – surprisingly realistic.
Level design is magical, if you ask me. The wall is great for guiding you, giving you options, while telling you a bit about the people who survived the disaster with all the water gone. And while you’re often outdoors, the game knows when to lead you indoors, the road up going through little hollows that gradually become mini apartments, networks of caves, all eaten away by rust, collapsed from neglect.
It’s good when things are going well and you reach the ledge you’ve been aiming for for ten minutes. Excitingly, though, it’s great when things go wrong. I missed a jump at one point and rather than falling to my death and restarting, the carabiner saved me, and I was able to do a kind of arc wall run to gain momentum and get back up. There’s a bit of dodgy physics here and there, but watch what the game does, watch that line flex and tighten behind you, the need to follow you when you turn on a wall, when you step out and go over it and under a stringer of a hanging rock or an old piece of wood.
By the time I reached the end of the demo, I was truly in love. And what is it? I was not really very high placed. I mean, I was high enough to give me a little vertigo, but the tower of the mountain itself was still going much higher, into the sky. What would I find up there? I can not wait to see.
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