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‘JETT: The Far Shore’ Review: Boldly Going Where Few Sci-Fi Games Have Gone Before

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‘JETT: The Far Shore’ Review: Boldly Going Where Few Sci-Fi Games Have Gone Before

JETT: The Far Shore is a game loaded with heavy questions. Just how far will a person follow their beliefs, based on stories handed down over generations? How significant of a footprint should any interloper leave on fresh soil, on ecosystems that functioned fine free of your interference? What measures can be taken to outrun oblivion itself - and should any life in the universe have agency over that decision, at all? Is it better to pursue an existence at the very extremities of possibility, where living is measured in minutes at a time; or to let the end come and accept the hand nature has dealt you?

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JETT: The Far Shore is also a game about the absolutely incalculable vastness of space. This is sci-fi play on a grand scale. Your ship, your jett, is minuscule against the landscapes, the fantastical foothills and unnerving spires, the coiled tentacles and explosive flora of this so-called Far Shore, a planet 1,000 years from home that you've come to, to start anew. You're a speck of foreign dust on a vast canvas of impossible sights. You're here because of the stories, the history, of your people - the teachings and the prophecies. They spoke of a place beyond your horizons, where the suffering of your surroundings couldn't stretch to. A place calling out to you, emitting a 'hymnwave', a signal for the devoted to follow. But we've been here before, in cinematic fiction set beyond our stars: a beacon on a strange world is rarely something that leads to paradise.

Watch the launch trailer for JETT: The Far Shore below...

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JETT - a co-production from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP creators Superbrothers alongside Pine Scented Software - begins at lift-off: goodbye to seemingly polluted, undeniably cursed earth (not necessarily of the uppercase E variety), and upward to a destination only seen in our wyldest dreams. The player, as Mei - a pilot who's tasked with scouting this new world before most of her cryo-sleeping colleagues descend; but a mystic too, who senses a greater connection between people and place than most - awakens from a millennium of suspension to gaze out over the source of the hymnwave: a world largely covered in oceans, but with a distinct landmark spoken of in her people's texts. A gigantic peak, almost visible from anywhere on the surface. A tor that's far grander than our usual, more modest meaning of the word. A waypoint that's speaking to the brave few who arrive to set up ground control. Come over, come inside, we're waiting.

Travelling in JETT is mostly done inside your jett - a sprightly but somewhat fiddly craft that can be a delight to pilot over long stretches of obstacle-free expenses, but a pain to find precision with when it's necessary (and it does become necessary, quickly). There are also short first-person sequences, when you're on foot. The jett has an array of functions: you can toggle scramjets on and off, and the ship really flies when they're active subject to you not overheating them, at which point they'll shut down for a short period (later in the game, you unlock a way to better manage this system using vapour emitted from countless fissures). There's a light which you can flash to spark a reaction in certain flora and fauna, and a 'pop' where the jett will burst forwards or upwards causing a blast wave - again, doing this in the immediate proximity of native life can have beneficial effects. There's a hook, for grabbing and carrying objects; and the jett can deploy a shelter in select locations, which is vital for survival when the gloaming descends and a red wave of circuits-scrambling energy plays havoc with your shield and controls.

JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
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And that's basically your toolkit for staying alive - and you're going to need to use it wisely because this Far Shore is, at best, indifferent to your presence, and at worst it actively wants to kill you. But JETT isn't a survival game as such, despite there being a need to take measures to avoid hostile conditions and placate the occasional indigenous wildlife that wants to tear your jett apart. It actually has more in common with a narrative adventure like Firewatch or Oxenfree than something like Don't Starve or No Man's Sky. There are echoes, too, of Alien and Solaris, though they're light enough to never have JETT feeling like a set of influences stirred into an only slightly twisted new concoction. This really does feel like a fresh experience.

The small party that lands alongside Mei is important to the tone and feel of proceedings - while you only play as a single character, there's significance to everyone from your chatty co-pilot, who'll usually pipe up if you're uncertain of an objective, to the communications guy who doubles as the cook (try the soup, please). Conversations are plentiful, all voice-acted in a language entirely created for this game. Sometimes that causes headaches - it's hard to follow subtitles when you're attempting evasive maneuvers in your jett. But the decision to use a totally fictional language makes JETT all the more odd, alien, and surreal. It adds to the distance between the known and unknown, and helps to make the player feel like a stranger in this place, too.

JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
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The pulsating dreadwave that sweeps the planet represents the biggest threat in JETT, but this world is positively teeming with bizarre creatures, many of which can deliberately or otherwise cause damage. There are tiny flying things quite literally called 'pests' by your ship's computer log, and larger, more vicious beasts that are known as 'griefers'. Ultimately you come to work out measures to get these shield-draining devils off your tail, without causing significant damage to them - there is no desire amid the cast of JETT to destroy what's already here in their new home. That extends, too, to some truly titanic creatures, which are called kolos - colossuses. Some fly, some soar, and some will tunnel beneath the soil. One spends much of its time beneath the waves but emits a powerful blastwave that will immediately strip your jett of its shield and send you into a dizzying spiral - and you're going to have to figure out a way past that, in the final third of the game.

What these kolos represent in this planet's ecosystem is unclear - there are husks, skeletons of fallen ones, perhaps picked over by smaller creatures, perhaps simply left to the ravages of time. The biggest we see just seems to glide through the atmosphere like some sort of serpentine blimp, but quite what it could call a home, a nest, who can say at that scale. Indeed, JETT leaves many of its questions open, unanswered. It presents little in the way of a guiding hand. The hardships the travellers face are somewhat mirrored in how the game can feel in the player's hands: testing, demanding, frustrating. You'll have times where you know what to do, but to get the jett to do it is another matter entirely. But that fits the fiction, it fits the story: if we were to just coast through what these people are going through, frictionless, then the weight wouldn't touch us. The questions would be dismissed. What does it take to outrun oblivion? We'd never stop to consider it.

JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
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When what it takes is sacrifice. Guts. Open hearts and open minds. The willingness to race into trouble. The confidence to turn an enemy into an ally. The sheer damn persistence to take another breath, and another breath, and another, when the world your people told you was to be your salvation and sanctuary is basically on fire most of the time. JETT: The Far Shore isn't hard like Dark Souls hard, but it asks that you think hard about its themes, and its resonance with our world. It pauses to dream, and to let you meditate on what you've witnessed. A better tomorrow can't be had unless you make changes today instead of just fleeing from them. Society can't flourish unless there's fairness, and love, top to bottom. A thousand years from now, what are you going to be? A memory that mattered or just a speck of dust on a vast canvas of impossible sights you were never destined to see?

But this is a video game, so, let's also talk about performance. Playing JETT on a PlayStation 4 Pro, before any release-window patching, there's some slowdown to note, but nothing so substantial as to be game-breaking. A couple of bugs were encountered that temporarily halted my progress, but nothing that switching my console off and on again didn't fix. The ship's controls are fiddly, yes, but I feel that's a choice - outpacing pursuing shock serpents through a maze of alien valleys shouldn't be something that comes naturally, out here on the edge of the universe. JETT doesn't offer many grandstanding set-pieces, but there are times when the music, by Oxenfree composer scntfc (who's channelling Elliot Goldenthal and Cliff Martinez at times), elevates a scene to incredible highs; and its moments where you point your jett somewhere new on the map are always a rush, as you skim atop cresting waves, a sparkling wisp dancing in your trail. The uplifts, when they hit, are never not sensational.

JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software
JETT: The Far Shore / Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software

And, because this is a video game, I'd best end on something that outlines why you should play JETT. How's this: if hands-holding AAA-proportioned adventure is your thing, leave this alone. If you always need a clear sense of direction, and you require resolution to every little thing by the time the credits roll, leave this alone. If you don't like distinctly stylised visuals and open worlds that would rather you were wiped out than set free to explore for treasures, leave this alone. If you like your games to be almost violently opposed to you having a good time, to offer you incredible wonders but then command them to kill you, play this. If you like your games to stir sensations wildly disconnected from power fantasies or comfy escapes, play this. If you like your games to simply be different to what you're used to, to deviate from expectations in real time, and to leave you in awe of their ideas and aspirations, just staring at the screen after it's all wrapped, play this.

Pros: Compelling plot, absorbing world, consistently striking visuals, brilliant score, tackles some relevant themes through a sci-fi lens, feels genuinely fresh and exciting like few games I've played in 2021

Cons: Occasionally tricky controls, demands the player be self-directed to a greater degree than most open-world titles

For fans of: Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, Solaris (book, movie, remake, take your pick), living inside Radiohead albums, the crushing weight of an existential crisis

9/10: Exceptional

JETT: The Far Shore is released on October 5 2021 for PC, PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. Tested on PlayStation 4 Pro using code provided by the publishers. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Superbrothers, Pine Scented Software

Topics: Review, Indie Games

Mike Diver
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