Though wildly different in some ways, Don't Nod's Jusant shares a surprising amount of common ground with Death Stranding. Both games are set within the aftermath of their respective, titular disasters; they're each rather lonely adventures, perhaps even more so in the former's case; and their traversal systems are unusually physical. If you enjoyed the quiet excursions of Kojima Productions' strand game, odds are you'll also vibe with Jusant's similarly pensive progression — albeit much more vertical.
As mentioned, the game is set a long time after the Jusant, a catastrophic recession of the planet's water supply, leaving much of the world dry and uninhabitable. Combined with a scorching sun and the absence of rain, and it's no wonder everything is all dust and debris. You play as an unnamed figure who's trekked across the dried-up seafloor to an immensely tall tower of rock, and they're there to reach the top. Accompanied by a strange little creature called a Ballast, you ascend the spire, discovering as you go what happened to the people who once called it home.
Bereft of any dialogue, the game leans on environmental storytelling, journal entries, and letters to convey most of the narrative. As you progress up the tower, you'll find buildings and other evidence of a civilisation that's long gone. Scattered around are the aforementioned letters and other writings, which gradually paint a picture of the tower's population, all adept at climbing and seemingly once surrounded by water. After the Jusant, that resource became harder and harder to find, leading to extremely limited supplies and long journeys into the desert to find more. It's a pretty sad tale, and the letters do a reasonable job of telling it, though we'd be hard pressed to recall anyone's name. Well, there is Bianca, a character who left journals as she ascended the tower herself, but there's little to really cling onto.
Speaking of clinging to things, the game's main draw is its rock climbing. Armed with a lengthy rope, Jusant is all about manually feeling your way up sheer cliff faces in your journey to the top. The triggers correspond to the character's hands, which you guide with the left stick. Hold L2 to grab a handhold, then move the stick and grab another with R2, and so on. It's pleasingly tactile, even without any use of the DualSense's features.
Though that's the base of the gameplay, there's more to it. A stamina bar means you can't dawdle too much, but you're able to recover some of it along the way. You have three extra carabiners, which essentially anchor the rope to your current position, preventing you from losing progress if you fall. You'll also have to make daring jumps, abseil, run along walls, and more as you make each climb. There's a good level of depth here; you never feel overwhelmed or lost, but it's much more involved than the climbing in the likes of Uncharted or Horizon.
While a whole game about clambering up rocks could be dull, in practice it's a satisfying system. Despite some slightly awkward animation and an occasionally dodgy camera, it's all pretty intuitive and smooth to play, and efforts have been made to make climbs more interesting as you progress. The Ballast — your cute companion — can interact with organic elements like plants and small creatures. It can cause certain flora to sprout new handholds for you, or freeze stone-like critters in place so you can use those as leverage too. There are one or two more tricks up Jusant's sleeve to slowly evolve the climbing, with each chapter adding something new to the mix, giving the game a gentle difficulty curve. At roughly six to eight hours in length, it doesn't outstay its welcome either.
Separating climbs are plateaus and internal areas to explore, where you'll find collectibles and narrative elements. Despite some optional and alternate paths, this is ultimately a linear game, but it does contain some hidden areas for you to discover. Fortunately, your Ballast friend can also highlight the rough location of some collectibles, as well as where you should head next. The collectibles offer a decent enough reason to look around thoroughly, but ultimately don't add much to the experience.
The environments you find yourself in are largely very static, but through a combination of solid art and sparing use of music, they manage to be surprisingly atmospheric, with a melancholic, lonesome air. There's also some nice variety on show — you spend a lot of time in the sun-kissed exterior but there are dimly lit caverns, abandoned ruins, bioluminescent passages, and more.
While Jusant is a pleasant expedition, then, it's perhaps with its narrative that we're less won over. The various letters and journals piece together the history of the tower and its people, but the writing itself can be a little dry. Also, certain questions we had while playing remain unanswered. It wraps up with a nice ending, but it does require you to have been reading those letters for it to have any meaning. There's certainly value to the story that's present, but for us the execution isn't quite there.
Despite one or two missteps, Jusant hangs together thanks to a well-realised, unique location and, more importantly, a fun and engaging way to interact with it. The climbing at its core is wonderfully tactile and finds a balance between complexity and accessibility. The spire of rock you're ascending is an interesting place to explore, gradually shifting into new environments as you ascend. We're not totally sold on the story, and the animation and camera can be clumsy every so often, but the game remains a solid, meditative adventure throughout.