Jusant doesn’t so much do away with the cliche of the video game vista as reorient it. Instead of giving you a stirring panorama to gaze upon, it fixes your view on the vertiginous mountain stretching above and below, your task being to guide a quiet, androgynous character across its rocks and ridge-splitting crevasses. This climbing game isn’t about the expansive possibilities of its space (as with Starfield and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). Instead, it homes in on the challenge of navigating in the here and now, one dusty handhold and firmly lodged belay at a time.
The magic of Jusant lies in its ingenious control scheme. It foregoes the straightforward one-button climbing of other action games for something more dexterous, equipping your character with a handful of carabiners, a generous length of rope and a strong stomach for vertigo-inducing heights. Each outstretched hand is controlled by one of the shoulder buttons; hold and release the shoulder buttons in tandem and you start to build a thrilling sense of fluidity, scaling the cliff at a considerable rate of knots. At other times, you’re required to proceed more slowly, planning your next move while gripping on to a ledge with both hands (the correct way forward is often the longest way round). Quickly, Jusant finds a pleasing rhythm of tension and release, the drama of climbing punctuated by safer moments of more grounded exploration.
Like some of its biggest influences, 2012’s Journey and the titles of famed designer Fumito Ueda, Jusant presents a wistful, wordless story set in the ruins of civilisation. You come across long-abandoned boats, children’s toys, textile workshops, and kitchens. If you press your ear to magical shells, you’re able to listen to the aural history of the place, which only brings its tragedy into greater focus. These cluttered spaces are assembled with a lovely sense of intimacy, often located within the massif’s nook-and-cranny interiors, shielded from the harsh sun and bludgeoning wind. The only world-building misstep is the letters you happen across, which rather spell out the events leading to the exodus, as if studio Don’t Nod forgot the adage of “show, don’t tell”, not quite trusting players to read the visual clues alone.
But unlike the former inhabitants of this elevated abode, the stakes for Jusant’s nameless protagonist aren’t existential. There’s no risk of death, either from enemies or from falling. When you invariably do misjudge a hand placement, tumbling down the cliff only to be caught by your rope, it’s easy to imagine a different version of the game, one that revels in the rag-doll demise of this character. But that would fundamentally change the nature of Jusant: your relationship with the mountain would be one of hostility rather than symbiosis. At various points, indigenous wildlife including bioluminescent fungi and crab-esque critters come to your aid, offering a timely reminder that humanity’s success can rest, quite literally, on the backs of others.
Jusant is an eco-fable, and like other such titles you play the role of a restorer. What the game deftly tells us through its world-building, narrative, and exquisite climbing is that the role requires both ambition and imagination. This is no better summed up than by the jump your character must make from one handhold to another, an act that suspends them in midair for a perilous, heart-in-mouth moment. Lodged in this little leap of faith is the entire spirit of adventure, the quality that ultimately makes the rehabilitation of Jusant’s stricken mountain possible.