Ten years ago, Superbrothers, in collaboration with others, released Sword & Sworcery EP to critical acclaim. It stood out as an artsy esoteric point-and-click when edgy military shooters dominated gaming. But it was also at the beginning of an indie boom, right when games first started gaining authority as not only entertainment but as an art form. Their follow-up, JETT: The Far Shore, feels both caught in that era of gaming, with its strict triggers, awkward combat, and boss battles. It’s a game setback by its gaminess and stunted by its austere and monotone attempt to be cinematic. Yet, it’s an experience like no other, and even in its failure, it still succeeds.
Gone is the whimsical and self-referential nature of Sword & Sworcery, and in with the dark techno-mysticism. Jett: The Far Shore follows a group of scouts and the remnants of civilisation fleeing from a dying Earth-like planet. Foretold by a long-dead scout, the people of this world plan to make their home near the massive mountain, Tor, the epicentre of legendary hymnwave located far from their home planet. Before the mothership lands, it is up to the six scouts and two auxiliary members to conduct surveys of Tor and the landscape.
“Speeding across the water and popping over mountains and waves like giant half pipes never got old.”
The scouts come from all different backgrounds, but players take control of Mai, a mystic and a person of a religious clan. After an incredible opening full of beautiful starkly rendered environments, JETT: The Far Shore introduces its central mechanics with the ‘Jett’, a hovercraft or speeder that glides along surfaces and can be propelled upwards with a precisely timed pop and push back on the throttle. But the Jett mostly skims the land and sea and is not meant to be fully airborne for long.
Speeding across the water and popping over mountains and waves like giant half pipes never got old. However, with dense and rocky terrain, gliding can be less pleasing. The ship frequently got stuck on chunks of the environment, losing all momentum. This is worsened by the throttle’s limitations, as going faster than turtle requires you to turn on the scramjets which can only be used for a short time before overheating and spinning the Jett out of control. However, it is alleviated by collecting vapour, allowing you to maintain top speed over long stretches. While I never loved this system, it added a pleasing learning curve to flying, and by the end, I was navigating the terrain, knowing Jett’s unfortunate limitations.
“In JETT: The Far Shore, you cannot freely explore on foot outside of short scripted segments.”
But as a scout, the ship is not only fast but also equipped with survey equipment to make observations of the local fauna and flora. As a part of your missions, split up into 4 distinct chapters along with a prologue, you often must scan your environment for new species and discover how your ship’s abilities can interact with them. A common example is “ghokebloom”, which reacts to pops and will send you flying into the air, spreading a field of pink polyp-like flowers. JETT: The Far Shore introduces many simple puzzles with these systems, creating a fun way to interact with the environment, livening up some of the more drab landscapes.
Even that being said, the world often felt dead. Wildlife is often hard to find or see due to JETT’s bland beige colour palette, making impressive sights less impactful. Notably, in JETT: The Far Shore, you cannot freely explore on foot outside of short scripted segments. This creates a sense of detachment to the planet since you cannot see or explore anything from a human level. Even when flying, the camera defaults to an extreme long shot of your ship, which not only leads to navigational issues but furthers your connection to anything.
For a piece about humanity’s future, ecological destruction, planetary colonialism, and the immensity of the unknown, this single-minded focus on detachment felt out of place with the rest of its themes. The hollowness not only takes away from the wonder of the unknown but saps the tension and emotion out of the game.
“Despite its flaws, it is an entrancing dive into something completely otherworldly.”
This is not even to mention the numerous bugs and event scripting errors I ran into during my playthrough. Four or five times, I soft-locked the game, forcing a complete restart of my PS4. I sometimes spent over an hour trying to complete a task, doing what was asked of me many times with the next trigger never playing or enemies just straight up disappearing. It is made even worse by JETT’s lack of objective navigation markers and vague and confusing directions of how to progress. Luckily, these moments were few and far between, and often, the triggers worked as intended as long as you didn’t get too far ahead of the other scouts or complete objectives early.
The same can be said of characters, which have no character or personality. This is worsened by the voice actor’s chopped-up dialogue used to make the new language. This leaves a massive script where characters generally repeat themselves, say the obvious, and act like emotionless dolls. They quickly become very annoying, constantly talking about absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, this takes away from the solemn atmosphere of gliding around the planet and also distracts me while flying as I tried to read subtitles that I soon realised hardly mattered.
“JETT: The Far Shore is a hard game to recommend.”
Even though JETT flops on the emotional and character level, it still manages to capture so much of its core in the gliding, exploration, and excellent otherworldly and ethereal score. Though its environments occasionally felt drab, close-up landings never ceased to provide stunning vistas, and speeding through river beds, over hills, and up Mount Tor always thrilled me. Blasting off after returning to base or speeding away from the decimation of Tor’s dreadwave, it all kept dragging me back in. Even the night after finishing JETT, I found myself dreaming of gliding across its waves.
Despite its flaws, it is an entrancing dive into something otherworldly. Titan-sized leviathans roam the skies and seas, and massive purple planets eat away at the skyline. Perhaps, most importantly, it acknowledges space colonisation as colonising a place that is already inhabited and that those beings might not want us there. It opens up a pandora’s box of questions about intelligent life and the morality of taking another world if we destroy our own.
JETT: The Far Shore is a hard game to recommend. If you are after space exploration and exploring new worlds, go with No Man’s Sky because this game isn’t that. It is a mediation of humanity’s future that’s bogged down by developer ambition.
Performance on PS4 is passable with some significant load times and frequent frame drops during busy moments. The version is playable, but PS5 or PC is a better alternative if available. It is available for purchase for USD 29.99 on PSN or the Epic Games Store.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PS4, code was provided by the Publisher.