JETT: The Far Shore – And Yet So Close…
PS5, PS4, PC
A prophecy, perhaps? Some pieces of paper; maybe they’re this world’s equivalent of tarot cards? Pages from a holy text? Just some pieces of art? Who knows, really?
A young woman, Mei, somehow special – an anchorite, reflecting the game’s want to be very precise with its language –; tasked with scouting out ahead in search of a new world. A prophesied paradise, unknown in true form but scientifically proven as at least existing, known as the hymnwave. Presumably to inhabit.
JETT’s greatest strength is its ability to tantalise, to flex confidence through the most palpable aspects of its design. It presents a world at once completely alien yet fully self-assured; a place that feels just as much unearthed as it does created. There is little doubt that the developers have thought long and deep, and the result is a rich tapestry of aesthetic accomplishment where everything seems impressively tangible. Its biggest weakness, by turn, is that it seems unsure as to the best means by which to fully share the richness that has been cultivated. Perhaps.
The word jotted down at the topmost line of my notepad is ‘guttural’. It’s an audio description, primarily, but I think I was reaching for more than just that. It refers to the earthiness of those first moments of gameplay, a brownness that is of soil rather than rust. Mei, it seems, is to depart from a civilisation that, upon this initial glance, never lost its harmonious connection with its planet; one that resisted the urge to bore for oil, or maybe switched to wind and solar in time. It’s a glimpse of an alien world that, for this opening moment, one could believe never have had any Christopher Columbus’s or Captain Cooks come about to interfere with cultures that were deeply in touch with their land. Or it could simply be the isolated nature of Mei’s life until this point. Maybe?
Presumably. Perhaps. Maybe?
Only, maybe not? It’s only a matter of moments before Mei is climbing aboard her JETT with her partner, Isao, and their namesake vehicle is sweeping freely above expansive oceans as the once deep and pervading sense of earthy rumble gives way to a melody like delicate glass clinking in a gentle breeze. It’s a glorious moment of free movement, characters that were most easily described as Asian in appearance now explaining mechanics in a slow, contemplative tongue that sounds genetically European, but isn’t obviously based on anything, the subtitles causing no hassle when most of what lays ahead is a boundless stretch of open water. Mei learns how to pop (a short leap upwards), and then how to jump higher still.
Speed forward. Pop. Jump. Presumably. Perhaps. Maybe? Maybe not?
Land. On foot, again. The brown of dust blown from the earth has morphed into the putrid smoke of over-industrialisation. It’s still beautiful, of course – JETT is seemingly incapable of aesthetic shortcomings–, but it now seems clearer as to why you’re leaving; it may well be that this promised land – the location of this hymnwave – of sorts is real, but more urgently, around the edges appears a hint that the development of the technology to travel to a potential new home came at the cost of the health of the one that these people already had. That wind and solar did, in fact, arrive too late.
True to JETT’s excellence in tantalisation, it’s never fully apparent exactly why such a venture is taking place. Chasing this storied hymnwave seems too fanciful in itself. It’s never made explicitly clear what is going on with the planet that Mei and the team she belongs to are leaving – overpopulation? Having moved too late to solve their own climate emergency? Something approximating religious zeal? – but what is to follow makes it clear that a respect for a new land and its inhabitants sets these fictional characters apart from the colonial nationality of the teams that built the game.
This is one of the very few things that JETT makes abundantly, explicitly clear. It’s refreshing to play a videogame where an alien world is treated with kid gloves, where all and any violence comes from the planet itself. Even as JETT insists on teasing happenings that it doesn’t just fail to answer, but (more crucially) refuses to meaningfully explore, the guiding principle of your expedition, at least, seems a purposeful statement of considerate exploration.
And this new world is very, very far away from home. 1001 years pass between the intro sequence and the main meat of the game. It’s little wonder that the default camera when in flight pulls out so far that, sitting at a comfortable distance, a display smaller than 50 inches might well be problematic. JETT understands the vastness of the universe, and its sense of scale is such that a spaceship appears as a fly buzzing around the screen. Manually zooming in only gets one so far. PC players may find their noses a hair’s breadth from their monitors. Should you happen to own a TV of 80 inches or more in size, however, you may be in for the time of your life; doubly so if your pockets went equally deep to invest in a sound system.
It’s difficult to find fault with the audio design in JETT; it’s so good that most people will actually notice how good it is. From the atmospherics of the soundtrack, a rumble of low-frequency sound that will likely trick some into thinking that there’s a storm outside their window, to the eerie yet soothing, stilted language that the characters all speak. JETT may not be an action game, but it may do more to justify a subwoofer than many quarter-four shooter releases.
Issues start to arise visually, however. Not that JETT is ever anything other than fascinating to look at. And the way that ocean heaves beneath your tiny ship? Majestic. At least, when you get to focus your eyes properly. The aforementioned fictional language, notably, shows off an admirable level of commitment to the fullness of JETT’s world, but it brings with it a need for subtitles, even in situations where the player is expected to be in perpetual motion that can make everything that much harder to take in. It’s likely that potentially important information may flash by unnoticed. This is mostly fine over open waters, but many sections of land seem poorly considered for flight paths even before essential text gets stirred it. For someone who suffers from dyslexia, it may be unplayable.
Moreover, (pre-release, at least) performance isn’t perfect. The game occasionally lurches, even on PS5, and while these moments are not enough to be truly distracting, they paint a picture of worry over what may be getting released to PS4 players. Doubly so when the nature of the camera system in flight is unlikely to play nice with compromises to image clarity.
Then there’s the JETT itself: a sleek, speedy, two-person craft that hovers an undetermined distance above ocean and land. Skimming over large swathes of rolling water is a joy; curves are turned with smooth grace, and a level of boost is gently applied with the gentle pull of a trigger that makes impressive use of the Dual Sense controller’s vibration features to let you feel out where you’re at without the need for the (still present) on-screen dial to inform you if you’re starting to push a mite too hard.
There’s actually quite a lot to JETT’s gameplay. This first day alone involves scanning new creatures and features of this landmass, trying not to crash, figuring out the boosting benefits of ‘vapor’ (sparkles that act like turbo fuel, basically), trying not to keep on crashing, the benefits of setting off ghokebooms (earthborn masses that seem to respond well to being ‘popped’), still trying to not smash into that escarpment over there, moving things around with a grapple hook, desperately trying not to collide with anything else, keeping out of the gloaming (twilight on this ocean planet is apparently lethal), trying super hard to make that bump against a mountain the last, and setting up a base for the night.
Oh, and keeping up with JETTs lexicon. JETT has a rich glossary of terminology that it uses liberally; some its own, some deep cuts generally ignored by day-to-day English. Context helps make sense of it all, at least in the moment, and it’s one of many things that will divide opinions on this game down the middle. Plenty will find this extensive list of new words to add unnecessary complication to descriptions and understanding; others will fall in love with such steadfast commitment to this fantastical creation.
While flight, even over land, does become more manageable with practise, it is worth mentioning that this is only really about half of the gameplay. The other half is spent on foot as Mei, speaking with other crew members at an established outpost, and occasionally exploring some mysteries on the surface of this new planet itself. The pace-switching is welcome and the combination does a solid job of weaving the personal with the galaxy-scale epic.
It’s here where most story information is drip-fed (quite mercifully, as standing around for a chin-wag is much safer protocol than doing so while piloting a high-speed aircraft at low altitude), where some real exploration gets to happen, and where Mei’s perspective shows up some strange going-ons, something mystical or sinister beneath the surface. It’s worth noting that this is all heavily scripted – you can’t park just anywhere and head out on an expedition. JETT fully controls what is investigated, what questions are asked, as well as how… little ultimately seems to come of this.
I suggested that JETT’s largest weakness may be an inability to fully explore its riches. Maybe? Possibly. Perhaps. All that jargon. It’s worth noting that the somewhat scripted nature of progress isn’t a problem here. In fact, it’s perfectly fine. The issue, rather, is that JETT seems to end just as one is really settling into it. At a little over ten hours, it’s hardly criminally short, but it is also at once dense and very much not in a hurry; not strictly a pitfall, and indeed even a boon when it seemed likely that it would stick around for longer. It’s possible that most players will find that the mission where they finally feel comfortable with piloting their JETTs around this world, the story beats where they feel they’re fully versed in its lexicon, will be sharply precedent of the endgame. Points of intrigue that were left to bubble for a few hours are left simmering as window-dressing as all fades to black.
JETT is a tantalising prospect (heaven and thesaurus help me, there’s that word again!). It’s a unique and mesmerising aesthetic work, hugely admirable in what it sets out to do.
This issue is, it’s tantalising right until the end. For most of its playtime, it’s full of promise, brimming with a sense that once you familiarise yourself with everything – the mechanics, the mythology, the structure – that it will present something uniquely epic, at once larger than the biggest of blockbusters, but also far more serene and less hurried. And then, just as all of the pieces seem poised to truly deliver, it’s all over.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that JETT is an early generational classic that could have been, and this is made painful because of just how special all of the bits that do hit really are. God, the good parts of this game are so goddamn good. It almost hurts that there is no ‘Part One’ in the title. It’s still an adventure worth considering, but for all of the talk of searching for the hymnwave and the truly excellent audio design, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that they ran out of time in the recording studio before getting to lay down the chorus.
JETT: The Far Shore was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 with a code kindly supplied by PopAgenda