Jett: The Far Shore is respectful of your time. For the most part. For a game that spans 1000 years, it's quick to communicate just how long each of the story chapters will take to complete. A mere 30 minutes for the intro, a later chapter spans four hours, and an earlier one just two. In a world where free time can feel all so precious, it's a lovely touch from developer Superbrothers – the minds behind Sword and Sworcery. But while it takes a moment to tell you to settle in and kick back for a few hours, Jett: The Far Shore is respectful with your time… until it isn't.
Release date: October 5, 2021
Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC
Publisher / Developer: Superbrothers and Pine Scented Software
Jett: The Far Shore excels at world-building. What Superbrothers has created here is an intensely alluring universe. I was drawn in from the game's very first trailer and it kept me glued to the screenshot button until its closing moments. You play as Mei, a mystic of sorts that's born into a spiritual, tribe-like community intent on exploring the stars. You are given a co-pilot, Isao, and Mei's tiny two-man spaceship – the titular jett – and the tutorial asks you to explore their planet. It's brown, dusty, and surprisingly industrial, which almost contradicts their more primitive dwellings. And it's here that Jett: The Far Shore really shines.
Your ship is absolutely dinky – almost speck-like on the landscape as you reach the top speeds and the camera pulls out to highlight the full breadth of the vista. It hovers above the ground until you kick in what's known as its scramjets, which are basically thrusters. You've also got a surge option – akin to a turbo option – on R2 that earns you additional speed, but must also be monitored so that you don't destabilize your scramjets and short circuit the entire ship. You can also "pop" by pressing X to release a kind of downward thrust that can let you interact with the flora and fauna of the world.
When you're moving at speed, the experience is quite something. The movement reminded me a lot of the way the wind and petals operate in thatgamecompany's Flower, twirling and bobbing along with such carefree energy. Because you're so small against the landscape too, it helps make the world you explore feel foreboding and alien, as you are as fragile as a petal. When you've got it right, the music soars alongside your jett, with the kind of synesthesia that feels like magic. But, while the controls are, in principle, simple enough, the moment Jett: The Far Shore asks you to be precise in a ship that's anything but, it starts to falter.
On rocky ground
After that opening half an hour, Mei and Isao join the other scouts to board the Mother Structure station that will take them to The Far Shore – an ocean planet that has been emitting a pulse called the Hymnwave that they've been listening to for what sounds like decades. But, it requires a stasis sleep of 1000 years to get there, so cue a massive time jump and a huge change in location. The Far Shore is made up of a selection of islands, with the color palette moving from earthy tones to a world saturated with red, purple, and blue.
Initially, your goal after such a long sleep is just to get your bearings and to begin exploring the new oceanic landscape. You're initially given 20 minutes to look around a small island, but after that, the game quickly starts giving you tasks to undertake. The story itself is rather interesting, although I'll be careful not to spoil what oddities there are, but I was surprised at how narrative-driven Jett: The Far Shore is.
If you expected Jett: The Far Shore to be anything like No Man's Sky and be more open-ended – which from the trailers it certainly seemed to be – then you're not alone. I wanted there to be more to discover with exploration, more time to sit back and merely exist in its beautiful world, but the controls make that quite difficult.
For example, early on you'll discover that as night falls, the gloaming rises – a burning moon that'll destroy your ship unless you collect sparkling dust or hide in the shadows to wade off the damage. Just stopping your jett is awkward enough if you're trying to land somewhere specific, but trying to navigate without your scramjets on is a case of slowly rotating your ship in the direction you want to move, and then pulsing along with the jerking fluidity of a bus stuck in heavy traffic. Being precise in your movements is never easy in Jett: The Far Shore, even in the brief sections where you're asked to go on foot, with Mei steering like an unwieldy barge. It means when you're asked to carry items and lob them at a specific target, or sneak around a sleeping monster, playing through these sections range from irritating to utterly frustrating. In fact, I'm not even sure I ticked off the latter objective 'properly', so obtuse are the controls and the mission directives at times.
It doesn't help that all of Jett: The Far Shore's dialogue is spoken in an alien language, meaning all of its story and mission info is delivered via subtitles. Now, while that's not usually a problem (and I actually play all games with subtitles on), trying to fumble with the jett controls, especially over the mountainous landscape of The Far Shore, while trying to read the text means that it's easy to miss crucial instructions that are never mentioned again. It's easy to be left feeling adrift, especially when some objectives actually secretly require you to do the opposite of the listed directive in your log.
It's a shame because there is plenty to love about Jett: The Far Shore. The world is stunning, the music is awesome, and the narrative is just weird enough to work. But whether you can get over the frustrations and quirks that you'll need to actually enjoy it is very much up for debate.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher