Jett: The Far Shore is 2021's dreamiest existential crisis
Inverse score: 9/10
If you've scheduled an existential crisis for the near future, you’re in luck.
Jett: The Far Shore will happily propel you to the lip of your turmoil and punt you right in there. I traveled to a planet 1,000 light-years away, and a repeated, voiceless bellow from a mountain told me I'm a gnat amongst interstellar gods. Harsh, yeah — but not wrong.
Jett is an action-adventure game by Superbrothers, the team behind 2011's Sword & Sworcery. You're in the boots of Mei, a member of a space exploration team. Mei and her friends spend most of their time skimming across the surface of an unnamed alien planet in their jett gliders. They observe flora and fauna to determine if the new planet is suitable for human habitation.
The answer is… complicated. Mei's merry exploration of a brave new world becomes dark and troubled as the hours tick by. But Jett's heavy narrative is a perfect complement to its gameplay. Whenever you start feeling trapped, whenever things get a little too real, you can get into your jett and lose yourself in the little vessel's delightful speed.
The titular jetts are the game's jewel. They're tiny two-seater vehicles that look adorable on the ground. (They smile!) They handle like a cross between a hovercraft, a small jet, and like nothing else that's ever existed.
Jetts are the lifeblood of Mei and her team. There are instances where they explore the planet on-foot, but the jett is vital for scoping out their new home. It's also Mei's key defense against any hostile fauna that comes after her. The team employs a strict hands-off policy with the alien life around them, so Mei must make clever use of the jett by distracting animals or outrunning them.
Running is almost always the best option. Nothing feels better than pushing the jett's engines to a shuddering peak while piloting through clouds of vapor. The vapor, which is mainly expelled by mats of flowers, cools down the engine while offering a free burst of speed. If you take advantage of the "paths" these vapor clouds make, you can maintain top speed almost infinitely. The jett can also "hop" to gain height, and perform other tricks to keep the hostiles at bay.
The feeling of piloting Jett's smiling little dart is almost indescribable. The only comparison that comes to mind is--and this is weird — Tiny Wings, a classic mobile game where you use hilly terrain to help a little bird gain enough momentum to fly. There's just something appealing about piloting a vehicle that can move at a great speed, but requires a light touch to become truly airborne.
Play Jett with a DualSense controller, if possible. It's the best use of HD rumble I've experienced since Astro's Playroom.
You Can't Stay Here
Jett gives you plenty of practice maneuvering through tough spots, since the planet isn't a very friendly place. It's not unlivable, but it's certainly not a cradle for life in the same way Earth is. Regardless, the planet might be humanity's last hope; the species is facing an unnamed catastrophe that will wipe them out.
The hymnwave, an interstellar "song" that permeates the culture and religion of Mei's team, directs them to their new sanctuary. They're the first scouts to set foot on the planet, where they establish a shelter and begin fulfilling directives. But every attempt to take root, every attempt to set up communications, is foiled. Equipment gets smashed and goes missing. Hostile wildlife attacks the jetts without provocation.
It's as if the planet pitched out the law of gravity in favor of Murphy's Law.
Jett illustrates its setting with boxy polygons, which really accents the dangers lurking around the planet. Once in a blue moon you're treated to a visual spectacle, like an entire field of flowers blooming all at once. Most of the time, however, Jett's jagged art style serves as a reminder that you are the alien on this planet. Even ground control offers little safety, as visions of horror turn Mei's prophetic dreams into literal nightmares. Planet-sized voices reverberate through the day, ghostly roots grow into the ground, and strange radiation pulsates from the titan planet that hovers above them.
This radiation, called the "gloaming," is part of a major gameplay mechanic in Jett. The jett becomes unstable when the titan planet reaches its zenith, which makes it very difficult to regulate its engine temperature. This is why it's vital to learn the jett's quirks. There are several story scenarios where you have to work amongst the gloaming, sometimes under great pressure. It's frustrating to experience repeated engine blowouts, but it encourages you to find the planet's safe, vapor-heavy paths. Gloaming is marked with rays of heavy red light and an insistent droning sound, making it slightly terrifying to experience. Scntfc's ethereal soundtrack really crawls up your neck and adds heaps of atmosphere to a game that's already overflowing with it.
The pressure you feel contrasts sharply with the unsettling, almost resigned calmness of Jett's cast. Mei and her team aren't just aware of the presence haunting them; instead, they seem to have always known they were going to be up against something. The conversations among the crew noticeably lack details about the nature of the mission beyond how to survive, adapt, and deal with immediate problems.
Jett Set Radio
Despite being one of 2021’s most atmospheric games, Jett isn’t without its shortcomings. For one, it’s a rather short game. It took me about ten hours to get to the credits, and some of that was wasted putzing around in the jett. The game’s hard-to-read map sometimes made it difficult for me to determine where I was supposed to go. I also encountered a bug where a story event failed to trigger and I had to reset the chapter. There are also instances where the game hitched for a frame or two, but Jett's sense of speed rarely abandons you. The game can be ornery at times, but it's worth pushing across the rough patches to skim alongside the coast on the other side.
Jett messed with my dreams for a couple of days, which you can take as an endorsement. While I was a little disappointed to see the story end on a cliffhanger, that's for the best. You should "always leave 'em wanting more," and I want a hell of a lot more Jett: The Far Shore.
Jett: The Far Shore comes to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC on October 5. Inverse reviewed the PlayStation 5 version.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its world and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)