I can't Jett no satisfaction
“Look there!” said my planet-scouting partner. “Incredible. This moment will be spoken of for generations.” I wish I knew what the moment was – I was a few hundred metres away, bouncing off a small alien rhododendron at 120mph. There are a lot of memorable moments impacting the fictional culture of Jett: The Far Shore which I know about due to constantly being told just how memorable they are, like your boyfriend trying to explain who Boba Fett is in a quiet theatre.
Jett: The Far Shore is less about space travel and more about exploring and colonizing a new planet for a species on the brink of extinction. You’re loaded into your jett, a pretty looking craft that glides about 20 metres above sea level with the ability to ‘pop’ yourself upwards. It’s satisfying to get into a new video game spaceship and have it be like learning a new vehicle all over again: pops, scramjets, dash rolls, vapor vents. It has some neat DualSense support on PS5, your throttle trigger feeling like it’s about to explode as it reaches critical levels. As you are shown the ropes on a polluted home planet I relaxed into flying above the shoreline, approaching a departing rocket. Little did I know what was in store.
Upon dropping on a new planet with my scout partner Isao, I begin on multiple ‘directives’ to understand the planet in order to move the species over. I wish this concept was explored in games more, as it’s common to highlight the vastness of the universe, but that misses the detail of one single planet with its own ecosystem, animals and natural defences. Using your ship tools you can scan strange plants and alien creatures each reacting to different actions, their own senses and defence systems in place. Instead of making it ‘Earth but weirder’, Jett: The Far Shore does put effort into creating a world that feels unique. Unfortunately, after a short amount of time, I wished I was anywhere else.
I mentioned the jett ship is decent fun gliding over wide oceans, but most of the game involves hovering over the lands of this new planet, dipping and weaving around trees and hills gaining intel. Without the boosters activated you move at a snail’s pace, perfect for picking up objects and scanning things up close. The other option is having your jets on, and trying to investigate the beauty of nature at break-neck lightspeed. Endless bashing and bumping into every polygon is absolutely excruciating, my limited shield often breaking randomly as I gripped the controller trying to tame this haunted luggage trolley.
An example of this was an obstacle put in place called the ‘dreadwave’, a concussive force damaging the ship when in direct sunlight. To keep your shields intact, you must hide in shade to recuperate. I found myself whispering ‘cool’ under my breath when this was pitched, until the smile wiped off my face at the Sisyphean task of trying to neatly tuck away a fucking spaceship. The game regularly encourages getting up close with plant life and the environment, while giving me the movement precision of Leeroy Jenkins.
However, it’s not always Death Stranding doing barrel rolls – you often park up and take to the ground, either investigating something or sheltering with the full scout team. These segments are by far the greatest strength of Jett: The Far Shore. The art style is strikingly interesting, a washed-out world of rounded, odd-shaped humans part of a fictional society pulling from what seemed like a few different indigenous Earth cultures. This is best in the later parts of the game featuring strange dreams and peculiar visions, which I shan’t spoil, combined with a genuinely terrific soundtrack. They have their own spoken language, something I always respect in media creating new worlds. Something was fascinating about listening to talk of cultural tradition and religion mixed with an ancient understanding of science and space travel, this seamless mix of futuristic sci-fi and ancient history.
A book-sized glossary of fictional terminology is used in these phases, talk of hymnwaves and lines of unknown scripture. While I appreciated the dedication to this fictional species, my eyes often glazed over talk of what sounded like ‘flim of the flam, we awaken the bong for the bing’. For a game often asking the player to root for these people and appreciate these grand moments, I found myself extremely unattached to the characters that felt more alien than human. Not just due to words I didn’t know or cultural touch points I was unfamiliar with, but simply due to endlessly shallow and self-serious dialogue. Nobody takes a break talking of the mission and their connection to the stars – who are these people? What’s my relationship with them? Why should I care?
Something I wasn’t expecting from Jett: The Far Shore was the gulf of quality between these walking scenes and flying in the jett. Exploration and space games are often held up with the backbone of ‘wow, this looks cool’ as you fly around a colourful, alien planet, but this game does not look very good. It looks incredible on foot, but in your ship the washed-out colours and unsaturated environments generally look quite bland, often smothered in fog. Without the graphical safety net games like Sable have, the mechanics shine through in the worst ways.
The aliens and hostile plants you discover are sometimes enormous creatures linked with the story, but are commonly small pests that try to mess with your ship in some manner. My partner Isao regularly narrates this as always, making sure I’m aware that the Fliggle Flaggle is susceptible to my pop ability or a side roll, in a rushed moment of panic. Like is standard in the game, what is said and what is happening are spread apart, as the aliens slowly float towards me without any recognizable shape from such a zoomed-out angle, nor any real threat. It reminded me of Star Trek episodes from the 80s, Captain Kirk gasping as a cardboard cut-out of a fruit fly moves forward at 0.2 miles per hour carried by underpaid runners.
The game does develop your abilities and upgrades your ship, a nice addition following hours of frustration due to your boost blowing out after 2 seconds unless you fly a perfect route through some sparkles at just the right angles. Even that felt like a kick in the teeth as most of the time, you’ll be struggling with going too fast for tight land environments, and when you’re finally allowed to floor it, you can only sort of floor it, if you follow a certain set of steps just right – maybe. It’s a game filled with a restriction, when it would really benefit some freedom.
I was extremely saddened to have such a promising world, language and sci-fi culture be let down by literally everything around it. There’s clearly an immense amount of care and love put into the universe of Jett: The Far Shore, but I can’t ignore the constant frustration it put me through. Without satisfying flying/gliding, sci-fi eye candy, interesting encounters, or any connection with my own species, I was dragged on a journey I wish I could leave.
I didn’t care how monumental Isao thought these moments were. If this is what it took to save my species from over-pollution and eventual heat-death, so be it. You take the wheel Isao: I’m going home.