A Melburnian nerd of 27 years and counting. A podcaster, critic, writer and developer of games. Uncovering the hidden indie gems, and exposing the dark underside of the AAA industry.
PS4, PC, PS5
October 5, 2021
Superbrothers A/V Inc
Superbrothers A/V Inc
If you had asked me weeks ago, I doubted that I’d be presenting a review for JETT: The Far Shore without seeing the end credits. Although unfortunately, mere days before the game was released, my save data corrupted during an update and I lost all progress. With that said though, I did see A LOT of this game. It was an experience considerably lengthier than I expected. But what I found most unbelievable is the feeling of relief when I decided I was not going to start from the beginning and my experience with JETT was now over. At one point I was very intrigued by what JETT had to offer, but sadly the title falls short of the fantasies their trailers concocted.
JETT: The Far Shore tells the tale of a small crew who blast off their homeworld to a distant planet in a bid to find the “hymnwave”, a central tenant of their religion. As they travel the world, they must contend with the plants and the creatures that already call it home. It’s an exploration game that takes place by ship and by foot, with many a trial and tribulation to be had. This may seem like an alarmingly brief summary, but there is a good reason. For in so many ways, the mission this crew sets out on feels as though it was cut from whole cloth. There isn’t a lot of work that is being done in establishing relationships or drama that feels like anything beyond trivial office politics. In fact, there’s a lot of this game that is perplexing in its unwillingness to engage with the player.
The choice to combine a space flight sim and a walking sim seemed like an inspired choice. However, it indicates a problem with the gameplay overall. The developers seemed to have tried to have a little bit of everything. This does not come across as the buffet that may have been planned. Rather, everything feels like a compromise. There is not enough walking for a walking sim. The fast flights are often interrupted. Even the investigation, ostensibly the main draw of the game, is a waste of time on a planet I don’t care about. But hey, at least it looks pretty.
It’s a fact that aesthetics are the most marketable part of any game. JETT: The Far Shore is no exception. The scintillating style has made the transfer from showcase to end-product. I love how warped the scale feels. When you’re flying, the camera zooms way out. You’re a turbo-charged dust mite, buzzing around beautiful, alien vistas. On foot, plants and hills balloon in proportion. It creates a sense of wonder that the developers seem to be angling for. You’re made to feel off-guard and curious about the world.
On to this uncharted planet land our characters, explorers from a distant world. There’s this feeling of the characters being foreign that shines through. They speak in a non-human dialect and a lot of the plot revolves around Astrolatry, a religion based on stars and astrological forces. The characters are stark and minimalistic and the design cuts angular shapes across the models, though we still see enough differences between these people to separate them. This is very different from how character design is commonly used. Often, the design will bring across personality traits. However, in JETT, I’m drawn to how similar the characters appear. It speaks volumes about these people.
“…this is a piece of interactive entertainment. Being an efficient worker is not, in and of itself, enjoyable.”
JETT: The Far Shore presents a plot that feels collectivist. Everyone in this game feels like worker bees in the hive rather than true personalities you can connect with. I would have liked each character to be labelled by their role, be it pilot, medic, or engineer. That would at least separate unit members by expertise. But without such divisions, each astronaut feels interchangeable, mirroring similar designs. Whilst these choices could help to tell an epic tale, it’s a hurdle that the developers fail to clear. Instead, characters and relationships are a lower priority than the mission at hand.
Let’s think of JETT: The Far Shore as a job. We have our workforce, collaborating to reach their sales goals. In this sense, it’s a well-oiled machine. A lot of the dialogue is plans and best practices for carrying out missions. If they were an astronaut team, they’d be fantastic at what they do. The problem is, to put it bluntly, this is a piece of interactive entertainment. Being an efficient worker is not, in and of itself, enjoyable. The team may be exemplars of intelligence and efficiency, but they’re hardly fun to play as. There is a limit to how much I can listen to interstellar water-cooler chatter. So, at some point, I tune out the white noise and just play.
Most of JETT’s runtime is spent in the titular spaceship. The Jett flies and steers with no issue, but the verticality throws things off. A rocket ship, one may expect, should travel in all 3 dimensions. Instead, the Jett skates along low to the planet’s surface. To raise the altitude, you must slide up a smooth incline or “hop” up with a well-timed thrust. It works well in the tutorial, but bringing these manoeuvres to the open-world immediately starts to irritate. The cutoff between an incline and a wall is vague and so the best way to determine the difference is flying directly at the incline and hoping you don’t slam into it. I appreciate the attempt to add skill to the mix, but this alone doesn’t make the game enjoyable on a challenge level. Instead, JETT: The Far Shore seems intent on making exploration the main gameplay tenant.
Whilst flying around, the game has decent mechanics to let you investigate. Point the resonator at something to analyse or use as a compass to pull you to other points of interest. Grappling objects, such as plants, opens up in-flight actions, like evading predators. Both mechanics seek to get players invested in the investigation of the planet. However, this is where “tuning out the white noise” starts to have consequences.
It’s exhausting studying an open-world ecosystem. Some players may love finding all the creatures and scanning all the things, but I can’t say I was interested. This may be a personal gripe, but I was more invested in flying around. It’s a clear indication of a game at odds with itself. On the one hand, the gameplay feels fast-paced, primed for the flow state. Conversely, the cataloguing and the plot itself feels slower, more meticulous. How should one play a game pulling for two contradictory styles? In these kinds of situations, I tend to follow what “sparks joy”. In this case, I followed the need for speed. To hell with it! I’ll skim the waffling dialogue! It didn’t work out.
Fail to pay attention to the story and there may be consequences. If you skim dialogue, details and terms flake off. These minor problems can snowball into larger gaps in the story. Lost animal terms lead to missing plot points and soon forgotten characters. In time, I was lost in the weeds of what, who, and critically, why? Why are we swanning about with the wildlife?
We do have to talk about the walking simulation. Watching the trailers, the game appeared to be half flight sim and half walking sim. That’s not the reality of the final product. Instances of walking around are minimal. A character will get out, walk a few metres, talk, then double back to the ship. You barely leave the ship post-prologue. If you’re not in the Jett, you’re meandering in a home base, another spaceship. You aren’t among the wonder of the world. We see a design catered to the pilot, not the hiker. It’s designed to be pretty from afar, with alcoves few and far between to get your shoes dirty upon.
Gameplay seems to be pulled in all directions. I speculate that be it time, money, employees, or creative scope, resources were lacking. The title floats some cool ideas but without the proper execution. Everything feels fast, but slams on the brakes for waffling dialogue. A slower walking simulator would be possible if there was space or time to increase the step count. The cataloguing and wonder factor are nice, yet the tone and environment feel locked in stasis for the whole campaign. The mechanics are a pain to wrestle with, rather than a challenge.
In ways, JETT: The Far Shore seemed to be turning a corner when my save corrupted. We started to see how wildlife can have utility in missions and there became a greater understanding of the relationship between us and the world. Yet there is an element of speculation that loomed over this part of the game. I can’t even fathom a guess at the remaining runtime. Usually, I would guess based on story progression or worthwhile menu information, both of which this game lacks. It does beg the question though, can a bad game be saved by a good ending? For JETT: The Far Shore, I cannot fathom it becoming a genuinely good game. I sunk 7 hours into it before it finally started to turn a corner. Rest assured, I am under no illusion that at the end of that turned corner, there would not be a game worthy of 7 hours of dull labour.
“Like so many big open worlds though, the issue isn’t size, it’s the content.”
I worry that JETT: The Far Shore is a victim of aiming for broad appeal. There’s a little challenge, a little wonder, a little exploration. The problem is that this doesn’t make for a game that everyone will like a little. It means it has little engagement and achieves little in scope. I’m reminded of the early days of No Man’s Sky. It was a big, exciting idea, and it could market itself on the possibilities. Like so many big open worlds though, the issue isn’t size, it’s the content. Without enough that is worth doing, JETT feels spread thin. The game offers a great concept but fails to live up to its ambition of being a good title.
It must be said, I was absolutely blindsided by JETT: The Far Shore. The marketing was vague enough that I could envision this game working. The aesthetic that I found so dazzling is still there, but everything else falls by the wayside. At best, the gameplay teased me with what could have been. At its worst, it was a frustrating and laborious mess. Storywise, there were few sparks of interest to be found. Should something catch alight, it would be quickly smothered by boring office chatter. It’s the purest form of a game that presents itself as a well-designed art piece. JETT: The Far Shore is something to ogle at, to mull over, to discuss. It has no desire to lower itself to the medium of video games, and the mechanical tedium bears that out.