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Friday, June 7, 2024

Exploring a bizarre alien world with a spry spaceship in Jett: The Far Shore

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There’s a mixture of melancholy and hope at the start of Jett: The Far Shore. As Mei, you’re one of a few brave astronauts leaving your dying home planet behind to scout an unknown ocean planet elsewhere in the galaxy. The departure is a pretty somber affair, and it’s easy to see why. This isn’t some Star Trek warp drive magic that’ll get you to your destination in an hour or so. Just reaching the mysterious planet takes a thousand years.

Luckily, you’ve got an extremely cool ship to explore that strange planet with, and refreshingly enough it’s a ship without guns or bombs or laser-guided missiles. That isn’t to say you’re helpless on this occasionally hostile planet. Your Jett is capable of a lot of cool moves, they just don’t involve traditional videogame spaceship violence.

I got to play the first few hours of Jett this week, and I’ve grown quite fond of my speedly little Jett and it’s bag of non-violent tricks. The pop, for instance. Your Jett doesn’t sail through the sky, it’s more of a hovercraft, skimming along just above the surface of the water or land. But you can pop, which gives you a little boost up into the air. Not only is this useful for hopping your ship onto higher ground, the pop creates a little energy surge around you, which can activate some of the alien life forms on the planet. 

For instance, a pop might dislodge a leech-like creature that likes to attach itself to your energy shields. It can also cause the bulb of an enormous alien flower to suddenly burst, which can be useful if an angry airborne alien is closing in right behind you. I’ve only been on this planet a little while and I’m already using giant alien plants to defeat giant alien bats.

Your ship also has a grappling hook that can pick up objects, and either propel them through the air or drop them to the ground under you. If that object is the volatile sort that bursts on impact, you can probably imagine one or two applications for it, as if your ship is lobbing a little alien grenade. And if it isn’t volatile, there may be a way to make it volatile by using your grappler to dunk it into some other alien substance before you chuck it.

Naturally, your ship has a scanner, which is how you learn about the bizarre alien flora and fauna and how it might react to your pops or grapples in the first place. The more you explore, the bigger your encyclopedia gets and the easier it is to recognize these alien elements as you’re cruising around. And your Jett has a hell of a jet, too. The first few times you get to really open ‘er up and blast at full speed across the planet, it’s genuinely thrilling. Your engines overheat quickly, but passing over little pockets of vapor cools them off, so you can string together an extremely long flight at top speed with some careful maneuvering. It’s pretty damn satisfying.

Just to prepare you, though: If you’re planning on climbing into this Jett with Mei, you’d better pack a bit of extra patience in the cargo bay. Your ship may be fast, but the first few hours of Jett: The Far Shore are a bit slow. When you’re not speeding around the planet you’ll take a lot of long walks through corridors at your base, sit down for meals, observe cultural rituals, and stand still while everyone else has a good long chat they seem in no hurry to wrap up. Even certain prompts, like to grasp a door handle or activate an elevator, require holding down the key an especially long time.

Your Jett co-pilot, Isao, talks very slowly and very often in the first few hours, too. He’s mellow, which I actually appreciate—I’m no fan of Claptrap-like motormouth companions in games. But this dude is a little too chill and trusts you to do absolutely nothing without him telling you to do it first that I’ve come to find him a bit irritating. I did eventually reach an area where he stopped tutorializing my every action and let me figure some things out for myself, but it took a couple hours to get there. Hopefully as you get deeper into the game he’ll give you fewer instructions and more freedom.

I also occasionally find the ship a little difficult to control at low speeds, particularly if it nudges something on the ground, which often spins me around a full 180 degrees. Scrolling the mouse wheel lets me zoom in closer to my ship, which the game seems to abhor because it will quickly zoom way back out again until my ship is barely even a speck on the screen, meaning I have to zoom back in once more. I wish it would just let me choose my zoom level instead of deciding it for me.

But those are my only real complaints. The art and especially the character design of Jett: The Far Shore are beautiful and original. The sound design is fantastic, too, and the alien world is moody and strange and truly feels alien. I’m looking forward to exploring more of it when Jett releases on October 5.

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