JETT: The Far Shore Review
When I was a kid, my uncle bought me Rome: Total War—a game I unexpectedly grew to enjoy. I had enough fun with it, spending hours conquering various lands and building up my army.
Only as an adult did I learn that it’s mostly a colonialism simulator, where you’re simply exploiting the resources of a foreign land for political and economic means. At the same time, many games are also heavy on these subtle narratives, from No Man’s Sky to even Animal Crossing: New Horizons—and most aren’t even aware of these themes they carry.
Conversely, JETT: The Far Shore’s abject awareness of these themes, and how it explicitly sought to avoid replicating features that mimic settler colonialism, is what made its premise so intriguing to me at first. When JETT was first revealed last year, the first new game from Sword & Sorcery EP’s Superbrothers in almost a decade, its gameplay trailer noted the game’s avoidance of combat or resource extraction, and how characters would go to great lengths to abstain from conflict with the indigenous wildlife.
Shadow of the Kolosi
JETT, like all games that appeal to me, began with an existential crisis. As the protagonist Mei—a “Mystic” brought on the journey to help as a guide—you embark to a place known as the far shore. The journey takes 1,000 years, a length of time which I struggle to comprehend, and as the numbers in the cutscene leading to the first chapter ticked up and up towards the final length of time, I almost found myself panicking. This really sets the stage for the characters’ circumstances, as they probably have to reconcile with the suggestion that the people they knew and loved back home would be long gone.
At the same time, this sense of scale can also be felt when you first arrive on the far shore. You and your partner, Isao, are the first to take your titular jett, the vehicle you traverse the planet with, down to the planet below. In the distance, Isao notices a kolos, a huge serpentine creature swimming in the ocean.
I was immediately captivated. This sense of awe was akin to my first encounter with a dragon in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or one of the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus. Its sheer size and enormity made me feel so small and insignificant, emphasizing the scale of this huge, unfamiliar world.
This observation also makes another point clear: that the planet doesn’t belong to you, and you’ll be in for a challenge if you try to make it so. At points, the planet almost seems to defend itself, with certain locations sporting huge spires that send out “griefers”, alien creatures that come after you in an attempt to wreck your ship.
JANK: The Far Chore
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: a big issue I faced with JETT was the controls’ jankiness. In concept, the controls for the jett are relatively simple: you propel forward automatically while your scramjets are on, you can surge for a boost of speed, and you can “pop” (pressing the X button) in various ways—an action that, depending on the input of your left analogue stick, can result in various actions. Holding left or right and popping causes you to dodge roll in either direction, holding down allows you to perform a big jump, and just tapping the button emits a small, harmless shockwave to interact with things in the world, which you can increase in size by holding down the button.
In open spaces, the controls can feel like a dream. Zooming across the land and ocean felt incredibly liberating, much like a master jett pilot. The problem is more significant when navigating in tight spaces.
Parts of the world feature lush, gorgeous forests, which are a visual treat, but a piloting nightmare. I would find myself bumping into things so often that I have to restart my jett frequently, since it would shut down constantly, much in the same way a car might stall. Upon every instance of this would only cause my irritation to escalate, because the controls weren’t precise enough to steer through these spaces.
Yet steering the jett wasn’t that much of a letdown. There were moments where flying did feel intoxicatingly fun. What left me disappointed, however, were the unfulfilled promises from that aforementioned trailer.
There are a few occasions where characters question the actions they’re taking to survive. The history of JETT’s setting is mostly vague, but you do learn about why you set off on this journey in the first place. There was a man named Tsosi, who apparently had a vision of ‘the far shore’, a place that would supposedly be their salvation. To get to this planet—a place that is implied to bring salvation to humankind—the explorers just had to follow the sounds of a radio wave known as the hymnwave.
Except upon arrival, everything is not what they thought it would be. Tor, where the hymnwave emanates from, is hostile towards the crew, sending both griefers’ and “dreadwave” towards them—antagonistic forces that will destroy both their physical health and their technology. As a result, one of your companions, Jones, found her belief in Tsosi’s prophecies wavering.
These introspective moments are few and far between though, and the game is never confident enough to answer those questions. I was curious about how it would address Jones’ doubts over what is essentially her life’s purpose, but we never did spend enough time with her again to find out if she truly sought change. Such questions also plagued Isao after a fight with a kolos, but the ending isn’t able to devote enough time to address his own moral dilemmas.
JETT’s hesitance to address their conundrums is more than just a matter of closure; it also ties in with the game’s attempts to subvert its tale’s colonialist roots. Themes of religion also permeate JETT; Tsosi, for instance, was also admired as a spiritual leader for the explorers, and Jones’ doubts are complicated by her faith in his words. It’s a game that tries to suggest that science and religion can deliver salvation for a dying species, rather than being treated as two incompatible forces. Yet in this avoidance, it doesn’t confront how religion was used to enforce colonisation–an event that definitely happened, many times over, in our own history.
Creating a game about making a home on foreign land was never going to be easy, and JETT had boldly sought to subvert the themes of colonialism that are so inherent to tales like these. But upon putting down the controller, I mostly felt let down by how little it had to say on the subject. While it touches on other topics, such as the terrifyingly big expanse of space, versus our miniscule existence in the greater scheme of things, these weren’t enough to make up for its flaws. In the end, I just wish JETT had the confidence to pursue what I know it wants to be: to subvert expectations on the well-trodden ground of survival stories.