The far shore is beautiful, but it’s Jett’s soundscape that makes it unforgettable
Close your eyes and think of your favourite science fiction film, and in your mind you can probably hear it before you can see it. An important part of building an unfamiliar universe is in figuring out how it looks, but what helps cement it as a real place is how it sounds. The noise of doors opening and closing in Star Trek, or the whoosh of a transporter. The roar of a TIE fighter and the hum of a lightsaber make Ben Burtt’s sound design as key to Star Wars’ enduring appeal as John Williams’ strident themes. Music is, of course, equally vital: Blade Runner might not have established itself in the science-fiction firmament without Vangelis’ score. And would the reviews of Blade Runner 2049 have been quite so glowing without the pummelling force of the soundscape from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, with synth washes and percussion so massive it sounds as if the whole thing is reverberating around the world’s largest aircraft hangar?
Jett frequently feels as if it’s aiming for something just as big. With headphones on and the volume turned all the way up, that opening launch sequence prompts even more goosebumps than it did when we previewed the game in E360. Your footsteps down to the giant Cosmodrome doors as you head towards the ship that will carry you into space echo with the weight of expectation, as throngs of onlookers sing and a melancholic piano refrain mixes with the sound of a heartbeat steadily slowing as protagonist Mei enters cryosleep in preparation for lift-off. The rising pitch of Jim Guthrie’s launch theme dovetails with the roar of rockets and powerful rumble from the DualSense controller. It feels every bit the epochal event it is for these trailblazers.
If Guthrie’s first and only contribution is fittingly monumental, the lion’s share of praise must go to the rest of the game’s sound team, led by composer Andrew ‘Scntfc’ Rohrmann and Priscilla ‘Ghoulnoise’ Snow, who helped refine the in-game language, and supplied vocals for the planet’s ‘hymnwave’ – a galactic radio signal of sorts that seems to reflect the characters’ voices back at them in distorted and otherworldly fashion.
Science fiction may, by definition, be a secular genre but like many of its peers Jett is steeped in religious iconography and terminology. That’s reflected in Rohrmann’s compositions, with chorales and organs often prevalent when the game is focused on its human cast, giving certain moments an almost hymnal quality. There is a sense of these scouts speaking to some higher power, and the planet has a clear, distinctive voice of its own, the more analogue instrumentation giving way to ambient synths and strange, unclassifiable sounds. The far shore’s inhabitants make their presence felt, too. The sound mixing is immaculate, letting the roar of your scramjets fill your headphones as you activate them before softening as you cross the sea, bringing in weather noises, the chittering of a brine wisp, and an ominous bassy whoosh as you attract the attention of a shock serpent, followed by an electrical crackle to remind you it’s on your tail. Rarely has there been such a good advert for a decent set of cans.
The game defaults to ‘Jett recommended’ audio settings, which places the music a little lower in the mix, though you might want to switch to the alternative for the overture that accompanies your first encounter with a battleship-sized alien that presents a threat to your base – a set-piece that puts the opera in space opera. True, it highlights one of Jett’s more potentially divisive traits – piloting your craft safely while following a barrage of subtitled directions can feel overwhelming. But you sense that’s partly by design: this is, after all, a monumental occurrence, the kind that would leave anyone flustered. And the sense of relief you feel when it’s over shows why Jett’s sound design and score deserve a place alongside the greats of the genre.