Review – The Sojourn
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a huge fan of puzzle games. This year alone has been an outstanding year for the puzzle genre with titles like Etherborn, Baba is You, and Horace. So naturally when I saw the trailer for The Sojourn from Iceberg Interactive and Shifting Tides, I was extremely eager to play it. Now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on it, the big question remains: is The Sojourn a puzzle game that sets itself apart from the other stellar additions released this year?
The Sojourn is a first-person puzzle game set in a trippy fantasy world. You start off in a dark room with a bright light enticing you to follow it. Eventually you enter into a large room with several numbered doors. Each door takes you to a new challenge. Once a challenge has been completed, you are transported back into the main hub where you can see the door you just went through light up. Once all of the doors have been lighted, an elevator set in the center of the hub will raise you to the next level of tower. It’s a gameplay loop that’s about as simple as it gets.
There’s a hint of a story in The Sojourn, but nothing terribly deep, even if the game wants you to feel like it is. The story isn’t told with words or characters, but rather through various statues scattered around depicting certain events. The “story” follows a young boy as he leaves his parents to be taught academics, swordplay, and sorcery. Every one of the people in these statues wear a blindfold, like they’re all starring in Bird Box. The reasoning behind this only becomes clear at the very end. The story is really just there to give the player another aspect to ponder, but really has no impact on the gameplay.
The gameplay is very simple. You walk (and I mean walk, there’s no sprinting here) around and strategically move around statues and pillars to point light beams or activate platforms around the level. There are a few other mechanics in play here as well. This world is a journey through the metaphysical venturing through both light and shadow. This means that the environment behaves differently when you’re in the regular daylight vs when you enter the shadow realm. The levels are still laid out the same, but certain objects will only activate when you’re in the shadows. This adds a fun new layer to the challenges set before you.
The learning curve in The Sojourn is gradual and fair. The challenges start off rudimentary and gradually become quite intricate. Every few levels there is a new gameplay mechanic introduced which keeps things fresh, but also adds to the difficulty. There are harps that mend broken bridges once they’re activated, but as soon as they stop playing the bridges collapses again. There are also portals you can walk through that change it from daylight to the shadow realm. Each new implementation adds a new layer to the puzzles.
In addition to the normal goal in each level, once you solve it you will immediately be given the chance to tackle a harder challenge within that same area. This time however, you’ll be trying to retrieve a mystical scroll. Collecting all of the scrolls obviously leads to a more in depth look at what is going on in the world around you. This is where the true challenge really lies. The normal levels are, for the most part, extremely easy. There is a huge difficulty spike from those main goals to the scrolls you can collect. I’m a good puzzle solver, but there were a few levels that really had me scratching my head for a while. And I love it.
This also leads to one of my complaints with The Sojourn. Each scroll you collect has some philosophical wisdom written upon it. I know they were going for something deep and thought provoking here, but really it just comes off as pretentious drivel, especially since it really doesn’t tie in with the “story”. It’s more just existential musings plastered across some scrolls to make this game seem unequivocally deep. It really isn’t, even though this game tries so hard to be. The Talos Principle is a prime example of a rich and thought-provoking puzzle game that succeeds in this aspect.
Visually, The Sojourn is beautiful. The environments are bright and vibrant, and the shadow realm uses clever purple hues to convey darkness without making the levels to tough to navigate. The areas around you start popping up as you walk across them, much like they do in Bastion. It all adds to the effect of this not being the world we live in, but somewhere else whimsical.
There’s not a lot to say with regards to the sound department, as The Sojourn has no voice acting and only minimal sound effects. The few that are there are done well enough, nothing mind blowing. The background music is an ethereal orchestral score that fits the game well, but is once again fairly unremarkable. It doesn’t detract from the game, but it does a good enough job of getting you into the mellow and focused puzzle solving mood.
I must say that while I did enjoy my time with The Sojourn, it didn’t really knock my socks off. It tries to hard to be profound, but never truly succeeds in pulling it off. There are lot of good elements here, but if you’ve played a fair amount of puzzle games, then you’ve seen most of these tricks before. If you haven’t taken on too many of this style of game, then check it out as it does offer a fun and stimulating time. It just doesn’t add anything revolutionary to the genre.
Beautiful and diverse settings with vibrant colors. The purple overtones for the shadow realm is a smart choice to convey darkness without making it impossible to see.
The levels gradually introduce new mechanics and objects, which help keep things fresh. The lack of ability to run can be frustrating though.
There’s no voice acting and only minimal sound effects, but they’re done well. The musical score provides the appropriate ambiance for the tasks at hand.
Fun Factor: 7.5
The puzzles are clever and the increase in difficulty is fair. However, there are no mechanics in here you haven’t seen before.
Final Verdict: 7.5
The Sojourn is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of The Sojourn was provided by the publisher.