The Sojourn Review
Objectively, The Sojourn is not a bad game. It features environments which are opulent, polished and a delight to wander around. It has a lovely soundtrack which is pitched just right, hitting the beats where the game wants you to feel hope, fear or anxiety. And since it’s a puzzle game, you better be damn sure that the challenges it sets ramp up appropriately without chucking you in at the deep end. The Sojourn does all of this and it does it well. Yet, there is something missing; something almost imperceptible. It took me some time to pinpoint exactly what it is that I felt was absent, but eventually it hit me: the game is missing a soul.
Your goal on each level is to navigate to the end path and either open a door or activate something which lets you proceed onward. To do so, you must make use of strategically placed statues and portals to help teleport you or reveal paths. Entering a blue portal transports you to the “dark world”, providing you with dark energy which will run out after a period of movement, thrusting you back into the normal world. While you have that energy, you can activate statues and other elements within the tightly constructed levels. A bird statue will let you swap places with it when active, transporting you across the map. They are also needed to trigger switches, so completing levels becomes a series of steps you map out in your mind: finding a way to activate the statue, moving to a switch, swapping with the statue to trigger the switch and open a gate, and so on. Later levels add new twists and different statues to the puzzles. A cloning machine will add a duplicate statue in a different location if one is placed in its alternate chamber. A spotlight will cast a beam of dark energy across a level, providing you with unlimited energy while you remain in its focus. Harps will construct bridges for the few seconds that their melody rings out.
The use of 3D has allowed first-person puzzle games to become far more sophisticated over recent years. Earlier games such as Myst and Riven offered landscapes to explore which were often just bigger variations on the challenges you’d find in newsagent puzzle books. Whether it was hunting pixels like a more complex spot-the-difference, or picking the correct shape from a selection to fit into a maze, it’s fair to say that we’ve moved on dramatically since then. More recent offerings like Portal, The Turing Test and The Witness gave far more focus to adding character and story to flesh out their challenges, often setting the adventure in space, or a more interactive fantasy world. The ones that made a misstep — such as Q.U.B.E. 2 — often did so by sacrificing the story to the puzzles, and vice versa. But even that game made its cube-based puzzles so much fun that you could overlook the incoherent narrative. For developer Shifting Tides, the same cannot be said of The Sojourn.
After several hours of puzzle solving I felt calm, despite being challenged on numerous occasions. I looked forward to seeing how the level would initialise and literally build itself in front of me (a graphical feat which continually impressed). When a new interactive element appeared, such as a relic which let me permanently switch on any of the previously mentioned objects, my interest was piqued. But these were mostly fleeting feelings. Primarily, I felt bored. The game took me from outside to indoors, swapping the lush greenery of meadows and ruins for the gorgeous interior of a huge library. It looks spectacular, but its beauty hides an emptiness that is hard to shake, a bit like a piece of abstract modern art, or a Darren Aronofsky film. There is a story told both wordlessly — a blindfolded people who sell their children into servitude, depicted by a series of changing statues revealed as you progress — and literally. Many levels offer the additional challenge of collecting a scroll once you complete the main task, though given they contain nothing more than a sentence or two of cod philosophy, the appeal of jumping through that extra hoop quickly diminishes.
That’s the biggest problem with The Sojourn: it doesn’t really do anything to distinguish itself from a packed genre, or encourage you to go out of your way to explore its secrets. It feels safe, comfortable and, much like a sudoku, it is best recommended as a game to dip in and out of. It’s highly polished with no noticeable technical issues — which at least makes the experience a pleasant one — but as the game’s title suggests, that pleasure will be fleeting at best.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!