The current generation of consoles was, and still is, a haven for high-end puzzle games. From The Talos Principle, through Tetris Effect, all the way up to The Witness, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have really witnessed a renaissance of sorts in terms of mind twisters. While this gen may be coming to a close, it does not mean that the movement is slowing down, as the recently released The Sojourn, proves that puzzle games are still alive and well, and in fact, they’re better than ever.
The Sojourn is a mystical and thought-provoking first-person puzzler, which has been developed by UK based development studio, Shifting Tides. While The Sojourn is the studios first major release, then I have to say that Shifting Tides has entered the industry with a colossal bang, as the title in question is truly special, as it takes on the genre on a truly unique and charming way.
Visually, The Sojourn has a lot in common with Jonathan Blow’s The Witness, as it utilises high quality models, while opting for simple, yet charming textures and a rather tame pastel colour pallet. While from afar, The Sojourn and The Witness may look alike, then it has to be said that the world of The Sojourn is much more fantastical, as it features some heavy fantastical themes, while on your way to the final credits, you’ll see castles, borderline steam-punk technology and plenty of medieval-fantasy thematic.
The Sojourn is a title with a deep and ingrained identity, and it manifests it through both the world design, as well as a direct narrative of which games such as The Witness and Tetris Effect are devoid of. However, The Sojourn doesn’t stuff its plot down your throat through the use of cutscenes and constant narration. No, it does it elegantly with the use of exposition, environmental narration and snippets of text, which are provided to you upon completion of additional objectives on certain levels. However, the said text is usually rather vague in nature and often talks about broader subjects, which while featuring with The Sojourn, are not limited to just the game itself.
Within The Sojourn, the first dozen of so levels, serves as a tutorial of sorts and while the game does not bombard you with tips and tricks, it does slowly guide you towards the end goal, as well as the proverbial meat of the experience. That being said though, the introductory area, which also features a fair amount of narration, is also the weakest part of the entire game. It features a minuscule number of gameplay mechanics, the difficulty in puzzles increases dramatically in the final third, and it does grow a little tiring, as the world design of every level, is ‘’samey’’.
The introductory level, or rather set of levels, does not leave a great impression. It is not bad by any means, but it drags for too long, and offers very little in terms of variety – in every sense of the word. However, once you’ll break through the final doorway, and enter the tower, the real game begins. Instead of going downhill, just like The Talos Principle, which towards the end was simply boring, The Sojourn is constantly picking up the pace, by adding new mechanics and reinventing the ones which you have seen before.
Without spoiling too much, I can outline one of the title’s puzzle mechanics which changes as you go along. It concerns the light, which works as the catalyst for the protagonist’s abilities. At the beginning of the game, you take the light from pools, and this allows you to interact with statues, harps, mirrors and other objects for a limited amount of time. However, once you reach the latter stages of the first third of The Sojourn, the light can then be taken from pre-powered mirrors which project a beam of light, which allows you to interact with other objects while standing within it. But then, the title turns the light mechanics on its head one more time, as it then ties it to crystals, which are used to power all of the objects with light – meaning that you can interact with them, even if you are not ‘enlightened’ yourself.
To further elaborate on the above, the said crystals within later levels become removable, meaning that you can withdraw them from one item, and insert them into the next. While this adds another layer of complexity to the proceedings, then this is not where it ends, because as soon as you enter the tower, The Sojourn begins to mix and match all of the light mechanics, in fact, it mixes and matches all the mechanics as they come along. So, all the post-introduction levels always feel fresh and exciting, and the game doesn’t stagnate like some of the other modern puzzle games.
There is a great amount of variety within the world of Sojourn, but despite of that, the title in question remains consistent throughout, meaning that unlike The Witness, it doesn’t add any oddball mechanics and all of a sudden, it doesn’t have you work through sound-based puzzles after spending the last four hours working with visual cues. But that being said, The Sojourn is also a partially linear game. You have some freedom in which puzzles out of the 4, 5, 6, etc. you want to do next, but you’re never placed within a wide-open world, ready for you to explore.
Considering the fact that The Sojourn is a puzzle game, it can be completed in as little as four hours, but it can also take you as many as 50. It all depends on your ability to solve puzzles, and the willingness to persevere in the face of repeated failure. But that being said, you should never give up too quickly with The Sojourn, and you should never pursue the same strategy. The latter is the most important, because the vast majority of The Sojourn’s puzzles can be solved in multiple ways. At one point, I was so oblivious to this fact, that I’ve already solved a puzzle in one way, thinking that I’m still nowhere near the solution which I was chasing, that I only realised that I’ve actually beaten the level, when walking around the exit platform to have a better look at the puzzle layout.
Whether The Sojourn’s multiple solutions are purposeful, or accidental – is debatable. But this doesn’t change the fact that the title in question does feature multiple ways to play, and that unlike The Witness or The Talos Principle, it does not force you to bang your head against the proverbial wall, until you finally smash through it – it simply allows you to walk around it. This is arguably one of the title’s stronger points, as it gives one the flexibility which not just puzzle games, but the vast majority of all modern games, unfortunately lacks.
To summarize, all that really has to be said about The Sojourn, is that it is a real great game. However, despite all of its positives, it is not a game that you’ll be able to blast through in one sitting. And no, its not because of its difficulty, but because it does get a little tiresome the more you play and even I struggled to play it for more than an hour at a time; drifting to other games as I went along. This mostly stems from the fact that The Sojourn struggles to keep one’s attention, as despite of all the mechanical variety, the vast majority of its levels feels incredibly ‘samey’ and while its disappointing, it does not change the fact that The Sojourn is a great game – but only in short bursts.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Sojourn Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
The Sojourn is one of the better puzzle games of the current generation, but only when its played in short bursts.