Official Review: The Sojourn (PlayStation 4)

By Scarlet Bell, Sep 22, 2019 (updated Sep 22, 2019) 2 4

Sep 22, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): September 20, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): September 20, 2019
  • Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
  • Developer: Shifting Tides
  • Genres: First Person Puzzler
  • Also For: Computer, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Find your way through a world of light and dark in this first person puzzling experience!
Scarlet Bell

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The Sojourn is a fantastically strange game; a game where I feel I have little to say and yet cannot fathom where to start. From the outside looking in, you have a pretty albeit simple-looking first person puzzler with a core theme of light, and if that's enough to sell you, by all means jump in! In a sense you really do get what's on the package, but there's a certain intricacy and narrative that's difficult to understand looking deeper.

Jumping into the game you have no abilities. Presented with a path to walk along and a light to follow, you move agonisingly slowly through a world as it illuminates and opens around you. It's painful in a way, but this pain is emphasised because your aim is simply to walk. Ordinarily I would criticise this pace as an issue, something to artificially lengthen an otherwise short experience, but as you enter the first puzzle, it becomes evident its role in a larger design.

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The game starts you off simply to introduce each part before expecting you to use it in a puzzling manner, starting with the flame. Touching this wispy wonder grants you the power to enter the dark world, this power consumed as you move. What makes the dark world so great? In this alternate view of the world, you'll find new platforms available, and as the game goes on, you'll find yourself able to interact with an interesting repertoire of objects. By in large, your goal is to utilise the dark world and the tools at your disposal to get from the start of a puzzle to the end. It's magnificently simple on paper, but what stands out to me is how this simplicity is paralleled. Starting out with a statue you can swap places with in the dark world, puzzles grow in challenge and complexity as you're introduced to small additions one by one. You're naturally guided from just swapping places with a statue to recognising a chamber you can use to duplicate it, to spotting gates and where statues need to be to unlock them. You also have broken paths that can only be reassembled in the dark world that'll return to their original state after a certain amount of time passes, and barricades that only block your way in the dark world. There's a brilliant assortment of individual components that're introduced one at a time. With each you're given a brief message to explain what it is, before moving through puzzles to prove your understanding. Just as you find yourself comfortable in utilising these newfound powers, you're put before a test only slightly more difficult than your previous trial, balanced well to reward your thinking without overwhelming you at any particular time. Each puzzle is crafted in such a methodical way that you come to terms with your slowness and largely forget about it, embracing it as your timer in the dark world.

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Seeing you move from room to room solving these puzzles, The Sojourn leaves little room for traditional narrative. With no spoken dialogue and the only text being one of tutorial messages or cryptic introductions to new sections, you're given the freedom to interpret events as you please. As you progress, you come across stone scenes portraying what I assume to be the life of a child, depicting significant events and hardships. Though I've never been the type of person to take to this kind of narrative well, I can at least appreciate what it's trying to do. Even in my lack of larger understanding, it's easy to appreciate these dioramas individually thanks to their interesting posing and overall design. I'm sure there's more to see and more to gain in following these events more thoroughly, but it definitely isn't a requirement in having a great time with the game.

Looking at the music and graphical styling of the game you find everything shining a focus on the puzzles. Graphics are low poly and scenes catch the eye without necessarily drawing focus or attention from the problem at hand. The music is perfectly forgettable to the point of me having to check whether the game even had music to write this. It again blends into the background as perfect ambiance to keep you drawn into the world and provoke thought. It's slow and nuanced, and a perfect fit for a game so thematically matching. The simple aesthetic allows the game to show a visually stunning contrast between light and dark, and for me it's hard to criticise. While I understand not everybody appreciates low poly graphics, they really aren't the focus. They're a means of delivering high quality and easy to jump into puzzles, and in that regard they definitely succeed. 

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For those who pick it up and decide they want more than just following the beaten track, extra challenges are available as the game progresses. With some lurking behind specified gates and others being stapled to the end of an easier puzzle as optional content, the game makes sure to keep you busy and provide for those eager to keep playing. It's difficult for me to say concretely whether this is a game I can or cannot recommend, largely because it's a style of game you're either likely to love or hate. If you're into slow and methodical puzzling, if you're after a game you can pick up for a few minutes or a few hours, if you want to be challenged in a fair and gradual manner, The Sojourn will likely appeal to you. If the sound of that doesn't grasp you however, it's a gamble. You may get past the slow movement as I did, or you may not. You may enjoy the themes and aesthetic, or you may not. For its target audience, I believe this is a fantastic game, and encourage anybody reading to at least check it out. You might just find something new to love. 

Verdict
What We Liked . . . New elements introduced at a good pace Puzzles feel challenging without being unfair An interesting narrative for those wanting to seek it out What We Didn't Like . . . Slow movement can be frustrating at times Limited replay value
9 Presentation
The graphical style is simple but effective. With little visual noise and a soothing background track to go with it, your mind is able to focus on both the problem and puzzle at hand. I understand low-poly isn't a look for everybody, but I can see why it was chosen for a game like this.
8 Gameplay
As puzzling goes, the gameplay is solid. It has a number of fundamental rules that're built upon at a steady pace, mixing challenge in while neither overwhelming the player nor making things too easy. It can be frustrating to have figured out the solution and be slowed down by the walking speed, but for the majority of players I can see this as a non-issue.
5 Lasting Appeal
Though the puzzles are brilliantly crafted to provide a fun and logical challenge, the fact remains you have a set list of puzzles. Once played, it's just a matter of recalling the steps. You've got one great playthrough, but beyond that, you might have to wait a year or so to come back fresh.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
The Sojourn is a bizarre game. While not feeling like it pushes any kind of boundaries, it manages to put forward something new and interesting. Utilising simple graphics and an easy to grasp puzzling concept, it's incredibly easy to jump into, whether you're wanting to lose a few minutes or a few hours.

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