By their very nature, first-person puzzle games are pretty relaxing. There’s no time pressure, no enemies shooting you, no instant death spike pits. It’s just you, a few different tools, and a logical knot to untie. From the genre’s origins in Portal to more recent examples, its a formula that never fails. THE SOJOURN takes things a step further with a gorgeous vibe that takes the relaxation to new heights. The game’s obscured fable matches perfectly with the trippy visuals and dulcet tones on the soundtrack. It’s what would happen if the burnout selling crystals at the swap meet made a video game, which is a compliment in this case.
The Sojourn Review | Feeling the Dark World vibes
The Sojourn doesn’t tell a story so much as it gets across a mood. There is a loose parable about growing up depicted by statues that pop up throughout the adventure and some very flowery flavor text. However, the main event in terms of presentation is the environments you’re traversing as you solve puzzles. Stone towers build themselves from nothing, water drains out all around you, and bridges appear from the fog. It’s a dreamlike atmosphere full of new-age vibes that promote playing at a slow pace. There’s no sense of hurry in The Sojourn; it’s a game that wants you to just look around and take a load off. The puzzles will be there in the morning.
Once you wake up from your dream, you’ll find that The Sojourn has a decent but unsurprising set of ideas. The main setup recalls A Link to the Past, challenging you to jump between light and dark worlds to awaken ancient statues that help you traverse. A giant harp will focus bridges into place. A winged structure lets you swap places to your heart’s content. A mirror beams out dark energy to keep you in the puzzle realm. Each element comes in slowly, letting you acclimate yourself to each tool before combining them in devious ways. You’ve seen this setup before, but The Sojourn does it well thanks to how it paces out these mechanics.
The Sojourn Review | Continuing your mellow
After a few introductory puzzles, you get to puzzles that split into two parts, which is how The Sojourn deals with difficulty. Instead of picking a level from a menu, most puzzles have a required opening stage and an optional second tier. There are also puzzles that are entirely optional, and these seem to be the most challenging of all. A game like The Sojurn seems tailor-made for relaxation, so it’s smart of the developers to make the main quest pretty straightforward. If you find things too easy, you’ve got plenty of harder challenges to tackle. If you just want a gaming crossword puzzle book for a lazy Sunday, stick to the main path.
That’s not to say that The Sojurn is a pushover. There are plenty of logical conundrums on display here that take lots of focus to overcome. You need to bypass barriers that only activate in one world, shift around gems that activate certain statues, and keep switches activated to get through to the final gate. Your goal, a black cage holding a beam of light hostage, is always tantalizingly out of reach. Whether you brute force through every possible solution or truly find the mechanics clicking into place, solving these platforming riddles always give you a rush.
The Sojourn Review | Ending the hang sesh
Even though individual puzzles never fail to entertain, The Sojourn might best be played in bite-sized chunks and can be quite taxing in long sessions. This is partially due to the environments, which are quite samey despite their aforementioned beauty. Each world changes things up somewhat, but you get a lot of the same colors and music tracks as you progress. Considering the abstract setup, it would have been better to see a bit more variety in the puzzle areas to match with the evolving mechanics.
The puzzle rooms should have also captured some of the awe-inspiring moments in the hub areas. Transitioning from one set of puzzles to the next is better than finding solutions in some cases. You watch a fancy light show and see spectacular vistas change as you move forward. It’s as if half of The Sojurn is a high-def version of Myth and the other is a decently fun Portal-like. Both have their merits, but the two halves never really gel together in a cohesive fashion.
The Sojourn Review | Overthinking the end times
Speaking of, the storytelling feels like a third aspect just bolted onto the rest of this hybrid concoction. The lessons about journeying away from home and exploring the real world are good ones, but The Sojurn doesn’t seem to have much to say beyond the basics. Additionally, the flavor text describing each new chapter is so pretentious and over the top that it leaves little room to make an impact. The whole setup provides good background theme for the gameplay, but you won’t find anything surprising unless you’re incredibly new to this sort of thing.
Lame story aside, The Sojourn is a satisfying puzzle game. This debut effort from Shifting Tides isn’t going to reinvent the genre, but it certainly has a place for fans of puzzle games and The Talos Principle. Those who choose to take the voyage will find a few beautiful sights, a few brain-twisters, and a whole lot of good energy. Those who try out the harder puzzles will probably have a hard time reaching the end, but that’s their prerogative. Regardless, it’s a good, brief reprieve from the flashing lights and loud noises found in most other titles. In an industry full of guns and madness, it’s rad to find a game that takes things down a notch.
GameRevolution reviewed The Sojourn on Xbox One with a key provided by the publisher.