Dark energy pulses in my hands as I carry the relic across the precarious walkway. I place it in the statue’s alcove and the stone mirror springs to life, illuminating the walkway with dark energy that turns my surroundings into a warped, purple-tinged echo of themselves.
Comets shoot across the sky, and I watch my footing as I walk back to the end of the path, where I regain my line of sight with a harp statue across the way. I activate it and watch as a little stone bridge builds itself in time to the music. I quickly swap places with a nearby winged statue and cross the bridge before the music ends, running forward and releasing the little pinpricks of light from their wooden cage to finish the puzzle.
- What is it? A first-person puzzle game about the journey of life
- Developer: Shifting Tides
- Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Release Date: September 20, 2019
- Price: $24.99
Story in the Statues
From the moment I began my journey, The Sojourn pulled me in with its beautiful and simplistic storytelling. The game’s underlying narrative is told entirely through statues that act as sculpted snapshots of a child’s life as he grows and learns more about the world and the troubles that plague it. The fact that the story unfolds in such a quiet manner creates a feeling of peace and stillness that I couldn’t help but appreciate after a long day.
Despite its unique presentation, The Sojourn doesn’t have much to boast about when it comes to the story itself. The game is more focused on the puzzles found in its various levels than it is on its throughline, which isn’t bad if you’re playing just for the mental exercise. It’s admittedly satisfying to progress enough to reveal a new set of statues, but you’re not provided with a lot of motivation to do so beyond the chance to solve more puzzles in a new area.
Keep Moving Forward
With that said, I do appreciate the game’s overall sense of forward progression. I don’t mean this solely in the sense of unlocking new and more challenging puzzles, but in the way you interact with the environment. The world literally pieces itself together in front of you, opening a path forward and encouraging you along while closing doors behind you and permanently sealing off areas of the game once you’ve progressed far enough. It fits beautifully with the story’s themes of life and growth, and provides an interesting juxtaposition to the fact that you’re frequently the only moving object in a world of statues that seem otherwise frozen in time.
A Puzzling Experience
I enjoyed playing The Sojourn despite its lack of a tangible plot hook, which is surprising when considering the fact that story is at the top of my priority list when choosing a new game. I credit this entirely to the game’s spatial puzzles, which prove to be delightful and engaging at every turn. Each of them provides a unique spatial challenge that involves manipulating statues to reach your end goal— since each statue serves a different purpose, you must use their specific functions to progress through the puzzle’s space and reach your portal to the next room.
The puzzles are unique, though not particularly challenging. I didn’t find this to be a detriment, though; since all of the basic puzzles are required to progress through the story, it was nice to avoid any severe hang ups that would have prevented me from finishing the game. Any time I got stuck on a particular puzzle, I could step away for a moment to clear my head and come back to it with fresh eyes. In most cases, this reset my perspective enough to complete the puzzle relatively easily when I picked it back up.
High Ground View
I’ve detailed my experience with three major aspects of The Sojourn below for a more involved look at the game.
As mentioned previously, the standard puzzles offered by The Sojourn’s main campaign are relatively simple in their construction and concept, though they do get more complicated with time and the introduction of new mechanics. The puzzles are interesting enough that they get you invested in the game once you pick it up, but the lack of an engaging plot meant that it was just as easy for me to put it back down. With the campaign being only a few hours long, however, I could set it aside for a while without feeling like I was missing anything. This makes it an excellent game for casual play.
I did run into a bug or two that made some of the puzzles unsolvable— certain statues wouldn’t load properly, making it impossible to cross the bridge they were meant to build or swap spaces when the line of sight was even slightly obstructed. The game autosaves regularly, though, so any issues I had were easily fixed by quickly closing and reopening the software.
In addition to the primary campaign, The Sojourn offers bonus challenges at various points in the story’s progression. These challenges are occasionally entirely unique puzzles that are found down an optional branching path, though most of them are integrated with the campaign puzzles. In these cases, the bonus challenge adds a twist to the existing puzzle and involves re-manipulating the elements to move forward and reach the new goal.
These challenges are where most of the game’s difficulty lies, though they’re also where I had the most fun. The puzzles get harder in the later chapters, and I found that I’d get stuck trying to follow whatever pattern I used to complete the main puzzle. Since these bonus challenges typically involve breaking the route you’ve just spent time building for yourself, it can be hard to notice the new patterns and connections right away.
The Sojourn is a beautiful game. I’m a bit of a sucker for simplistic art styles, and there’s a gentle beauty in the polygonal, cel-shaded graphics that make up the game’s world. There are four chapters in The Sojourn, each with its own distinct aesthetic that immerses you in the world.
The only complaint I have about the game’s visual/aural appeal is the lack of unique music in each of the levels. With the number of harp statues present across all of the puzzles (and the number of times you activate them), you’d think there would be a bit more variety in the music. But alas, the harp plays the same tune every time— since there’s a visual cue to show how much time is left before the song ends and the statue deactivates, it’s almost more worth it to turn off the volume.
Game title: The Sojourn
Game description: Solve increasingly difficult puzzles in a strange land while discovering the true nature of life, the importance of knowledge, and the corrupting nature of greed.
Campaign Puzzles - 7/10
Bonus Challenges - 8/10
Art Elements - 6/10
The Sojourn provides a fun and relaxing challenge that’s good for casual gameplay and a quick brainteaser.
- Unique and engaging puzzles
- Fun optional challenges
- Beautiful world
- Lacks interesting story
- Slow pacing
- Mildly repetitive