Difficult puzzles and stone statues in The Sojourn turn each level into a chess match the player plays against themselves, but is it rewarding?
The Sojourn is a first-person puzzle game that supplies the player with surprisingly difficult brain teasers wrapped in artsy, ethereal graphics. Although the levels within host well-made logic problems sure to please fans of chess-like conundrums, difficulty spikes and the lack of a proper sense of fulfillment upon challenge completion make The Sojourn a hard recommendation for anyone other than serious fans of the puzzle genre.
The first game developed by Shifting Tides, The Sojourn is equal parts frustrating and beautiful. Levels load into frame piece by piece, displaying settings like castles, small villages, and mountain peaks in the far distance, all rendered in a low-poly art style similar to but more intricate than those in the puzzle game When Ski Lifts Go Wrong, a process which makes the whole world feel dreamlike and soothing. The player is directed through this world by following trails of light, small orbs with long, wispy tails, which fly through the air and often seem to be creating the levels themselves as they bob along.
Plot in The Sojourn is delivered primarily through stone statues of blindfolded people, focused on one family in particular. As levels are beaten and the game progresses, players discover numerous groups of statues that depict the birth and growth of a child who receives a blindfold at a young age and is sent off to a type of boarding school. As they reach new areas in the game's overworld, which occurs on average after every four completed puzzle levels or so, players will encounter new statues showing the next step in the story.
The levels themselves are reminiscent of the best Legend of Zelda dungeons, many of them containing mirrors, statues, and switches which must all be interacted with properly in order to proceed. The game's core concept, a dark world that can be traveled in and out of, is utilized in numerous ways in order to engage in the various obstacles found in each puzzle. For example, statues and harps can only be activated while in this dark world. Players use statues to teleport, switching places with the object, while harps are used to repair broken bridges for a limited amount of time, allowing players to cross as long as they move quickly. A player must therefore step on a similarly-timed floor switch to travel into the dark realm, engage the teleportation aspect of the statue in order to get within running distance of the broken bridge, and then activate the harp before their time in the dark world runs out.
These simple concepts are applied in a variety of different ways in The Soujourn's first section before expanding and evolving in the following three chapters, becoming far more complex than even the hardest Zelda puzzles. New obstacles are introduced, such as platform-sized portals that force players into the dark world with no time limit, as well as relics which allow statues and harps to be used in the light realm, and as the player's understanding of the game mechanics grows each level becomes a small-scale chess match where they are pitted against themselves, surveying the board in front of them and trying to think ten steps in advance.
Although nearly every level is suspended above bottomless pits, death in The Sojourn is nonexistent. A false step off the edge, most likely occurring due to the player trying to pay attention to a puzzle item on the other side of the level, will only play a brief falling animation before returning the player to the exact same spot, similar to the Escher-esque puzzle game Etherborn. Puzzles remain unchanged after falling but thankfully can be reset from the pause menu on the off chance certain actions taken during the "figuring it out" phase have made it impossible to proceed.
The difficulty range of these puzzles is sure to vary among players, but on average extends from challenging to anger-inducing, with many of the levels seemingly set up to make a player feel as if they have completed all necessary steps before realizing, only after they have gone too far, that they have forgotten the remaining ten percent which allows them to cross the finish line. For those few who feel the levels are not already challenging enough, many puzzles offer a secondary, harder area only reachable after completion of the first, rewarding intrepid players with cryptic, fortune cookie-like messages.
The Sojourn's biggest problem is even these secondary rewards of brief, esoteric messages does not feel like enough of a satisfying conclusion after spending twenty minutes pondering out a solution to a difficult puzzle, especially when the game simply pops the player back into the overworld and expects them to take on another immediately afterwards. The player moves from room to room with little sense of accomplishment, save for their own knowledge that they figured it out. More rewarding, interactive story elements and some sort of in-game hint system would go a long way towards making The Sojourn an enjoyable experience for wide audiences, but right now only serious fans of spatial logistics may find the energy to persevere.
The Sojourn is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC beginning September 20th, 2019. A PS4 code was supplied to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.