By their very nature puzzle games are meant to be mysterious. But in The Sojourn, that mystery extends out beyond just the mind-testing levels that are found within, with the development team at Shifting Tides providing a number of thought-provoking opportunities as progression is made. However, can the mix of mysterious story and immersive puzzle action work together? Well, at the end of the day the basic narrative is pushed to one side by the test that unfolds – but that’s more to do with the complexities and brain-bashing nature of each stage of The Sojourn than anything else.
For all the storytelling in the world, The Sojourn sees you making your way through a series of standalone puzzles, in the hope that you can free mysterious orbs of light in order to let them unveil the world around you. It is these puzzles which make up the backbone of the gameplay, and even though a pretty deep, hugely thought-provoking narrative weaves its way in and out as you wander through a number of environments, for the most part you’ll be wanting to concentrate all efforts on the puzzle action that is in place.
That’s not to say that The Sojourn doesn’t do a tremendous job at delivering a tale though, for it does. It’s just that this is much more of a first person puzzler than a walking sim, and it is the former which comes to light throughout.
After wandering through a deep tutorial-type section which delightfully hammers home what is required from you, The Sojourn opens up to provide a stunning puzzling experience. Played out via a string of wonderfully well created stages, the ultimate goal of each is to reach the end of a linear path, free a couple of orbs of light, and get on your merry way. To do this you’ll need to manipulate a variety of objects, such as ringing harps that create new pathways, or switching places with mammoth statues in order to see them power up specific doors. However not everything is interactable from the get-go and only by moving in and out of the normal light side and into the mysteries of the dark via a number of portals, will any progress be made. See, it is when you’re in the dark side that you can begin to interact fully with each and every object, casting glances at all-powerful eyes, utilising mirrors, building light tunnels and more to create safe paths and passageways as you go. And in that sense, The Sojourn is nothing but awesome.
It works brilliantly well and throughout the whole experience of The Sojourn will find that the game delicately invites you in, teaching you the way of new items and objects, before ramping up difficulties to leave you scratching your head, as you’re left to figure out the best course of action ahead. Multiple times you’ll be left to backtrack in order to solve a test, moving through the dark portals and back out again as you pull off a specific action and set things in motion. The tests are properly real too, seeing you need to utilise every ounce of your brain power in order to save these orbs of light and ensures that the visual storytelling continues to unfold.
There seems to be just the one correct answer for each of the levels, yet even once you have made it through a stage, there are multiple other options open to you, with many of the levels expanding in size to sport a secondary objective too, putting a narrative scroll at the end of an even trickier to reach path, and leaving you to get on with it. Collecting these scrolls isn’t essential though, and failing to grab them doesn’t see the story progression falter, but should you find yourself fully entwined in the world of The Sojourn and just need to understand a bit more as to what has made the minds at Shifting Tides tick, then it’s well worth spending a few more minutes pushing on. In fact, if anything, it sees every single puzzle in The Sojourn come across with two different endings. And for replayability stakes alone, that’s a good thing.
The entirety of The Sojourn on Xbox One is played out with absolutely stunning visuals put at the fore. From the word go, and moving right through everything it delivers, the world grows and moves with you as you step forward, with colourful backgrounds and paths opening up with each movement. It’s a brilliant world to take in, across both the light and dark sides, and at no point in time do the visuals fail to wow. The same can be said for the audio too – yes it’s rather ambient in nature, but what you will find thrust towards your ears is nothing but utterly delightful, building the immersion throughout.
Combining the puzzling nature with the stunning visuals and cracking audio means that The Sojourn is right up there with some of the best puzzlers around, but it is a huge shame that you’ll rarely really care or wonder why you are making your way through this world. Even though the story is muted and sporadic, after the first couple of hours of wanting to know more, the puzzling action takes hold and rarely lets go, forgoing any real need for any further depth to the experience. The story really is pushed to one side, and even though much of it allows you to make of it what you will, it’s very much a secondary thought.
Further to that and The Sojourn lets itself down slightly in regards the extra objectives of each stage. I would have loved to have more of a reason to really want to discover and collect the objective scrolls that pop up as each stage reaches a conclusion, but the overwhelming sheer relief that is felt as some stages are completed means that rarely have I wanted to really keep testing the mind with a puzzle that could well have already been two days in the solving. Yep, that’s right, taking a break from a particularly taxing stage and going back fresh with a clear mind is sometimes the only way to go with The Sojourn.
By their very nature puzzle games are meant to be mysterious and that is no more true than with The Sojourn. It looks beautiful, it plays out super smoothly and the audio kick hammers home the immersion that ensures you will keep getting dragged in. If you’re a puzzle fan then getting involved in this first person experience is a bit of a no-brainer – just be aware that it’s likely that brain will be turned into a bit of a mush as you reach the latter stages.