Puzzle games are a dime a dozen these days, so it can be a difficult endeavor to find one that stands out from the crowd and is tricky and enjoyable on top.
Thankfully, Shifting Tides and Iceberg Interactive have graced us with The Sojourn, a phenomenal puzzle game that, thanks to its philosophical narrative, challenges you to think carefully through its puzzles and keeps pushing you in new and profound ways.
Between Light and Dark Worlds
It takes between ten and fifteen hours to complete your journey through the ever-changing world you find yourself in. Blocks of scenery drop as you enter every new puzzle room (the frame rate is excellent). Throughout your travels, you come across a variety of locations, from a shimmering tower with a library inside to a dark and mysterious underground cave. Every location acts as a chapter of the game, blending in new colour palettes and scenery in a way that keeps things fresh and intriguing.
In each level, there are around ten to twenty portals you can enter. These are where you will find the game’s expertly designed puzzles.
The core mechanic of The Sojourn is that you can shift from the natural world to a purple hazed Dark Realm, by stepping into a pool of light—but it only lasts a few seconds. In that Dark Realm, electric blue paths become visible, and you are then able to switch places with statues located around the level. The level structure doesn’t change beyond a platform here and there, but your ability to interact with objects does. The statue allows you to teleport between two locations and create shortcuts to paths only accessible in the Dark Realm.
There are more than 70 puzzles in the game, and this principle is at the heart of each of them until the very end. However, with the way in which the levels build and build to become more intricate, and with more complex mechanics, it is far from tedious. After the introductory section of the game, Light Beams that emit Darkness and can be turned like a compass dial are introduced. You are then able to stay within the Dark Realm for longer as there are now several ways to keep the beam going, such as by facing them in the direction of another, creating a chain effect. This buys you much more time in the more complex levels.
That complexity is expanded upon even further into the game with statues and Light Beams containing a gem that can be moved from one to the other, powering them and allowing you to use them even when in the natural world.
The Sojourn has a very smart level design. Each puzzle is satisfying to solve, with great moments of joy when you realise the steps you need to take to exit. Clicking those parts into place is deeply rewarding because these puzzles are not easy at times! I was stuck on some levels for more than half an hour, but I never felt so frustrated that I wanted to throw the controller or give up. If anything, this game is so chilled; it just keeps your mind working through the calmness. The beautiful landscapes and ethereal music certainly help.
The Aim of the Game
So I have told you about the gameplay, but what about the story? In The Sojourn, you arrive in this mysterious land only guided by light orbs (that do look somewhat like glowing sperm). These orbs guide you through each gorgeous location and reveal statues of people, telling the story of what happened here before you arrived.
It’s a philosophical tale of how the people that lived here previously overthrew tyrannical rule by working together. Not one word is uttered throughout the game, but it’s not needed either. The narrative is very clear from the imagery and the accompanying musical score—delightful piano melodies that create a sense of enchantment. The music compliments the art style perfectly.
But That’s Not All…
As well as the central puzzles in each location, many of them have an optional extra objective to complete once you open the exit portal. The aim is to pick up a scroll that has been left in the location, which can now only be found once the level is complete. It means that you have to rework and adjust the mechanics you’ve put in place to reach the exit. It makes the puzzle extremely challenging, but again, not so much that it isn’t worth trying.
The scrolls that you pick up read a philosophical statement that encourages you to think about your life and outlook on the world, and to try to be a better person not only for yourself but for others as well. A bit like fortune cookies, I suppose. Some may think that it is pretentious, but honestly, I found it quite beautiful in a world of violence in video games. Note that I am absolutely not blaming violence in video games for any atrocities carried out in the real world. Nope, that’s all human. And that’s precisely why it was so lovely to see a game actively encouraging people to look inward.
The scrolls add to the narrative of the game and help to provide an understanding behind the actions the people depicted in the statues took. Likewise, playing this game was an experience and an education in how to be a more reflective person, and a more considerate human being.
There are very few gripes I had with the game, but a pretty irritating one was that whenever I stood still, my perspective started drifting to the left as if I were moving slightly. At times, that made for clunky control and lack of focus on my objective. I tested the controller on another first-person game and found no issues, so I believe it was the game rather than a technical issue my end. Despite that, it didn’t put me off playing, and it may be something that doesn’t affect every player.
The Sojourn is a wonderful puzzle game; it is carefully crafted with gorgeous visuals. It is an uplifting, philosophical story that asks you to reflect upon your actions and the world around you. It is easy to relax and play, and you may well be thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.
The Sojourn is released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 20, 2019.