20 September 2019 (released)
01 October 2019
Over the years for this latest console generation, we’ve seen plenty of First Person puzzle games come out and made a huge splash with gamers. I mean, there’s been dozens of games including The Witness, Pneuma: Breath of Life, The Talos Principle, Myst and Antichamber to name a few. This crazed did start back in 2007 with the release of the massively beloved Portal. So as time goes on, more and more developers want to evolve the formula and earn top spot. The Sojourn decides to take a similar approach to that of the Witness yet simplify it for the hopeful attention of a broader audience. Does it work and will puzzle nuts such as myself be drawn in?
The Sojourn is abstract in regards to its story, rather than delivering a detailed plot, there is rather a vague backstory and plenty of emotional overtones to carry you through the journey. It’s clear there is a foreboding sense of tragedy as you the nameless and speechless protagonist complete the journey through an uninhabited world. There are some visual clues as to what has happened and what to expect at the end of this journey. Personally I’m fine with abstract storytelling and having subtle clues on what the plot could be can be more rewarding as an experience. Games like Dark Souls and even Resident Evil often build up the core story with smaller pieces of information scattered across the game world. But it’s the lack of personality which is troubling. Games like Pneuma have the narrator in place where he’s used to deliver fragments of comedy and provide interesting observations to avoid the world being silent. Portal has again a form of narration with different sparks of personality to give comedy and tension. But it also has it’s quiet moments where players can explore a world filled with clues and indications of the bigger picture. There’s something being presented whereas in Sojourn, it’s too quiet and there’s not enough environmental storytelling to keep things interesting.
We don’t get a great deal of information and it’s difficult to build an emotional connection. I don’t know what the intent was but other games do give you some form of personality, whether it’s a single entity that may guide you, observe you or just an interactive NPC to show you that your character gives a damn about something. Sojourn just feels aimless and throughout the journey, it’s deadly silent with no humour, drama or any kind of emotion other than very small fragments of an unclear narrative. These come in the form of statues which explain elements of a backstory yet they can be interpreted in a number of ways and it’s not as engaging if there’s no clear understanding of the one of many sides of a story.
The world itself is pretty stunning. While nothing new, the developers have made sure the world is visually engaging with every component feeling hand crafted and designed with purpose. The strengths come from the range of colours, interesting implement of detail/minimalistic approach and lighting. All these factors make Sojourn’s journey breath taking with every step. The sound design and music is again very minimalistic and only plays out in a diegetic manner. With something happening with the sound kick in, acting as feedback for something accomplished for something about the happen. It’s used in a profound and interesting way, keeping your attention throughout.
The core objective is to solve a number puzzles, enter new areas and repeat the process. I was surprised on how long Sojourn’s journey actually was, with a number of complex environments with various arenas. These arenas aren’t the Unreal kind but rather ones that present a lateral task that requires completion. At first the key mechanic to resolving many of these puzzles is by switching places with a statue, next comes a harp that allows broken paths to be repaired for a short period, then comes dishes which spew a dark energy allowing the player to complete certain interactions and a few more rather complex mechanics building up to the end game.
While there are enough mechanics introduced for all puzzles, each new mechanic bringing another level of engagement to the next segment of the game and the world. I found the overall pacing to drag on. Each main area has an immense collection of puzzles with the journey feeling like a grind once you’ve completed the first 20.
As a puzzle geek I would say that subjectively many of the puzzles were pretty easy. I understand it’s tough developing a game where the focus is puzzles and the developers have done a great job at incorporating so many different one and adding extra challenges on top of that. But as mentioned before the pacing is just off. After a couple of hours the journey does become a little tedious and I think this relates to a point I made before.
Portal and Portal 2, among many other puzzle games have very interesting worlds, allow players to explore (even in a linear world design) and have a break from each puzzle, making it feel more like a set piece. The Sojourn just throws so many puzzles at you and overall the world design is just uninteresting.
Many puzzles often show a tedious trial and error format and a lot of repetition comes into play where players will need to repeat several stages in a puzzles solution over and over in order to just complete. But again I do admire the number of arenas, the mix of mechanics and how many extra challenges there were. I think this is a game that’s best played in small doses, as playing it for too long can be a little taxing.
The Sojourn is a solid puzzle game but one that offers nothing new in the genre. Many before it have added interesting dynamics, compelling stories and even go out of the safe zone where it comes to puzzles, level design and the story combing elements into one wholesome, engaging experience. It’s safe and it’s fine. Plenty of puzzles, despite most puzzles geeks like myself will most likely fine this game at an intermediate level but the world is pretty, if not restrictive on exploration and the number of mechanics and extra challenges is greatly appreciated. While certainly not the best, it’s worth checking out if you have a puzzle itch that needs scratching.
++ Beautiful visuals and interesting world design
+ Great amount of challenges
-- Tedious and poor pacing from time to time
- Lack of engaging exploration
A review copy of The Sojourn was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.