Stay A While, Don’t Listen
HIGH The “Vivid Nightmare” level.
LOW Trying to inch along bridges while keeping an eye in view.
WTF “The more you reap the more you sow”?
Not everyone can be a good preacher. In order to deliver an effective sermon, a person has to have something to say, and a compelling manner with which to communicate it. Moralizing with a flimsy message or weak delivery will just lead the congregation to roll their eyes. A case in point is The Sojourn — a solid puzzler diminished by a muddled effort to express deeper meaning.
Although it tells a light story using wordless sculptural tableaux between its levels, The Sojourn is fundamentally a series of puzzle rooms that the player must traverse. The key to getting through each level is moving between a ‘light world’ and a ‘dark world’ in the appropriate spots. This allows the player to do things like cross a bridge that only exists in the dark world, or go to the light world to pass a barricade, and so on.
Each puzzle also features multiple tools, such as statues that the player can swap places with, harps that rebuild broken walkways while they’re playing, pedestals that duplicate statues, and projectors that shoot a beam of darkness across an area.
For the most part, these can only be activated from within the dark world. Getting there requires the player to use short-lasting ‘dark flame’ from specific spots, or to pass through portals between the worlds. More memorably, in The Sojourn’s late levels, one can also enter the dark world by staring at (or carrying) an ominous floating eye.
The principal goal in most levels is to reach a particular spot and free a wisp of light. Once this is done, a second challenge appears in the majority of levels that involves traversing to a new location and reading a “merit” — basically, a little scroll containing a moral for the level.
It seems the merits were intended to be deep and philosophical, but that’s not how things turned out. These little aphorisms – including such gems as “No one is the same and that’s okay” and “Faith is a curtain that shields and conceals” – run the gamut from trite new age pablum to corporate word salad. I gained no more enlightenment from these tidbits, and considerably less enjoyment, than if they had been pictures of kittens. Comically, The Sojourn’s sculptures imply that the hero actually uses these fatuous proverbs to sway hearts and minds into casting down an oppressive world order.
The levels have suggestive names that relate to the merits contained within, and the puzzles (perhaps?) loosely represent mental obstacles the story’s hero had to overcome in order to learn these lessons. The physical structure of the puzzles, however, seem to have little connection to either the story or the concepts that are trying to be expressed. The flimsy philosophizing seems draped over the gameplay simply to gussy it up, without any consideration for whether it actually illuminates the mechanics or vice versa.
In a mechanical sense, although the overall number of tools is limited, The Sojourn gets a fair bit of mileage out of their combinations without ever seeming repetitive. I found the levels to have a good balance between relatively simple challenges and real stumpers, with enough of the former to make the latter feel beatable.
That said, in many ways The Sojourn’s toolset is underutilized. The portals make few appearances and are involved in only one memorable puzzle. The levels also don’t make enough use of verticality, although the ones that did remember the existence of height were among the most interesting.
Overall, none of the elements were duds, though some were occasionally annoying. The Sojourn too frequently (and even once is too frequently) relied on spots where the player must stare at an ‘eye’ while moving laterally with respect to it, usually across a bridge that is only present in the dark world. Over and over I would fall off bridges in these instances, or I would move the eye too far out of the center of vision and have a bridge vanish from underneath me.
Falling off platforms is fortunately only a minor annoyance – there’s no real death, and the player is generally returned to the exact spot where they fell. However, it grated my nerves to repeatedly attempt the awkward dance of staring off into the distance at a fixed point while crossing a bridge I couldn’t see. The harps also occasionally created a bit of needless frustration, due in large part to the sluggish movement speed.
While the merits and the story are shallow and uninteresting, the gameplay’s failure to integrate with them reduces them to superfluous trappings that can mostly be ignored. This leaves the focus squarely on the puzzles, and it’s here that The Sojourn almost hits the mark. Although they don’t fully reach their potential, the levels are at times deep and fascinating — and neither of those words could apply to the script.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Shifting Tides and published by Iceberg Interactive.It is currently available on PS4, XBO, and PC (exclusively at Epic Games Store). This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. It contains absolutely nothing likely to offend or derange, so let the kids at it.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The Sojourn does not have any dialogue and there are no sound cues of significance. “Merits” are brown lettering on cream background, and gameplay instructions are white lettering on black background. Text cannot be resized.
Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable. Movement and look (left/right sticks) cannot be changed, but every other function can be remapped as desired.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.