I’m not a shallow person, I rarely go off looks when I’m out looking for something new, be it a game, some food, or a new girlfriend… However, as soon as I saw The Sojourn I knew I had to play it as I was instantly drawn to its beautiful art design and mesmerising aesthetics. Being a first-person puzzle game, my first reaction was to liken it to the aesthetically pleasing ‘The Witness’. However, the only things they have in common is the art design and the fact they are both very tricky puzzle games.
Jumping into the game, I had no idea what to expect. Will it be a game consisting of a single puzzle that gets altered slightly as we progress, as in The Witness, or will it be a bunch of unique and head-scratching puzzles for us to become frustrated with? There was only one way to find out – I grabbed a cup of tea and got myself comfy, this was going to be a long night…
The Sojourn is a game that allows you to move at your own pace, take your time, relax and take in the beautiful surroundings, and stimulate your brain as you figure out the solutions to the progressively increasing difficulty of the puzzles. In terms of the story, aside from a few quotes as you enter new areas, and incredibly beautiful stone statues which materialise in front of you and tell a silent tale, there’s little in terms of the narrative. The main focus of the game lies within its well-thought-out puzzles and gorgeous environments.
As you get a few hours into the game, you’ll begin to unlock scrolls via completing special challenges or extending the standard challenges via an additional pathway. These all seem to be philosophical quotes rather than actual exposition or further narrative, but the sense of achievement you get for actually managing to pick these up is a reward in itself! If you’re looking at getting the platinum, you need to ensure you go out of your way and obtain all of these, even if it frustrates you and makes you want to throw your controller at the TV because you don’t know if the game is impossible or if you’re just being stupid! In my case, it was usually the latter!
One thing I will say before I jump into what the game actually is, I really hope that Shifting Tides either adds a PSVR mode to the game or moves on to develop a VR sequel. This game in Virtual Reality would have been absolutely incredible as movement is nice and slow and the atmosphere is so magical and enchanting. Plus, the visuals are rather simplistic in terms of textures, so it would look great within the headset.
So, is The Sojourn like The Witness or not? Visually – yes, gameplay – no. I would even go as far as almost likening the game to Portal from Valve (bear with me). In the early part of the game, there are ‘darkness pads’. Upon standing on these, you are able to manipulate and activate various objects within the world, but only until the darkness wears off (which is based on the number of steps, not a timer). Such items include a harp, which can be remotely played so that broken pathways reform for the duration of the short harp song, and a statue which you can swap physical positions with (i.e. you both swap places).
Although the premise sounds simple, believe me – it isn’t!
As the levels become more difficult, new obstacles and situations will appear. There are bridges that are only physical whilst in darkness, thorns that rise when you’re in darkness, platforms you need to place the statues on to open doors, and even platforms that clone whatever is placed on them so that you can gain access to new areas. Why did I liken it to Portal – the whole premise of placing things on switches, having to swap places with things (like passing through a portal), thinking outside of the box, and not finding any cake at all, reminded me of the said game!
Once I reached a temple, this is where I began to curl up in a ball and cry to myself every few levels. Up until this point, I’ve not had too many issues – I thought it was a really cool concept with pretty visuals and a nice calm soundtrack. But now, now it takes things to a whole new level. Screw the darkness pad, you now have the ability to remotely control items during the light – providing they have a special gem inserted into them. A gem which you only get one of per-level. So, swapping and managing things appropriately is the key to success. You’ll also start coming across mirrors, devices that shoot out the darkness in a beam and activates other items the beam highlights. Seriously, if these puzzles don’t make you slightly insane, you’re much stronger minded than me!
Earlier on I touched upon the scrolls and how you’ll begin to get the chance to unlock them from the temple onwards. Well, these are a pain in the backside! Imagine this, you’ve just spent about 30 minutes working out the solution to a puzzle – reaching the end and unlocking the cage surrounding the exit light. Then, just before you leave, another pathway appears with a scroll at the end of it, tempting you to try and obtain it whilst your here. However, it’s a new branch added onto the existing puzzle and you may not have more objects to work with (although sometimes you do get some new ones). So, it’s back to the drawing board as you now try and figure out how to reach this new location.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool mechanic, and one I saw in Ascendance where it creates new challenges as you reach the goal you’re working on, but my fragile little mind couldn’t figure out most of the bonus challenges so I had to leave them behind. However, as I mentioned before, The Sojourn is a game in which you can take your time and go at your own pace. Apart from the mandatory challenges you need to work your way through, these optional extras are only required if going for the platinum or you want to push yourself even further.
I played The Sojourn on my PS4 Pro and there are two options for you to choose from, in regards to the visuals. You can either play the game at up to 60fps with, I presume, a 1080p resolution or you can opt for 30fps at a higher resolution (maybe 2160p or near enough). Personally, I have a 1080p TV and I just stuck to the performance mode. I tried the resolution mode, as it would downsample the higher resolution, but the framerate seemed too jarring after I’d played a few hours at 60fps. If you want resolution, I’d advise you to set the option before you play the game at 60fps as once you try that mode, you won’t want to play it at 30fps.
The visual aesthetic as a whole was amazing. I love games that are detailed yet simplistic at the same time. There are lots going on in the background with all the strange statues and mystical archways, yet the textures are mainly solid colours or simple in nature when you get up close. The colours the developers have chosen to use all really pop on the screen with bright colours outside, purples during the darkness, and a rather magical and mystical interior to the temple. The game stands out in the puzzle genre as a challenging and really good looking game.
Soundwise, I really enjoyed the soundtrack. As I say with every game like this, the calm and relaxing music helps you stay composed and in control of what you’re doing. I became frustrated a few times when I became stuck with nowhere to look for help or support, but the music kept me under control and allowed me to just step back and think about things logically in order to come up with a solution. I’m incredibly thankful there are no timers though as I wouldn’t have made it to the temple if that was the case!
With a gradual difficulty curve and beautiful visuals, The Sojourn is an impressive puzzle game that will challenge everyone. Despite it only utilising a few objects in order to create and solve the numerous puzzles placed before you, every level felt different and no two solutions were the same. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard, but as long as you have patience and a logical-thinking mind, you can work your way through all of the puzzles at your own pace and take on the optional challenges should you wish to push yourself.
I came for the gorgeous visuals but ended up staying for the intriguing and mind-boggling puzzles.
- - Very pretty visuals with a nice aesthetic
- - Very relaxing music to keep you calm and composed whilst trying to figure out the trickier puzzles
- - A difficulty curve which grows as you learn new techniques and obtain new items to interact with
- - Lots of puzzles to work your way through, offering a challenge to people of all skill levels
- - No VR mode (not a negative, but a missed opportunity)
- - As there is no in-game help option, you can find yourself stuck on a single puzzle for a very long time (I was stuck for about 90 minutes on one of them)
- - There's no run option, so you walk very slow all the time