“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” -Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Title: The Sojourn
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: Shifting Tides
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 20, 2019
Game Provided By Iceberg Interactive for the Purpose of This Review
The Sojourn is an indie adventure/puzzle solving game that we here at Level Down Games absolutely adore. Developed by Shifting Tides and published by Iceberg Interactive, The Sojourn is a tale of darkness, light, and the nature of reality.
The world is a beautifully crafted one, with a color scheme that will leave you to stop for moments to just take it all in. It starts, just like you started, with birth and takes you through the world you were born to see. You follow balls of light which lead you through to rooms where you will solve dozens and dozens (and the millions!) of puzzles and see scenes played out by statues.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” -Plato
There is more to this game than just solving puzzles (and I’ll get back to those in a moment). The Sojourn is broken into 4 different chapters, all with their own unique style and aesthetic. If you’re anything like me you’ll love how clever and deep the narrative is. I found myself nodding and smiling quite a bit as certain events unfolded and I think that should be a goal of all video games… make the player happy.
“It cannot be seen, It cannot be felt. Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind the stars and under the hills and empty holes it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.” -The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien / Darkness… the answer was darkness.
Now for me, when it comes to a puzzle game, nothing makes me happier than a tough but solvable challenge. I don’t want my hand to be held, I want to figure it out, even if that means hours of attrition, trying every possible solution until I’ve perfected it. The Sojourn obliges. To quote the great Professor Layton “Every puzzle has an answer”.
I found that the puzzles do get progressively harder but not to the point of being a nuisance or a chore. I think the longest I spent on any one single puzzle was 30 minutes and that’s because I wasn’t seeing the obvious easier way to do it which was staring me in the face the entire time (and I thank The Sojourn for that). You’re forced to think multi-dimensionally in the game (which is easy for me because I’m super smart).
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The main mechanic (and more nuances are added throughout the progression) is the light world and the dark world. You will need to shift between the two and swap places with statues to solve most puzzles. The catch is you can only activate (awaken) statues in the dark world and can only move in the dark world for a short time so you’ll need to plan your movements and swaps around portals (known in game as the flame) and various chambers such as shadow gates and cloning pods.
As the game progresses you’ll see new puzzle elements such as relics, which are used to activate statues from the light world as there will be hazards that appear in the dark world. There are also what appear to be spotlights in the light world which project the dark energy (maybe we call them spotdarks?) in a straight beam and they can be rotated to activate puzzle elements along the way.
“The baby bat screamed out in fright, “Turn on the dark, I’m afraid of the light”.” -Batty by Shel Silverstein
If I had to liken this game to another I’d say its similar to The Witness. Then again being a puzzler I can liken it to Portal, Myst and The Turing Test. The Sojourn carves its own path and is a breath of fresh air in the genre. Every time I felt like I mastered what was thrown at me, and master it I did because again, super smart and the best at all puzzle games, the game turned around and made me learn and adapt to a new mechanic.
The game is not without its flaws though. I said earlier the longest I spent on any one puzzle was about 30 minutes but there are times where the solution is frustratingly hard. There are instances where I almost feel like I’m cheating the game solving puzzles because the swap mechanic doesn’t register correctly as a valid swap location (there are times you can’t swap for puzzle reasons, I’m not talking about those) and I’m forced to just time it right and jump and hope for the best. I only had this happen a couple times but if it happens more than once it does warrant mentioning.
I would have liked a deep soundtrack to this game. While it’s not a prerequisite for a good game, and doesn’t change the gameplay, you’re going to be spending significant time solving certain puzzles, a beautiful score would help me focus more on the world. The game itself takes about 15 hours, maybe longer if you get stuck several times on puzzles, which itself can be quite delightful.
“If there be light, then there is darkness; if cold, heat; if height, depth; if solid, fluid; if hard, soft; if rough, smooth; if calm, tempest; if prosperity, adversity; if life, death.” -Pythagoras (More than just a guy who’s theorem is used to find the hypotenuse of a triangle)
While the narrative is thought provoking, there are no voice overs playing out scenes, no text explaining anything, you are left to figure it out yourself and if you truly don’t care about the story and just want to run through and solve puzzles you can disregard any intent the game creators intended. I respect the artistic choice and also love that they weren’t forcing me to sit through 20 minute cutscenes, but I do think there should have be a little something to make the story matter more.
If you’re like me, and I hope you are, the world can use a little more awesome and a little less whatever the hell that weird Kyle fellow down the street is, then you won’t particularly mind those minor things and will love the rich, luxurious puzzle experience. It’s been far too long since we’ve been gifted by the Puzzle Game Gods with such innovative and fun puzzling game play.
I was thoroughly impressed with what The Sojourn had to offer and so happy that the game was moved from 2020 to a September 20, 2019 release. The world needed you Sojourn, and through the darkness shone your light. I truly hope anyone and everyone out there who loves puzzle games picks this game up and tells a friend. I want to end with one final quote, from another puzzle game which truly sums up how I feel about The Sojourn.
“This was a triumph! I’m making a note here:”HUGE SUCCESS!!”. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.” -GlaDOS, Portal