The Sojourn Review: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
In a world that seems to be in a neverending race to the next big release, sometimes what you really need is to step back and bask in the joy of simple mechanics set to flawless execution.
Sure, flair can be fun, and when done well, a big game offers unique and thrilling experiences. But all that flash also provides cover, allowing gamers to overlook small problems as minor inconveniences in a larger, excellent whole.
When a developer makes the decision to keep things simple, they are taking a risk. By only offering players a few simple ideas, any failure to execute on those ideas becomes impossible to miss.
I recently looked at Vane, a puzzle game which tries to employ simple mechanics but becomes weighed down by errors in execution which turn it into a frustrating experience. For all its flaws, most disappointing is that it left the impression that there was space for a visually arresting game with simple controls and clever puzzles to flourish.
It created an itch it wasn't ready to scratch.
With The Sojourn, that itch is soothed.
Basic Doesn't Mean Boring
If you're looking for a game where you can fall into the rhthym of fast-paced button mashing and thumbstick flicks, The Sojourn is not the game for you.
The game unfolds, quite literally, at the pace of a casual walk. Your goal on any given level is simple: make your way to the exit. Of course, this is a game, so it's not as simple as walking over to it.
Each level presents a puzzle to be solved, and rarely does a level not require you utilize a new mechanic or uniquely implement a prior one to do so. This is the key to what separates The Sojourn from similar titles which fall flat. Despite the fact you are rarely asked to perform incredible feats of digital athleticism, and what abilities you possess are added to your repertoire at a leisurely pace, each new puzzle will get your gears turning as you puzzle out the riddle in front of you.
Embrace the Darkness to Follow the Light
While I'm not going to delve too deeply into the game's slowly-expanding array of tricks because this is a game best experienced fresh, a look at the game's broader ideas can help demonstrate its appeal.
At its core, the primary concept which underpins most of the mechanics in The Sojourn is the existence of both light and dark, different versions of the areas you explore. For the most part, the two are similar, with just a few small differences. For example, one noticeable change might be the existence of bridges in darkness, which can be used to cross chasms in the world of light.
More importantly, though, you gain the ability to interact with statues when in the dark.
Initially, there is just one type of statue, though others are discovered as you progress. These initial statues allow you to switch places with them when activated. This is an essential mechanic because your time in the darkness is limited by the number of steps you can take. By swapping with a statue placed closer to the area you need to reach, you can expand the range in which you can travel.
That's just one of the ways the statues are required to solve the puzzles of The Sojourn. Soon you will encounter stages where the statues serve as keys to open gates, or are duplicated in machines, or have runes which let you activate them in the light.
With each new function, the complexity of the puzzles you face goes up, all while requiring the simplest of inputs.
A Beautiful World for a Beautiful Game
The Sojourn is such an elegantly executed game that it deserves an elegant world in which to play it, and once again, it delivers.
The visuals are often beautiful, colorful, and occasionally surreal. Just wandering around the gorgeous levels is as an enjoyable experience as a walking simulator. And just as those games, there are often wonderful monuments to gaze at.
The game takes a similarly esoteric approach to storytelling. Rather than relying on NPC dialogues or extended cutscenes, the game uses environmental storytelling and the occasional brief on-screen message. You find yourself drawn along through the puzzles while absorbing what you can of the world with each new level.
- Engrossing puzzles continue to find intriguing ways to challenge your brain with each new level
- A beautiful world is stunning to explore as you reason your way through puzzles
- Simple starting mechanics with a slow-but-steady increase creates a smooth learning curve for players
- Slower pace may not be ideal for all gamers
- Plotting often requires players to put pieces together, which may leave some players behind
I came into The Sojourn without any lofty expectations. Perhaps it was a case of once bitten, twice shy after having my hopes dashed in a similar experience with Vane.
While I may not have come in expecting much, The Sojourn took little time to set its hooks and win me over, and my first sitdown with the game lasted a full 90 minutes longer than I had budgeted for. It was only a complete inability to remain awake at such a late hour which finally saw me quit back to my desktop and finally go to bed.
While The Sojourn falls just short of being a game that everyone needs to play, as there are some gamers who just know from the description of "slow and serene play" that it's not their cup of tea, it's worth your time if anything about the game sounds intriguing to you.
You won't be disappointed by the time you spend navigating its puzzles and taking in its beautiful world.
[Note: A copy of The Sojourn was provided by Iceberg Interactive for the purpose of this review.]