The Sojourn proved to be one of my most long lasting impressions from this year’s Indie Game Media Exchange during E3. That demo made me anxious to try out the full game, thanks to the strong art style that cemented the presentation and the easygoing gameplay that made such an impact on me at that point, in the middle of so many other games that could’ve easily taken up this spot weren’t for these factors.
Developer Shifting Tides has done a fantastic job carrying the core idea introduced in that demo and shifting into high gear for a bona fide game. The Sojourn is a first-person puzzler that never quite gets too complex, but the core rules that it sets up make up for a great set of quick levels that never got tiring as I played, although some definitely stumped me. The best part of games like this, such as Valve’s classic Portal and Croteam’s The Talos Principle, is that they never treat you like an idiot as they lay out the tools you need to finish a particular puzzle, while continuously ramping up the challenge the further you get into them. The Sojourn does this expertly, and for as simple as its levels might be in comparison to any of its genre brethren, it still makes you feel clever when you finish them.
The main conceit of The Sojourn’s ever shifting world that builds in front of your eyes is manipulating energy and making do with the little that is given to you. At first, you can only step into a power source that carries you into a parallel dimension, allowing you to step onto and see objects hidden in the normal world, such as bridges, but you soon start using that power to teleport yourself by switching places with an obelisk of sorts, or even provide energy to utensils such as a music box and a sort of propagation dish that concentrates that power into a beam. Things never get too complicated, but still require some out-of-the-box thinking on your part, usually resulting in a tightly-executed plan that you end up coming up with on the fly, in a completely organic way.
As I mentioned, even though there are a number of different gameplay elements at hand in the game, it never really gets out of hand. Puzzles are contained to small-ish spaces that make do with the limited scope to provide admirable challenges with a handful of obstacles that you have to get through somehow. Be it powering a lock that prevents you from crossing a gate, but not before figuring out how to cross a gap by jumping through that parallel dimension in the limited time you are given to do so.
Eventually you are tasked with going through a number of trials within a tower of sorts, and that’s when things get ever trickier, thanks to an extra layer of potential challenges you can partake if you want. That’s because The Sojourn starts throwing in text scrolls that are located oh so close to the final objective to the level, but require additional fiddling in order for you to reach them, only showing up after you complete whatever the challenge the room provides. The only real bonus to getting to these is an indirect hint at some of the backstory surrounding the game, and not much else, but man if it’s not rewarding to conquer that extra little bit every single time!
There’s a singular spectacle to The Sojourn that’s incredibly subtle and elegant, and at the same time contained in the way it’s delivered. Like the quiet that sets in when you take a gander into what seems to be a developing story that’s wordlessly told by the way the world builds itself before you, or via the statues positioned at the end of every puzzles, or by simply trying to figure out a puzzle solution and nailing it. Moments make up the experience throughout the game, courageously taking the time to have you sit and enjoy it without being forceful. It sounds pretentious, I know, but it’s really captivating and at that, it’s successful at presenting a game experience that’s entirely peaceful and relaxing, and definitely something you’ll discover you sorely need, whether or not you realize it.