by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
What makes a good puzzle game? There are lots of things, but I would argue that consistency is important. The best puzzle games establish rules about a world, and then have you solve puzzles within those rules. This is often the reason that some of the classic LucasArts adventure games (though funny as hell) occasionally fall flat with their puzzles, sometimes being too obtuse or requiring you to combine elements in an utterly nonsensical way. Great puzzle games like Portal and Portal 2 give you a fixed means with which to interact with the world, and all puzzles are an extension of that. The Sojourn, a new puzzle game by Shifting Tides, is quite similar.
The first thing you see in the game is a sprite made of pure light in a dark room. Quite appropriate, considering that the game centres around the interaction between light and dark. Following this sprite, you are lead out in the sun, and observe a gorgeous landscape and town, very much of a Mediterranean architectural style. As you continue to follow this being of light, you are faced with puzzle after puzzle, gradually exposing more and more of the world.
The puzzles in The Sojourn utilize two states of being: light and dark. When you are light, you can wander around normally, but when you are dark, you can use the power to interact with objects, such as swapping positions with statues, or building bridges by activating a musical harp. This dark power is limited, however, and it will drain as you walk. Most of the puzzles are based on variations of this. Some obstacles will appear when you are in dark mode, but disappear in the light.
You can also use relics that allow you to interact with objects without being in the dark state. On top of this, mirrors are introduced, which create paths of the dark power, as well as chambers which will copy statues. It’s puzzle 101 really - create the rules of the world (in this case, light and dark states) and then build upwards from that. Honestly, it’s done wonderfully. The puzzles required me to think, but I never found myself stuck for so long that I got frustrated, a rare state of affairs in even the best puzzle game.
One thing that must be said for The Sojourn is that there isn’t much narrative. The story is mostly told through the statues of a family, as well as their child and the individuals he interacts with. It all feels a little too themey, with one statue obviously representing greed, and another, war, all trying to tempt the child. Since two light sprites lead you at the start of the game, I would’ve been fine simply imagining they were his parents trying to find out what happened to him, and that being the central journey. But it has to be said that The Sojourn has a beautiful solitude - the scenery and the way it builds itself as you enter a new area is incredibly pretty.
It could also be said that, though beautiful, these areas don’t really do much for the narrative. In terms of puzzle-game storytelling I’ve always thought Portal stands out for the way it uses the environment to tell the story of Black Mesa, while also adding threat and peril. The Sojourn has excellent puzzles, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any threat/drive beyond basic curiosity - though that’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on preference.
The Sojourn is a great game - its puzzles are challenging, yet rarely frustrate, creating a layered experience which builds upon the central mechanics of the light and dark states. Its environments also offer you something gorgeous to look at while you’re contemplating a solution. It does less well in terms of the narrative, which is a little too simplistic in terms of its themes. Also, the puzzles/environment don’t really feel heavily related to the plot at all. But the narrative isn’t in your face, and is quite easy to disregard if you’re not interested. In the end, puzzles are what matter most in these games, and I would definitely recommend The Sojourn to any puzzler fans out there.
Beautiful game, smart puzzles, builds on the light and dark system
Environment isn’t utilized very well for storytelling, narrative feels a little too themey and simplistic