With games that are hard to judge by truly objective measures I instead try to focus on whether or not the game achieved what it set out to accomplish. This is because games of (subjectively) lower quality tend to have a lot of loose ends left in them, tendrils of mechanics or story that were meant to be part of the original vision but didn’t make it in for one reason or another. These holes often then affect the rest of the game, making the experience less coherent and by consequence less enjoyable. Games that have a clear focus on what they wanted to do on the other hand make other sacrifices that don’t impact on the core game, making them a much more cohesive experience overall. The Sojourn falls unfortunately falls into the former category, seemingly having a strong idea of what it wanted to accomplish but with dozens of threads of unfinished ideas running through it, leaving what was left a middling puzzler game at best.
Probably the main problem with this is the story. I know there’s one there as the game shows you some images which are seemingly telling your tale, but apart from a few key points established in the first few levels it’s never really expanded upon from there. Indeed after the first hour the game shifts from the typical indie puzzle driven story experience to a straight up puzzler that’s only filled with a bunch of spiritual-esque writings. For games that are as light on with the puzzle mechanics as The Sojourn is there really needs to be other elements that’ll keep you engaged as the graphics only go so far.
Which is indeed where I think the vast majority of the development effort was focused on for this game. The visuals are quite good, coming to us via the Unreal 4 engine and making good use of all the tools it has to offer. The style is in the very popular low poly, low texture, highly stylized aesthetic; something which I certainly don’t mind at all but is something I feel that will be used to date games from this era in years to come. Performance is also good too, even in the larger, more open environments that have a lot of things going on in the background. If you told me that the majority of the team working on this game were predominantly from the art departments of other games I would absolutely believe you.
The Sojourn is a part walking-simulator, mostly puzzle platformer that’s main mechanic is the use of the standard two different worlds with different properties idea. This means you’ll be finding more and more inventive ways of switching between worlds, interacting with objects in different ways, etc. all in the name of getting from one end of the map to the other. Initially this is broken up every so often with statues appearing that seem to depict events of the past but that seems to completely disappear once you reach the tower. From there the game is a straight puzzler game with only a few more mechanics thrown in the mix. All in all it’s a pretty basic game, which is likely an attraction for some, but for me it really wasn’t enough.
You see most indie puzzlers I’ve played typically start off easy and gradually ramp up the difficulty to the point where you have to spend a good few minutes analysing a puzzle before you can even attempt it. Not so for The Sojourn as even the last few puzzles I was doing could usually be figured out immediately upon looking at them and the vast majority didn’t take more than a couple minutes to get past. This isn’t so much to do with their simplicity, more the use of the additional mechanics really didn’t add much more difficulty to the game making a lot of the puzzles essentially identical.
This is what killed the game for me as after the first hour it started to get really repetitive. Sure I probably could’ve powered through the levels but given that the story didn’t seem to go anywhere for a good hour and the tower just seemed to be increasing the number of puzzles I needed to complete for each level I just decided to call it quits before I became really bored with it. Who knows maybe there is some amazing story after that point (the achievements seem to indicate there’s a few more things to see) but if you can’t keep me engaged past 2 hours I have severe doubts you can do much beyond that.
Which is a shame really as I’m the kind of person who’s usually willing to put up with a game being deliberately obtuse for a good long while before a pay off. So if people like me aren’t going to stick around then I’m not quite sure who will. Perhaps the easy and repetitive nature of the puzzles might attract the slightly more casual crowd that’s not looking for much more than a few minutes of distraction every so often. I really don’t know.
The Sojourn promises a lot with its visuals and a mysterious world to explore but ultimately fails to deliver an engaging experience, both in terms of story and mechanics. The puzzles themselves are nothing new, using well trodden tropes in mediocre ways that don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. The story, which seems to basically stop happening after an hour, isn’t substantial enough to even lay criticism to and certainly isn’t sufficient to keep you entertained between the monotonous puzzles you’ll be solving. Really The Sojourn is just a very basic game that feels like it was aspiring to more and just simply didn’t get there.
The Sojourn is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $37.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 44% of the achievements unlocked.