|Platforms||PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One|
Impressive art direction and a solid puzzle-solving mechanic can’t save The Sojourn from being decidedly drab.
If ever there was an award for Best First Impressions, The Sojourn would surely be on that shortlist. Everything about it feels like it was designed to make a roaring first impression; from its soft pastel palette to its somber soundtrack – The Sojourn is clearly aiming for love at first sight. It’s dressed to impress, hoping a promising introduction will convince you to take it home. Spend a little more time with it, however, and the cracks start to show. Or rather, its vibrant outer shell falls apart into colorful, pearly fragments, revealing a solid beige heart.
The trouble with The Sojourn isn’t that it’s a bad game. It’s not tedious, not frustrating, neither too hard nor too simple. No, the trouble with The Sojourn is that it’s bland, and it’s bland because it plays things too safe. Perhaps, The Sojourn’s only sin is that it straddles the middle line between extremes too well, afraid or unwilling to venture into any territory that might potentially offend player sensibilities. The harsh truth is, The Sojourn is disappointingly monotonous, and it’s in large part due to its developers’ lack of daring.
The central conceit of The Sojourn is that the world has two sides: the Light World, where most of us live, and the Dark World that is hidden to human eyes. The player character has the unique ability to see both, switching between the two Worlds at will. There are some items that you can only interact with in the Dark World, and the various puzzles you find during your time in the game depend on you switching between worlds to carve a path through impassable terrain.
While the first few puzzles are quite fun, introducing you to new ways to look at the world around and getting you into a proper puzzle-solving mindset, it only takes an hour or two before the novelty wears off and the real issue becomes evident. The basic solutions you learn in the first few stages are recycled and reused until suddenly the game is over and you feel like you haven’t progressed.
That ‘Eureka!’ moment that David Roberts of Games Radar described when playing a similarly ‘storyless’ game in The Witness, well, it never comes. The game never gets much more challenging, and the solutions follow a clear formula. If you’ve learned A, B, and C, getting through the game is just a matter of mixing and matching different combinations of A, B, and C to arrive at the solution. It’s boring and monotonous and so, so underwhelming because The Sojourn is a game you want to love. It’s so darn gorgeous!
There’s no denying that The Sojourn is beautiful, somber, and often awe-inspiring. Visually it looks and feels like equal parts Bioshock Infinite and The Witness, with the quiet, daydream-like quality of Journey. Much like Journey, a sense of loneliness pervades every moment of your time in The Sojourn. You make your way through the empty remnants of an old civilization, their village structures and homes magically materializing around you as you progress.
There isn’t much in ways of a story, but there are enough clues to find that to draw conclusions about what happened to this village and the people that lived here. Occasionally, you come across frozen statues of its people in interesting poses. For example, there’s a point in the game where a set of statues of soldiers appears before you, their pikes pointed at the heads of blindfolded civilians apparently begging for mercy.
It’s during these quiet moments that the game truly excels, and it works because the world of The Sojourn is such a sight for the eyes. The game’s highs are solely tied to its visual splendors, and ultimately it’s the architecture that you remember at the end of it all. The floating setpieces and mythical tombs, the magical portals and abandoned village markets.
The world of The Sojourn is a memorable one filled with stunning set pieces and a lived-in quality, it just begs to be explored. Sadly, the core mechanic that ties its numerous set pieces together, the dual-world switching, lacks depth. The experience as a whole feels contrived and soulless in the end.