Well, I’m sure we’ve done this rodeo… many, many times.
From Portal to Pneuma, Qube to Quantum Conundrum, Braid to The Bridge, blah blah blah, we have another one after so long. The ol’ narrative puzzle-platformer dance that’s been executed across many a universe, and many a pretension. Welcome to The Sojourn.
This is the debut title from UK-based studio Shifting Tides, founded by four people. Formed in January of 2018, the three leads all saw work at Raspina Studio, developers of the middling FPS E.T. Armies, whereas their musician has been working on titles like the recent Children of Morta and the Kickstarter darling Lona: Realm of Colors. The publishing is also being handled by Iceberg Interactive, the Icelanders responsible for publishing titles like Killing Floor 2 and Conarium.
You play as umm… damn, uhh… well, do you remember the into to Pneuma: Breath of Life? Ok, imagine that, but instead of some annoying snarky Brit who thinks he’s God, it’s two orbs of concentrated light that brighten your way forward. They’ll be helping you banish the darkness, while also helping you take advantage of it for the game’s many, many puzzles.
Now, with these first-person puzzle platformers, it’s typical to see both the narrative and gameplay take turns to be the center stage. The Bridge and Braid were infamous for this, seeing you complete truly mind-bending puzzles, and then your reward would be a soliloquy written by a guy who loves run on sentences. People in glass houses aside, The Sojourn seems to have more a focus on gameplay, and letting the narrative become purely environmental in framing.
The Sojourn’s main puzzle ingredients come from dual-world gameplay and various types of statues. While in “the dark world”, you can activate certain objects, like statues you can swap positions with, stone harps that play melodies which build bridges, and duplicators for statues. There’s a lot of variation on this one trick, and over the course of your 10-to-15-hour adventure, you will see yourself tested.
There’s no real world strategies you can apply, you’re only allowed to do what Shifting Tides allow you to do in their own rule-books. For example, If there’s a tunnel of “Dark Light” aiming at a statue that you can swap with, then you can still swap with it even if you yourself are not in the dark world. It sounds a bit silly when I put it like that, sure, but it’s still really fun to figure out and understand.
Playing through The Sojourn was like playing Portal if the lead designer was Gerry Kasparov. What seems like a boring game of “activate the bloody switch, fat-ass”, quickly turns into a Rube Goldberg machine of opportunities and “Oh shit, of course!” moments. Both gratifying and easy to understand, but hard to master.
Part of the beauty comes from it finding complexity in simplicity. You’re never not playing with stationary statues, and there’s usually never more than 5 at a time. Hell, some of the most evil puzzles use the least pieces. Placement is everything, and there’s always a deeper meaning. It shows foresight, but as time …