Somerville Review – I wanted to believe

Despite the fact that aliens exist as one of the most frequent enemies in video games, we rarely get to experience them from the point of view of the ants under their shoes. So often we are tasked with shooting aliens in space battles or shooting them to death in the back of military vehicles, and the lack of a proper alien invasion story along the lines of Signs or Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been a personal nuisance for years. For the most part, somerville It finally gives us such a game, but that rare setup I’ve been hoping for is ultimately hampered by both story and gameplay decisions that keep it from feeling impactful.

Created in part by a former Playdead developer (Inside, Limbo) at a new studio called Jumpship, Somerville looks like those historical puzzle adventures. The color palette favors darkness, the story unfolds without dialogue of any kind, and you’ll explore moving through a world filled with threats, solving puzzles to overcome each obstacle and outrun impregnable enemies.

In Somerville, you are the patriarch of a family of four that also includes your wife, baby and dog. It doesn’t take long for the story to pick up; in a matter of minutes, you go from passed out on the couch on a typical night at home to seeking shelter as otherworldly pillars fall from the sky. Separated from his wife and son, the nameless father and his four-legged friend embark on a quest to reunite with the others.

Somerville’s artwork is moody and atmospheric enough.

At first, Somerville feels exactly like what I expected. A filmic opening credits sequence follows the family car from above to the beat of soulful music like the opening minutes of The Shining. Going from 0 to 60 in a jiffy also seems like the right way to introduce the game’s alien threat. The characters don’t understand what’s going on, so neither do you. And the driving force behind the story, the gathering and the security, are easy to understand. Start strong.

But one of Somerville’s first differences from similar games quickly begins to leave it behind its predecessors. The game feels like a 2D (or 2.5) adventure, but there’s often a lot more space to explore on the Z-axis than you’d expect, allowing you to zoom in or out of the screen. This, along with the sometimes unclear road layout, creates routine problems with depth perception, causing you to bump into things often.

In quieter moments, this just means groping a bit inelegantly, but during chase sequences, it often means it’s game over, as such scenes are often designed with the idea of ​​you moving on to through, over, under or around each obstacle.

A low number of puzzles feels detrimental at times. At four hours long, I was surprised to find that the last hour is virtually devoid of puzzles. Much of the game is based on a special ability that the protagonist is imbued with: a way to manipulate the alien matter that corrupts the world, allowing him to liquefy or solidify the earth around him. The possibilities of such a mechanic feel obvious as soon as this magical touch is given to it, but the game strangely ignores using it cleverly for much of the game. When used, no puzzle or puzzle section does much to elevate early uses of the mechanic.

It’s strangely structured in other ways too, albeit with more success. Aliens vary in shape, size, and function, and collectively feel unfathomable to human eyes as a result. The game does well to make them feel intimidating through its unknown intentions. While individual beings can clearly telegraph that they mean harm to you, understanding their greater purpose feels like trying to teach a spider to read. It’s in this way that Somerville is best presented as an alien game unlike virtually any other video game, where it aligns with Chiang’s Story of Your Life more than Insomniac’s Resistance.

Some clever early puzzles don't really build as the game progresses.
Some clever early puzzles don’t really build as the game progresses.


The game also uses the divine presence of these beings to play with space-time and perception in clever ways that I shouldn’t spoil here. Suffice to say, sometimes what you think you’re seeing isn’t the truth of the matter, and lifting the veil to rediscover reality is a choice you can make more than once in the game.

These uniquely structured and difficult to speak story beats are Somerville’s greatest attributes. On the contrary, I was surprised to find that the most intimate family drama doesn’t sit quite as well. Being separated from loved ones early on, the ensuing trip should have been a punch to the stomach, but the reunion ends up taking a backseat to a bigger picture that feels harder to relate to, telling a bigger story. family of fostered resistance. To that end at least, the game offers a few sneaky alternate endings – I found three and I suspect there may be more.

Hiding the secrets that change your destiny provides a satisfying, if unwieldy, layer of player agency in a story where the threat is virtually incomprehensible as a species. You can’t understand his intentions and therefore you almost stumble upon better or worse endings for yourself. Thankfully, the game allows you to easily view alternate versions of events, which collectively help paint a more vibrant picture of what Somerville is trying to say, even when that message feels only partially delivered by the game’s true endpoint.

Short games aren’t inherently flawed, but Somerville needed a bit more time to air its main themes. The scope of the alien invasion story looks at both the macro and micro relationships between people in ways that only end up scratching the surface of saying something interesting, and while it builds an interesting universe that leaves me with questions about its alien overlords, I was surprised. to find in myself an indifference to find the truth that is out there.

Leave a Comment