Somerville is the latest sci-fi thriller in the sidescrolling genre that's finally available on Xbox and PC. It's a highly anticipated independently developed game brought to you by some of the team that created gems such as Limbo and Inside. In fact, regardless if the developer, Jumpship, wants you to see the similarities or not, they are undeniably there. If you have had the pleasure to play through Inside and Limbo, then you know how much of a compliment this is.
Somerville follows a husband, wife, child, and dog in the wake of an alien invasion. What starts as the family cuddling on the couch enjoying a late-night movie, ends with colossal alien spears being shot into the ground throughout the town. You play as the husband who is quickly separated from his family just after the invasion begins. Similar to many adventure games, you will face many puzzles and some dangerous foes across your excursion to reconvene with your family.
Although a game centered around an alien invasion will unequivocally catch an audience’s eye, without question the most significant parts of Somerville are its art design and camera movement. The story is worth mentioning as well, but the production and development are indeed what makes this game so special.
Beginning firstly with camera movement. Somerville is second to a very small list of games when it comes to the creative ways the camera moves. With this being an independent game, Jumpship can genuinely experiment with how it wants to tell its story. In most cases it should, otherwise, it could suffer from being quite redundant. Luckily for everyone who sits down and enjoys this game, Jumpship truly rewards us with the wonderful ways in which it pushes the story forward.
Unlike most sidescrolling games, Somerville hits you with a barrage of movements, angles, and positions. You will find yourself distracted by the way the camera pans in creative ways. It will become a reliance to help assist you in answering the question we all sometimes face in video games, “am I going the right way?” Some of the best games we have today are the ones that merge and implement filmmaking techniques. Although this is an independent game, it still successfully executes a cinematic feel.
Art design is something that hardly needs to be discussed as anyone who has seen anything about this game knows how special it is. I found myself screenshotting multiple frames of simply walking into a perfectly lit and colored room, or finally escaping a cave only to be stunned by the eerie yet breathtaking world that is revealed as I step out onto it. The color pallet used to help bring depth within the game is simply the best part of this game. There were millions of ways they could have gone about designing the invasion, and the art team at Jumpship chose the perfect way. Vibrant reds, greens, and purples are splashed throughout your playthrough without overdoing it. You get the quintessential amount of tint to keep this atmosphere from being nothing but a dark and dull wasteland.
The score of Somerville is worth mentioning as well. It's a subtle piano-inspired theme that plays at the ideal moments while trekking across your journey. It is never played as a Grand Theft Auto radio station or even at an intense moment to help heighten the severity of the moment. Rather, the score plays during moments when you are able to breathe. It's a bold choice not to use fast-paced, augmented sounds and music in a game that can already feel so on-edge, however, I feel the lack of music makes the game that much more special. The quietness of each scene sets you in a true feeling of emptiness and loneliness. When the quaint score comes on, you are at a moment of peace. Something you search for during the majority of your playthrough.
Somerville, while being an excellent roughly three-hour experience, has its problems. I hardly found any bugs or glitches worth discussing in this review, but rather pacing issues. You will find yourself alone for at least half of the time spent within the world, and in that time you face a bevy of puzzles. These puzzles mostly come as roadblocks in your path that cause you to stop and think. Puzzles can be relatively enjoyable in gaming, however, when there are multiple puzzles back-to-back that all bring you a more confusing challenge, the frustration can begin to build. I found that the game could be completed in around two hours if you were able to progress through the puzzles with little to no issues. With that being said, some of these puzzles will hinder most players from progressing at all and will likely cause them to search online for the answer, or even give up on the game entirely.
In the game, you will learn two abilities. These abilities are the only way you can carry on to find your family. It's a clever and unique abstraction that will have you interested at first. The problem lies within the repetitiveness of using the abilities. This leads me to my only other noticeable issues with the game. The ending. The story of Somerville is altogether great. The message behind it and the multiple ways of interpreting what the hell is happening are excellent. The only hitch is the pacing across the ending. Before going forward, it is important to note that there are multiple ways to finish the game so this can possibly speed up the process of completing a bit. Nonetheless, the mechanics and traversal of the ending become a bit redundant. It's hard to imagine someone carrying on to the credits without asking at least once, “again?”
On the contrary, although the ending can feel like it is dragging a bit, the final scene and the overall concept undoubtedly make up for it. There is some fantastic imagery towards the end of Somerville that has simply not been created in any other game to this date.
Somerville is an independent sidescrolling hybrid that pushes the boundaries of the loosely placed genres it falls under. It's a short but exciting ride that doesn’t overstay its welcome. With the beautiful art style and intricate story, it's hard not to recommend this game. You’ll find yourself questioning the ideas within the game's core while clenching your controller in fear of getting abducted. The invasion within Somerville has the same tropes of any other alien invasion film or game you have experienced before, but it forces you to think outside of the normal allegories it introduced, to a deeper and more intimate meaning.
Game Score: 4/5