It’s already late evening. The family naps in front of the TV, their dog at their feet. Suddenly the TV becomes static, the ground shakes. While the parents are sleeping peacefully, the baby moves. Oh no. I immediately expect nothing but the worst from the kid, seeing whose game I’m playing – the developer of Jumpship was co-founded by Dino Patti, who himself co-founded Playdead, the Limbo studio and Inside. Both are not exactly known for being nice to their hero children.
Somerville has clear stylistic parallels with Playdead. The mechanics of 3D side-scrolling and light puzzles are similar, and while Playdead’s Chris Olsen had been working on the graphics long before Patti joined, the beautiful lighting effects and minimalist environments led many people to confuse Somerville with a Playdead game.
Tonally, however, Somerville is in a league of its own. While I won’t spoil what happens to the baby, Somerville’s protagonist is actually the father. After the sinister shaking actually turns out to be an alien invasion, he becomes separated from the rest of his family and must go looking for them. Our protagonist is nameless and almost mute, as Somerville tells his entire story non-verbally. I hear only the man’s groans of exertion as he moves heavy objects or tries to recover from a hard fall. More importantly, he’s really just a human – someone who spent a typical evening in front of the TV before the arrival of the aliens.
Somerville is based on a supernatural power that a person accidentally acquires, a kind of magical beam of light that can melt any alien structures. If it touches any type of current, such as water, a junction box, or light, it can spread magical light to hard-to-reach places. Later, he also acquires a way of hardening previously melted structures.
However, dad does not just sneak into the center by walking fast. It soon becomes clear that the aliens are still there to pick up the stragglers, so you’ll have to make your way past them. Some of these aliens are huge, so the moments you encounter them are some of the best moments in the game. There is something about a giant monster walking through a forest that makes you feel small and vulnerable.
It’s a game that doesn’t want its hero to die, it’s a game that maintains its lead, and by extension, so do I.
And dad is vulnerable. He may die, but Somerville doesn’t make a show of it. It’s a game that doesn’t want its hero to die, it’s a game that maintains its lead, and by extension, so do I. being awkward to position dad so that he grabs something the way he should. He’ll be standing in front of a gate or a button, clenching and unclenching his fist like a sim who can’t get the dishes they want to wash, but the tactile feel of doing something as simple as pressing a button and pulling a cart is actually oddly pleasing, thanks to some amazing animations.
At its best, Somerville, like the Playdead games, is frankly – yes, I’ll say the forbidden word here – cinematic. It just knows how to use its often almost Resident Evil camera angles to maximum effect, and while it’s not a game that wants to stand around and sniff roses, I took the time to stop and take a look when I could.
However, the Somerville locations could be a bit more interesting. In turn, his puzzles could also possibly have been more difficult. There are a few standout moments early on, like a big abandoned music festival, but most of the game takes place in caves, which I feel is a waste of time. Naturally, game design influences locations, because if you’re looking for a place with minecarts, levers, and spotlights to manipulate, the mine is the obvious choice, but not the most visually interesting.
However, despite the many caves, Somerville is not a dark game, and the atmosphere is not as oppressive as one might expect. He manages to say so many hopeful things completely without words, just using subtle sounds and animations. Whenever the main character falls and just needs to rest, clutching his sides, I feel that somewhere deep inside me, the gamer staggered.
You don’t spend a lot of time with the whole family, but when you do, it’s so emotional that I would love it more. Because, frankly, you’re all alone in those big moments—nothing more than a dad climbing in a cave, and God knows you can already have that in any other game. But the little friendly touches Somerville puts in is what makes it stand out, whether it’s your dog or an unexpected friendly face coming to the rescue, it’s what elevates Somerville from just playing hide-and-seek with aliens to something that worth the time. .
However, Somerville couldn’t quite convince me about the last third, mainly because I wasn’t sure what was going on. Unlike a game like Signalis, which intentionally hides its intentions, this was more like a case where the game runs into the limitations of non-verbal storytelling. For example, the way you unlock several different endings for Somerville feels completely arbitrary and, frankly, boring. The endings also feel somewhat abrupt, making Somerville seem like a game that has a good feel for the main plot but perhaps not much for its ending.
With a maximum of 6 hours of playing time, Somerville could perhaps have been a bit longer to make his final more elegant. I know it’s debatable, but after everything I’ve been through with this family, none of Somerville’s goodbyes has left me as satisfied as the others.