I was delighted from the very beginning. The toddler walks around a room filled with nothing but the static light of the TV while the parents sleep on the couch. This is the most unlikely beginning of the invasion story, but it gives you all the information you need. In the moments that follow, a low-key, personal disaster movie begins, and I was hooked for the hours that went on.
Jumpship has created a game that is hard to define. While it looks a bit like Studio co-founder Dino Patti’s Inside (which he produced at Playdead), Somerville is on an entirely grander, more beautiful scale. Despite some hiccups, this is a great sci-fi adventure and an amazing achievement by writer/director Chris Olsen and his team.
This article will be short, only in part because I’m pressed for time. I just don’t want to talk too much about what’s going on in Somerville – a game that itself packs a lot into a fairly short runtime. On a purely functional level, it’s kind of an evolution of Inside, as you spend most of the game walking around with your character, more or less sightseeing. There’s more exploration here than Inside and the environments are more interactive, but it’s not a platformer by any description.
Somerville is still very similar to what I think you would describe as an “interactive experience” rather than a “playable video game for gamers”, but you can roam around with a little more freedom than I expected. This resulted in a few nasty control quirks, such as the character sometimes not wanting to do something you clearly know you need to do (like turn a crank). It’s mildly annoying at worst – doesn’t break the game – but can unfortunately be a bit of a break from immersion.
Shame, because this immersion is something. There are mysteries – most of which are not too dumb, relying generally on common sense – but the star here is the world itself. Subtle details that imply the events that happened. You arrived after the story was told, and can only piece together what happened as you go forward in an attempt to rebuild your own life after a cataclysmic event that destroyed the world.
There will no doubt be a lot of critical thinking about what Somerville says, but for me it turned out to be quite simple, despite the fact that I have not yet fully understood the climaxes of the game. I’m eager to delve into additional playthroughs and hear what others think of certain scenes, but I’m left with a deep sense of loss and regret. At one point, my face was looking at me as I was playing my Steam Deck in the night, my eyes filled with tears – a moment so perfect, so emotional that I still think about it. Days later.
Truth be told, I’m not the biggest thinker when it comes to media. I watch a movie, I read a book, I play a game, and I take it at face value. If there’s a meaning behind a Reddit thread with 10k posts, then it may not have been conveyed well enough. Somerville doesn’t have this problem. It affects everything right, and a game that I really can’t recommend strongly enough.