It’s late night. A household is dozing in entrance of the TV, their canine at their toes. Out of the blue the TV turns to static, the bottom shakes. Whereas the mother and father peacefully sleep on, the toddler stirs. Oh no. I immediately anticipate nothing however the worst for the toddler, seeing whose recreation I’m taking part in – developer Jumpship was co-founded by Dino Patti, himself co-founder of Playdead, the studio behind Limbo and Inside. Each aren’t precisely identified for treating their baby protagonists properly.
Somerville has clear stylistic parallels to Playdead’s work. Its 3D sidescrolling and lightweight puzzle mechanics are related, and although Playdead’s Chris Olsen labored on the artwork lengthy earlier than Patti joined him, the gorgeous lighting results and minimalist environments have led lots of people to initially confuse Somerville as a Playdead recreation.
Tonally, nevertheless, Somerville is in a league all of its personal. Whereas I received’t spoil what occurs to the toddler, Somerville’s protagonist is definitely the daddy. After the ominous shaking truly seems to be an alien invasion, he will get separated from the remainder of his household and has to set off to seek out them. Our protagonist is anonymous and near-mute, as Somerville tells its total story non-verbally. I solely hear the person’s groans of exertion as he strikes heavy gadgets or tries to recuperate from a heavy fall. Extra importantly, he’s actually only a man – somebody who had a traditional night in entrance of the telly earlier than the aliens got here.
On the coronary heart of Somerville is a supernatural energy the person randomly acquires, a type of magical mild beam that may soften away any alien buildings. If he touches any sort of present, corresponding to water, a junction field, or a light-weight, he can unfold the magical mild throughout hard-to-reach areas. Later, he additionally acquires a approach to harden beforehand melted buildings.
Nonetheless, Dad isn’t simply making his manner downtown, strolling quick. Quickly it turns into clear that the aliens are nonetheless round to gather some stragglers, so you’ll have to sneak your well past them. A few of these aliens are huge, making the moments you encounter them a few of the finest moments within the recreation. There’s simply one thing a couple of big monster stomping by way of the woods that leaves you feeling small and weak.
This can be a recreation that doesn’t need its hero to die, it is a recreation cheering for its lead, and by extension, so am I.
And the Dad is weak. He can die, however Somerville doesn’t make a spectacle out of it. This can be a recreation that doesn’t need its hero to die, it is a recreation cheering for its lead, and by extension, so am I. Each the puzzles and sneaking sequences are reasonably easy, if I ever obtained caught it’s as a result of it may be fiddly to place Dad in order that he grabs one thing the best way he’s presupposed to. He’ll stand in entrance of a gate or button, clenching and unclenching his fist like a Sim who can’t attain the dishes they need to clear up, however the tactile sensation of doing one thing so simple as holding down a button and pulling a cart is definitely oddly nice, due to some beautiful animations.
At its finest, Somerville, very like the Playdead video games is downright – sure, I’m going to say the forbidden phrase right here – cinematic. It simply is aware of easy methods to use its usually nearly Resident Evil-like digicam angles to most impact, and whereas it’s not the type of recreation that wishes to face round and scent the roses, I took the time to cease and stare every time I might.
Somerville’s places might have been somewhat extra attention-grabbing, nevertheless. In flip, its puzzles might maybe have been extra intricate, too. There are some standouts originally, like a big, abandoned music competition, however a lot of the recreation takes place in caves, which to me looks as if a little bit of a waste. Naturally, the sport design influences the places, as a result of in the event you’re in search of a spot with minecarts, levers, and floodlights to control, a mine goes to be an apparent alternative, simply not the visually most attention-grabbing one.
Nonetheless, regardless of its many caves, Somerville isn’t a darkish recreation and the environment isn’t as oppressive as you may anticipate. It manages to say an excellent many hopeful issues totally with out phrases, simply with the usage of some delicate sounds and animations. At any time when the protagonist takes a tumble and simply must take a second, clutching his sides, I really feel that someplace deep in my gamer swayback.
You don’t spend a variety of time with the entire household, however whenever you do, it’s so emotive I’d have beloved extra of that. As a result of truthfully, in these necessary moments, you’re on their lonesome – nothing greater than a dad scrambling round in a cave, and God is aware of you possibly can have already got that in some other recreation. However the small pleasant touches Somerville invests in are what makes it stand out, whether or not that’s your canine or an sudden pleasant face coming to the rescue, they’re what elevates Somerville from easy hide-and-seek with aliens to one thing value spending your time with.
Nonetheless, Somerville couldn’t utterly promote me on its final third, primarily as a result of I wasn’t positive what was occurring. Not like a recreation corresponding to Signalis that purposefully obscures its intentions, this felt extra like a case of a recreation arising towards the bounds of non-verbal storytelling. The best way you unlock Somerville’s a number of completely different endings, for instance, feels utterly arbitrary and truthfully type of boring. The endings additionally really feel type of abrupt, making Somerville really feel like a recreation that had a good suggestion of the primary physique of its plot, however perhaps not a lot its ending.
With at most 6 hours of playtime, Somerville might maybe have been only a tiny bit longer to arrange its ending extra elegantly. Controversial, I do know, however after all the things I went by way of with this household, not one of the goodbyes Somerville supplied actually left me as happy as the remainder.