It’s late night. A household is dozing in entrance of the TV, their canine at their toes. Suddenly the TV turns to static, the bottom shakes. While the dad and mom peacefully sleep on, the toddler stirs. Oh no. I immediately count on nothing however the worst for the toddler, seeing whose game I’m enjoying – developer Jumpship was co-founded by Dino Patti, himself co-founder of Playdead, the studio behind Limbo and Inside. Both aren’t precisely identified for treating their baby protagonists nicely.
Somerville has clear stylistic parallels to Playdead’s work. Its 3D sidescrolling and lightweight puzzle mechanics are related, and the gorgeous lighting results and minimalist environments have led lots of people to initially confuse Somerville as a Playdead game.
Tonally, nevertheless, Somerville is in a league all of its personal. While I gained’t spoil what occurs to the toddler, Somerville’s protagonist is definitely the daddy. After the ominous shaking really 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 objects or tries to recuperate from a heavy fall. More importantly, he’s actually only a man – somebody who had a standard night in entrance of the telly earlier than the aliens got here.
At the guts of Somerville is a supernatural energy the person randomly acquires, a form of magical gentle beam that may soften away any alien buildings. If he touches any kind of present, akin to water, a junction field, or a light-weight, he can unfold the magical gentle throughout hard-to-reach areas. Later, he additionally acquires a technique to harden beforehand melted buildings.
However, Dad isn’t simply making his method downtown, strolling quick. Soon it turns into clear that the aliens are nonetheless round to gather some stragglers, so you’ll have to sneak your well beyond them. Some of those aliens are large, making the moments you encounter them a few of the greatest moments within the game. There’s simply one thing a couple of big monster stomping by way of the woods that leaves you feeling small and weak.
This is a game that doesn’t need its hero to die, it is a game 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 is a game that doesn’t need its hero to die, it is a game cheering for its lead, and by extension, so am I. Both the puzzles and sneaking sequences are moderately easy, if I ever acquired caught it’s as a result of it may be fiddly to place Dad in order that he grabs one thing the way in which he’s imagined to. He will stand in entrance of a gate or button, clenching and unclenching his fist like a Sim who can’t attain the dishes they wish 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, because of some gorgeous animations.
At its greatest, Somerville, very similar to the Playdead games is downright – sure, I’m going to say the forbidden phrase right here – cinematic. It simply is aware of how you can use its typically virtually Resident Evil-like digicam angles to most impact, and whereas it’s not the form of game that wishes to face round and scent the roses, I took the time to cease and stare every time I may.
Somerville’s places may have been slightly extra fascinating, nevertheless. In flip, its puzzles may maybe have been extra intricate, too. There are some standouts at the start, like a big, abandoned music competition, however many of the game takes place in caves, which to me looks as if a little bit of a waste. Naturally, the game design influences the places, as a result of when you’re on the lookout for a spot with minecarts, levers, and floodlights to control, a mine goes to be an apparent alternative, simply not the visually most fascinating one.
Still, regardless of its many caves, Somerville isn’t a darkish game and the ambiance isn’t as oppressive as you would possibly count on. It manages to say a fantastic many hopeful issues solely with out phrases, simply with using some refined sounds and animations. Whenever 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 if you do, it’s so emotive I’d have beloved extra of that. Because actually, in these essential moments, you’re on their own – nothing greater than a dad scrambling round in a cave, and God is aware of you’ll be able to have already got that in some other game. But the small pleasant touches Somerville invests in are what makes it stand out, whether or not that’s your canine or an surprising pleasant face coming to the rescue, they’re what elevates Somerville from easy hide-and-seek with aliens to one thing price spending your time with.
However, Somerville couldn’t fully promote me on its final third, primarily as a result of I wasn’t positive what was occurring. Unlike a game akin to Signalis that purposefully obscures its intentions, this felt extra like a case of a game developing in opposition to the boundaries of non-verbal storytelling. The method you unlock Somerville’s a number of completely different endings, for instance, feels fully arbitrary and actually form of boring. The endings additionally really feel form of abrupt, making Somerville really feel like a game 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 may maybe have been only a tiny bit longer to arrange its ending extra elegantly. Controversial, I do know, however after all the pieces I went by way of with this household, not one of the goodbyes Somerville supplied actually left me as happy as the remaining.