Somerville is a simple story about an alien invasion review
Games

Somerville is a simple story about an alien invasion. review

played on Xbox Series S

Usually, when aliens attack Earth in video games, the main character takes the first cannon he encounters and sets off to destroy the aliens. Everything is different in Somerville – here the protagonist was not ready to meet extraterrestrial beings, and even gained a strange ability when making contact with one of them. So he runs without looking back. Where? Incomprehensible. Despite this, he runs, solving puzzles along the way and hiding from enemies.

war of the Worlds

One of the main reasons Somerville attracted attention in the first place has to do with its writers. The Jumpship team that brought out this game was put together by Dino Patti, the founder of Playdead studio. She is famous for Limbo and Inside, one of the most famous modern platform games. In 2017 Patti left Playead and his new team worked on Somerville for more than four years.

    Molten alien structures turn into a viscous pile of cubes

Molten alien structures turn into a viscous pile of cubes

So, comparing the new product with the same Inside is not entirely correct – after all, they are united by just one person. It is simply impossible not to draw parallels: the same adventure without words, we almost always observe the events from the side, pressing the buttons and levers to solve puzzles. There are some similarities, but individual component comparisons don’t speak for Somerville.

The story, for example, is less mysterious and therefore not as interesting. It begins in a house where a family consisting of a husband, wife, child and dog sleeps in front of the television. Suddenly, an earthquake begins, lightning, one of which hits the car, but you can’t escape – you have to run to the basement and hide there. The husband loses consciousness, and when he wakes up, only a dog is running beside him – the wife and child have disappeared somewhere. Also, his hand can now generate electricity, and this ability helps the protagonist destroy alien debris that is now littered with the environment.

    No, that's not Joel from The Last of Us

No, that’s not Joel from The Last of Us

That is, the plot is more or less clear: the aliens have arrived and destroyed everything, and we are looking for a family. Only in the last half hour does the story pick up speed and throw up interesting details that can at least cause some discussion in the community. Before that, what happens is more like a Hollywood disaster movie, where the streets are filled with broken and abandoned cars, signs are crumpled, and there are many craters in the ground from explosions. If in Inside the narrative through the environment was rich, it really isn’t here.

road to nowhere

Unfortunately, Somerville’s gameplay is also not to be commended. The main problem is related to the depth of the sites – here you can move not only left and right, but also “inside”. And since in most cases the camera either stays stationary or moves along an axis, it can be difficult to control the character. Either you don’t notice a passage in the wall, or you miscalculated how far you have to go to a button – designing places does not simplify the task at all.

    Not without underwater episodes

Not without underwater episodes

Also, the character hardly moves. Sometimes he still switches to running when his life is in danger, but most of the time the protagonist walks very slowly, thereby punishing you for mistakes. Went in the wrong direction and hit a dead end? Now pull your legs back.

The puzzles are also disappointing. Since the character can only conduct electricity by reaching for lightbulbs and generators, solutions are almost always found fairly quickly. Closer to the middle of the game, the hero learns not only to destroy, but also to “freeze” alien buildings, but this does not spoil the complexity of the tasks. In addition, puzzles are usually almost completely forgotten in the last third of the game. The final episodes are the finest in Somerville and the weakest in terms of gameplay.

    Stealth is fortunately very small - with such controls it would be an ordeal

Stealth is fortunately very small – with such controls it would be an ordeal

At times it feels like the game was more ambitious early in the development cycle. Some sections are supposed to contain puzzles, but in reality the player simply progresses through them without interacting with anything. Small-edged creatures that help the character solve puzzles at the beginning of the game are completely forgotten in the second half of the passage. What’s particularly funny is that at the beginning of the journey the main character doesn’t care about the dog that accompanies him – not only can you not pet a four-legged friend, the pet doesn’t even exist for the protagonist. But at least it was added to the game, which means it was done for something…

Poor optimization deserves special mention. Dropping framerate Somerville already “likes” it in the introductory video, and you have to watch 15 frames/s every time at least some special effect appears on the screen. The final episodes in particular suffer from this, which completely destroys the atmosphere. This happens not only on the Xbox Series S, but also on computers with modern graphics cards – there are no platforms on which the game runs stably.

    In such moments, the frame rate is particularly bad

In such moments, the frame rate is particularly bad

That’s not to say Somerville is a terrible or even bad game. If you download it with a Game Pass subscription and play through it for an evening, you won’t have too many regrets for the time you’ve spent. At least visually it’s good – there are very spectacular and unexpected episodes that the game seemed to be made for. Too bad, of course, that there is no optimization, but at least for these moments, Somerville is worth going through. Only not now, but after the patches that eliminate the “brakes”.

* * *

Much more was expected of Somerville given one of its creators was involved in Limbo and Inside. It turned out to be a typical, unforgettable adventure that does not spark a wave of discussion and is quickly forgotten. Almost every element falls short of industry-standard quality: the storytelling is mediocre, the puzzles are too easy, and the jumpy frame rates make it difficult to enjoy. Beautiful but empty.

Advantages:

  • beautiful graphics;
  • a more or less clear story as opposed to obvious sources of inspiration;
  • short duration does not let the game become boring until the finale.

Defects:

  • Storytelling through the environment is either boring or non-existent;
  • Puzzles are easy and there are very few of them;
  • uncomfortable controls, the problems of which are especially noticeable due to the slowness of the protagonist;
  • no optimization.

graphic

The game is based almost entirely on a beautiful visual style with nice special effects – without this, interest would be lost very quickly.

sound

A simple soundtrack – sounds good, but nothing stands out.

single player game

Adventures in the spirit of Limbo and Inside with multiple endings. The chapters can be selected from the menu, so there is no difficulty in seeing all possible finals.

Estimated travel time

From three hours.

collective game

Not provided.

overall impression

Nice but unfinished and mundane platformer. Even though this is a game from one of the makers of Limbo and Inside, don’t expect anything quite as exciting and memorable.

Rating: 5.0/10

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About the author

Alan Foster

Alan Foster covers computers and games and all the news in the gaming industry.

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