Game Reviews Xbox

Somerville Review – A Puzzling Sci-Fi Mind Bender

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Looking for something unique, challenging, and absolutely trippy?  Here’s a game that’s pretty short but packs a punch with action, puzzles, and one of the strangest gaming experiences I’ve ever encountered, in a good way.  A science fiction nightmare filled with twists and turns, trial and error, and moments of sheer panic with stunning visuals and a soundscape that deserves a lot of recognition.

Somerville is the latest beautifully crafted debut title by the independent studio Jumpship. The co-founder of Jumpship had also co-founded the developer Playdead, known for their games Inside and Limbo, and you can see the influence in the gameplay styling of Somerville. If you enjoy those cinematic puzzle-based games then Somerville is a taste of something new.

The story follows a man, his wife, his son, and their family dog as they are all sleeping, possibly having fallen asleep while watching a movie. The son, a small infant, wakes up first and waddles around the house moving things around and giving the player a sense of the controls. Weird sounds and purple lights can be seen outdoors as the family starts to wake up. All of a sudden there is a loud explosion and some kind of alien ship or device has crash-landed in their yard.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, the sky starts to fill with hundred of these devices as apparently, an alien invasion is occurring. Human ships are in the sky fighting back as well, and it seems like an all-out war is happening. The family runs inside towards the basement as a ship crash lands into the house. The man sees what appears to be a human soldier extending out their hand, and once he grabs it, we are sent into a vision followed by an explosion as some sort of energy power has been transferred. The man then wakes up with his dog over him and his family missing. Now with some energy source that radiates from his right hand, the man gets up and walks through the shambles of his home in search of his family along with answers.

The gameplay is dependent on environments and animations. With a perfect blend between control and animated sequences, this game has the feeling of a movie from start to finish. Somerville also has a cinematic view and a sliding camera that follows the character smoothly as he travels through different locations and situations. The maps are rich with detail and it almost seems like they are bigger than what we can actually explore. For the most part, it is a quiet Earth, overtaken by alien forces. There are ruins and destroyed vehicles lining the streets as you travel.

In your exploration, there are some key things to look out for. Since this game is puzzle-based, there is going to be a lot of searching and thought when it comes to progressing. There is no dialogue, no directions, and everything you do is based on what you come up with to move forward. There can be frustrating moments where you have to do things over, or you may not see the exact method but it’s nothing too difficult and adds to the challenge. Always look for things that are yellow. These are usually the objects you can interact with, and upon moving these items you’ll easily be able to figure out what to do next. Also, any power sources, especially light, can be used to disintegrate obstacles using your new powers.

For the most part, the man is traveling with his dog, interacting with different environments and navigating its obstacles. I always thought the dog would be some kind of guide or contributor but for the most part, he kind of just follows you or you leave him behind for a bit. I found it funny when you’d travel in water or different paths just to find the dog randomly later but it’s a nice touch, they are man’s best friend after all.  There are moments of running, stealth, and strategic puzzle-solving as alien robot lizards are crawling after you or near you.

The biggest thing is light. It’s your tool for travel but it’s also something you must run from. Some scenes might have a giant purple light that you must run from, or the creatures will grab you if you are in the path of their red light. The moments of being chased or having to use stealth elevated the experience for me, which at times felt confusing or pointless. For a while, I wasn’t sure of the man’s objective. I knew he wanted to see his family, but he just kept walking as if he knew where to go and I didn’t.

There are some twists and turns in this game. Some might surprise you or confuse you for a while. I was left questioning some choices. There is a story, a strong compelling one, even without words or explanation. There are choices your character needs to make with different endings depending on what you choose to follow. I will not give it away but it definitely made the game way more memorable and there are post-credit scenes that show what these outcomes have done.

The beauty of this game is that it is an experience and an interactive film all in one. At first, the game might seem a bit frustrating and pointless but it quickly develops into a need to find answers and reach the end. It is a very odd story but in the end, I found it to be satisfyingly trippy and visually stunning.

Somerville may not be for everyone, but with a game time of about 2.5 hours, it’s basically a movie that can be played in one day. There is also a chapter select option and that’s how you reach your save points if you decide to take a break. The sound design for this game is incredible and I found it to be equally as satisfying as the visuals.

It’s eerie and menacing but also adventurous, adding to the overall ambiance of the narrative. Overall, I’ll say this game is a good start for Jumpship and I look forward to whatever new ideas they have planned for the future. Somerville is available now on Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This review was written based on a digital review copy of Somerville for the Xbox Series X provided by Jumpship.

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