Somerville: Indulge in Some Sci-Fi Catastrophe and Survival

Somerville the indie game

From new indie studio Jumpship, in Guildford of England, we have Somerville. Dino Patti co-founded the developer, having previously co-founded Playdead.

Yes, that’s Playdead. The indie dev behind INSIDE (2016), arguably the greatest indie game of all time! Certainly in the top 10 in whatever best indie games list you want to see.

Somerville tries out new ideas in amongst the 2.5D adventure. But does it reach those INSIDE heights!? Let’s have a gander.

Sci-Fi Grandeur in Somerville (with nods to War of the Worlds)

Somerville launched in November 2022 and features a 2.5D aesthetic alongside cataclysmic themes. It’s only on Steam and the Xbox at the moment.

There’s no denying War of the Worlds’ influence on this one. Whichever version you want to think of—H. G. Wells’ 1898 book, the 1953 film, or the 2005 film with Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise isn’t in Somerville. But there is a dog (we hope that makes up for the former disappointment).

As for Somerville, there’s the 2.5D exploration and running continuously, ominously in one direction from what Playdead did with INSIDE and Limbo (2010).

Whilst Somerville is visually stunning and conjures up some amazing atmospherics, there’s no denying it’s not on the level of INSIDE.

Yet, at times, it’s such an amazing game. It tells a speech-free narrative in dramatic fashion. And there are some fabulous highlights along the way, with some incredible creativity at play.

Plus, the opening section is thrilling. You head home with your family, watch some TV. Pass out drunk (maybe). Then… boom! The mayhem starts as aliens, or whatever it is, invade!

But the lovingly crafted opening section, with melancholic piano tinkling, sets a meditative foundation for the survival horror aspects ahead.

The plot? Well, as the father in search of his family, you get some superpower on your arm that lets you melt certain objects.

That’s the main gameplay mechanic and it’s quite a compelling one.

And you must evade this bizarre purple light that blasts across the horizon, beamed out by those SOB aliens in search of you. Those bits are fabulous—unnerving. And the intensity ramps up continuously.

Unfortunately, what often holds Somerville back is the gameplay.

It’s stunted by relentless puzzles—so many of them, in fact, you come to dread them. After completing one, your bloke will stumble on for 40 seconds and then there’s another goddamn puzzle. You’ll arrive and go, “Oh, bloody hell! What are you supposed to do now!?

They halt the game way too much. Worse, they sometimes create cheap deaths. And you have to keep repeating each bit until you figure it out.

Added to that, the controls often make it difficult to move on from puzzles—even if you’ve successfully completed one. Sometimes we’d completed the latest humdinger, but the wonky game mechanics leave your character struggling to interact with the thing you need to overcome to move onward.

Yes, this puzzle halting gameplay is the same as INSIDE and other 2.5D games like Little Nightmares, but in those titles the puzzles are clever and have a more natural flow to figuring them out. Intuitive.

Somerville is very hit and miss with its take on that. Sometimes the puzzles are good fun to work out. Other times they’re just annoying.

We’ve checked Steam, and other media, reviews and this seems to be the general consensus. Good game, but held back by the above issues.

Plus, that £20 price tag for three hours of gameplay… just as well it’s on Xbox Games Pass at the moment. As that’s one steep asking price for what you get.

It’s an odd feeling.

We completed the thing and took so many highlights from Somerville, whilst also cursed its very nature and the various frustrations it put us through.

And yet… we kind of want to play it again!

There was potentially a classic game here, with Somerville’s peaks clearly demonstrating that. But as it stands, it’s a solid 7/10 effort with enough brilliant moments in it to make it worthy of a whirl.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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