I love a good dopamine release, especially when it involves an alien invasion with your family going missing. You’re probably wondering how that even makes sense, but believe me when I say that the indie sci-fi game Somerville does an incredible job of making you feel good while you’re in the midst of a catastrophe.
At first glance, Somerville looks like a standard puzzle adventure game. Simple controls, linear progression, and puzzles that are easy to solve. After ten minutes of gameplay, I realized how wrong I was as the intensity quickly goes from 0 to 100. A family witnesses an attack and hides in their basement in hopes of evading the aliens destroying their world, but the mother and child are abducted and it’s up to the father to save his family. With the help of a loyal canine companion and a newfound special power, I journeyed across a rural terrain, navigating obstacles, meeting friendly creatures, and fleeing enemies.
What I love about this game is that even though the setting is foreboding, the art style is breathtaking. I love the stylization of the environment and the way the camera pans as you move from one location to the next makes the experience completely immersive. There were many moments I wanted to simply embrace the eye candy around me, from the colors of the sky to the movement of the grass and foliage. Somerville is a visual masterpiece that feels like a cinematic experience, even when there aren’t any cutscenes, and what is most impressive is that there is no dialogue in the narrative. It’s hard to tell a story with visuals alone, but JUMPSHIP nails it.
This is a puzzle-heavy game, but the puzzles feel intentional and help with story progression. It also took me a few minutes to realize that it was not the playable character I had to depend on. Through observation and some trial and error, I noticed that the dog plays an incredibly important role in solving puzzles. The noises he makes, the direction he goes, and every little detail about his behavior contributes to reaching the next checkpoint. I’ve played other videogames where you have a sidekick that you have to direct and control, but in Somerville, the sidekick is who you have to depend on.
I think the trickiest part about the game is the controls. Yes, it’s simple to maneuver your character but the keyboard controls are a little glitchy, and sometimes it was nearly impossible to pick up or move objects. I noticed that moving from one scene to another occasionally resulted in a flashing, strobe-like effect which was a little hard on the eyes. A few tweaks that the developers could work on to enhance the gameplay experience, but overall I didn’t find these issues detrimental.
As the story progresses, new challenges arise but I think the difficulty remains fairly consistent. I would have liked to have more intricate puzzles, not for the entirety of the game but a handful thrown in here and there as the puzzles became predictable and tedious over time. Once you’ve done them a dozen times you’re ready to move on to something new.
While there is some predictability in Somerville, this game offers a lot of replayability because of the option to achieve alternate endings. I’ve always been a fan of choosing your own adventure in games since it adds an extra layer of depth and mystery…and being incredibly competitive doesn’t help. I have an innate desire to win everything so I’ll be coming back for another round or two.
I don’t think Somerville is on par with other puzzle-platform games like INSIDE, Little Nightmares, or Oxenfree. As much as I loved this game, it doesn’t have exceedingly unique qualities that would set it apart from its competitors. We’ve seen alien invasion narratives. We’ve seen people gain special powers. I want to see something different, something quirky, maybe even a little macabre that makes you gasp or go “What the___.” There’s a lot of promise for JUMPSHIP but I think they need to take a few more risks if they want to give players a game that is unforgettable.
Would I recommend Somerville? Without a doubt! I think it’s beautiful, melancholy, and thrilling and only takes a few hours to complete. You can find the game on Steam for PC only, but if you’re looking for a wibbly wobbly, War of the World adventure, it’s worth it.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Plot / Writing - 6/10
Design / Visuals - 9/10
+ Beautiful stylized art that captures the desolate atmosphere + Cinematic and immersive story + Option to choose different endings
– Gameplay and control glitches – Puzzles become repetitive and lack difficulty
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