Since the launch of Limbo and Inside, fans have been clamouring for a follow-up to these two indie darlings. Jumpship, the new studio founded by Chris Olsen and Dino Patti, Playdead’s ex-CEO, heeded the call and released a teaser trailer for a spiritual successor called Somerville back in 2017. A few years passed, as it took half a decade to finally see a release date during Xbox’s E3 2021 conference. But as time went on, the end product was definitely worth the wait.
Keeping Players Guessing
Just like Limbo and Inside, Somerville doesn’t reveal much to the audience, but keeps up the intrigue with nuanced sci-fi storytelling, tense 3D set pieces and varied environmental puzzles that often push you to think outside of the box. There were a few glitches that broke the immersion, often ending in hilarious results. Albeit, the frequent checkpoints don’t send players back for more than a minute, even if they manually select retry. Though one or two death screens skipped me straight to the solution for some strange reason… Bit of an oversight there.
Most of the puzzles are unique to the father character’s powers, where he can liquify alien matter or cause it to solidify instantly with a light or electrical source. One scenario has players trying to trap a counterweight in place, while others require the father to break through obstacles that are impeding his progress. It’s all quite entertaining, even if two or three of the solutions made me facepalm in disbelief.
Unlike Playdead’s last two titles, Somerville allows for full 3D movement. The game automatically pans the camera so it maintains that film-like quality and keeps objects of interest in sight, switching back to that 2.5D perspective when the situation calls for it. However, the transition isn’t always fluid, as there were several moments where the father would get stuck on or glitch through certain pieces of geometry, but it wasn’t anything too egregious overall.
The Elusive Mysteries of Somerville
The story itself starts off mysterious and stays that way throughout the game, revealing breadcrumbs of the narrative that are ultimately left up to the player’s interpretation. The War of the Worlds atmosphere is ever-present, although it keeps the drama wrapped inside of the game’s titular location, showcasing how these cataclysmic events affect the population on a more domestic level.
Somerville doesn’t need sound, dialogue nor text to convey it’s message. The subtle animation, minimal sound effects and haunting piano-centred soundtrack are all it requires to connect with the audience. While I do wish the narrative was slightly less vague, as this might annoy those who enjoy more digestible themes, it’s still worth playing through purely to experience Somerville’s artistic approach to storytelling.
If you’ve been hanging out for a follow-up to the indie hits, Limbo and Inside, then Somerville is exactly what the doctor ordered. Like it’s predecessors, Somerville doesn’t give players much of a narrative to latch onto. Instead, it leaves the majority of the story up to the player’s imagination, only using subtle animation and sound to propel this science fiction-themed adventure along. Throughout the game, players will encounter a number of neat puzzles and action moments that require quick thinking and use of the environment to gain the upper hand. While there are some glitches and stuttery frame rates at certain intervals, it’s undeniably worth sticking around to see what awaits the father and his family.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
Somerville left me with many more questions than answers, but the journey was well worth it in the end. Taking around 5-6 hours to complete, this puzzle adventure game revels in obscurity and almost completely forgoes dialogue, text and traditional HUD elements. The whole game is a tonne of fun to play and doesn’t hold your hand at all, making the tricky brain teasers mighty satisfying to conquer. Now do yourself a favour and don’t look up anything more about this game. The less you know going in, the better.
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