Somerville is an aesthetically pleasing slice of sci-fi that draws influence from the likes of ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ to present the short tale of a bewildered man on the run from otherworldly machines as he attempts to reunite with his wife and infant son in desperate circumstances.
Jumpship’s Dino Patti, the ex-CEO and co-founder of Playdead, has very obviously had a big influence on the action here as this is a game that strongly calls to mind both Limbo and Inside at almost every turn. It’s broadly the same setup as both of these classic adventures, with a lone protagonist in a desperate struggle that sees the player work their way through a bunch of puzzles whilst remaining concealed in order to push forward and see the story through to its conclusion.
There’s the same feeling of delicate frailty to the character you control too, with mostly nothing you can do in order to either defend yourself or retaliate should you find yourself discovered by those who are trekking and hunting you down across this desolate depiction of an earth left ravaged by full-scale alien invasion. The detail in the animation of the central protagonist also recalls Playdead’s best efforts, and there’s a pleasingly lanky awkwardness to how you move around and interact with your environment this time around.
What’s most different to the likes of Limbo and Inside here is that a third dimension has been introduced to the mix, with the camera zooming in and out, panning around and pulling off all manner of fancy cinematic framing as you move into the foreground and background as well as from side to side in your attempts to avoid discovery. This is one super-cinematic game, for sure, it looks incredible from beginning to end, with the violent purple and red strobing searchlights of your extraterrestrial opponents hitting that War of the Worlds nail squarely on the head, making for a dark, desperate, and foreboding sci-fi atmosphere that we absolutely adored.
In terms of the story too, Somerville goes to some surprisingly emotional places, with a satisfyingly surreal and fantastical final stretch that draws you in and gives you plenty to think about. We won’t spoil anything here, if you’re gonna jump into this one it’s best to go in as blind as possible, but overall Jumpship has done a solid job narratively and the skill on show with regards to world-building is never in doubt. There’s also reason to return once you’ve completed your first run – a feat which took us around two hours – with multiple endings to see and a few other fun achievements to tick off.
However, and it’s a great big however, the puzzles here, the actual game parts of this game, are a let-down, there’s no way around it. In Somerville your protagonist is imbued with extraterrestrial powers right at the start of the adventure and these can be used to interact with alien debris that’s been left scattered around the environments. What this basically then boils down to is you shifting debris between a liquid and solid state in order to solve puzzles based around unblocking the way forward. It’s super dull stuff unfortunately and the odd sprinkling of other mechanics, such as a few highly cinematic hide and seek sections and one section with a minecart, really doesn’t do much to help.
The dullness of the puzzles on offer isn’t the only issue either. The addition of that third dimension – although it does look very cool at times – leads to a clumsy awkwardness when attempting to line yourself up with interactive objects or search for what exactly it is you’re meant to do next. You won’t struggle for very long on any of the puzzles here either by the way, there are no moments where you’re presented with a head-scratcher that’s so cleverly put together it’ll stump you then leave you delighted when you figure out the way forward.
No, it’s just dull and disappointing all the way we’re afraid, and we were actually relieved when we finally hit the final stretch of the game, which does away with environmental barriers in favour of concentrating on pushing the narrative forward. We should also mention that we encountered a few bugs here and there, with one particular puzzle bugging out repeatedly, getting us caught up and spinning around in some scenery, until it finally spat us out the other side on a lucky restart. There are also some slight issues with stuttering at a few points as well, even on Series X.
Overall then, and especially since it’s launched on Xbox Game Pass, Somerville is probably still worth checking out for its aesthetic and for a sci-fi narrative that manages to somewhat satisfy by the end. However, in order to enjoy the finer aspects of what Jumpship has created here, you’re gonna need to brace for some disappointingly dull gameplay that drags the whole thing down a couple of notches.
Somerville is a super-stylish slice of sci-fi that nails its aesthetic and provides a solid narrative that comes to a pleasingly surreal and fantastical end. However, all of this good stuff is bogged down by dull gameplay, performance issues and the addition of a third dimension that, while certainly very cool to look at, leads to awkwardness as you attempt to solve puzzles and interact with environments. If you can make peace with the gameplay, you’ll still find a story worth experiencing here, it’s just a shame there wasn’t as much creativity in those puzzles as there is in every other aspect of what Jumpship has served up.