“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.” – Stephen Hawking
Released: 15th November 2022
- Superb art direction that acts as centerpiece of a somber, gray-scaled atmosphere that feels captivating at all times.
- Solid world-building that, overall, portrays well the effects of a large-scale alien invasion despite a few questionable choices.
- On-point musical score that complements the events and situations very well.
- Shallow gameplay that doesn’t really evolve its mechanics in a significant way, and feels stale not after long… even for this non-gameplay-centric genre.
- Lackluster implementation of indirect narration: instead of a crescendo of hints leading to wider interpretations, it boils down to an Inception-esque, confusing mess.
- The protagonist feels like a mindless puppet that performs several actions for the sake of artificially-furthering gameplay, rather than for actual, plausible reasons.
Bugs & Issues
- Rarely, the character may get stuck in a falling animation.
- No Vsync / Frame Cap options.
- Poor anti-aliasing solution.
- 32GB RAM
Content & Replay Value
It took me around 5 hours to complete Somerville, taking extra time to explore each area accurately when possible. The entire content is linear, there isn’t a reason to replay once finished.
Is It Worth Buying?
Likely not. Unless you’re craving for a sci-fi narrative adventure, and far from a great one at that, I’d suggest moving on to other similar, better titles. The price of 24.50€ is a bit on the steep side for the genre’s standards.
Despite excellent art direction and soundtrack, Somerville delivers shallow gameplay, while its attempt at indirect narration misses the mark.
Somerville – In-Depth Analysis
Setting & Writing
Set in the British countryside, Somerville sees an unnamed character and father struggling through a sudden alien invasion to rejoin his family. His journey will bring him about ruined towns and a landscape entirely distorted by the invaders’ incomprehensible, potent weaponry. Despite its low-poly style, an excellent level of detail can be seen in most locales thanks to the care put into polishing their finer details, while a modern lighting and particle effects system gives more eye candy to each scene. Environments feel interesting and mysterious to traverse, as the alien factor makes the next events unpredictable.
There isn’t any writing in the sense of dialogues, files, and similar: all actions, reactions, and events are narrated purely through visual cues, scenes devoid of any acting or direct narration. While this is a technique already seen in other titles, most prominently the popular “INSIDE” to name one, it has to be designed and executed well to be effective, which is definitely harder than pulling off a ‘regular’ narrative.
In this case the Somerville team missed the mark for two main reasons: first of all, the protagonist feels anonymous and one-sided, as it won’t show any quirks of characters or deeper reactions to the events, thus failing to bind with the player on an emotional and personal level. He will feel like a blank mannequin you have to drive about, while at the same time not having any influence on how he chooses to react to anything. Most actions actually do feel like directionless instruments to further the game’s progression, rather than something someone in his situation would actually do.
Secondly, the narrative keeps adding more and more mysterious elements for the sake of keeping attention up, as characters and factions other than the ‘original’ aliens spring up eventually, but fails to properly explain who any of them are or what their purpose is at any point. Even if this narrative style is meant for players to elaborate their own conclusions, it still has to provide some elements to do so… something simply not achieved here. By the end of your adventure, it will feel like the first time you watched Inception at the theater: “what the hell did I just watch?”- that’s not exactly a great feeling.
As expected from this kind of game, exploration in Somerville is linear, through different environments that have some degree of interactivity and even a few secondary areas with Easter eggs or optional interactions, that however don’t influence the upcoming events in any way. You’ll usually be free to roam any safe location at will, with environmental cues (lights, graffiti, etc.) marking the way you should go, or anyway be looking at, in order to progress. There are some hazards to account for while exploring even ‘safe’ areas, like heights, water or machinery at times, that can kill you and thus roll you back a short time to one of the frequent checkpoints.
Revolve around a mysterious alien power you’ll acquire and evolve through the adventure, capable of influencing the metamorphic alien substance that composes most of their structures present in each area. You’ll eventually be capable of melting and hardening this material through light sources in order to clear the way, create passageways, stop something in place and other uses, each usually tied to a logic-based puzzle you’ll have to solve. These enigmas aren’t very difficult at all, rather repetitive in nature and execution apart from a select few; the variety is just not there, as the game never really builds more upon its basic mechanical foundations, preferring to “play it safe” for the most part in terms of creativity.
Chase & Stealth Sequences
The chase sequences play out in an expected way for this genre; usually, your character will be threatened by either the environment or an enemy and will have to traverse short sections that involve debris avoidance, some platforming, and general obstacle-coursing. These parts are scripted to an extent, however being too slow will lead to death, and have you restarting from the beginning of the “action time”. They are a good change of pace from the usual slow-paced gameplay, and some are genuinely thrilling. Stealth sections are only a few, and generally involve hiding from enemy spotlights that will inevitably lead to your demise should they cross your path. You’ll have to use both solid cover and the shadows they project to stay alive, while also activating machinery to change the environs to your advantage in some cases. They work well enough and have no substantial issues.