Somerville Review: An imperfect adventure in the shadow of Limbo and Inside

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Somerville Review An imperfect adventure in the shadow of Limbo and Inside

Somerville marks the debut of Jumpship, a software house founded by Dino Patti, former co-creator of Playdead, the development team of Limbo and Inside.

 

After contributing to the founding of Playdead and having been CEO for a long time, Dino Patti felt the need to start a new career path. In 2017, the game designer joined forces with those of the animator Chris Olsen, for some time working alone on an intriguing videogame concept. From the meeting of these two creatives it was born Jumpshipan independent development team determined to bring new original IPs to market, starting with Somerville.

After Dino Patti’s experience with Limbo (if you don’t know the work, you can take a look at our review of Limbo) e Inside, the duo now brings a hermetic and silent adventure to the Microsoft ecosystem, characterized by dark tones and dreamlike atmospheres. From Tuesday 15 November 2022 the gloomy scenarios of Somerville PC (via Steam and Epic Games Store), Xbox One and Xbox Series X | S are available to the public. In addition, the Indie arrives since Day One in the Xbox Game Pass catalog. In the face of stimulating suggestions, however, Jumpship’s debut work did not fully convince us: we tell you about it in our review of Somerville.

Unexpected apocalypse

Anticipated only by Somerville trailers, the devastating alien invasion staged by Jumpship is expected by the gamer, but takes the protagonists of the adventure completely off guard. Everything is silent in the house of our digital alter-ego, net of the unstoppable hum of the television.

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The device is still on, but its audience has long plunged into sleep, between the welcoming folds of the sofa at home, in an affectionate embrace that unites a father, a mother and their child. At the foot of the little family, our trusty four-legged also rests, whose senses do not seem able to perceive the impending disaster. It only takes a few minutes, and Somerville’s incipit captures the player with a magnetic charm. After an alarmed awakening caused by the baby’s crying, the family prepares for a new dawn with daily actions, including baby baths and dog treats. The stillness, however, is suddenly interrupted by a raging war fought in the skies that overlook our home. For once, it is not human beings who are responsible for the insane destruction that stands before us, but forms of life that have come from deep space. Aliens, extraterrestrials, space-time travelers, it doesn’t matter: the life of the protagonists of Somerville it will never be the same again.

Following a tragic – and mysterious – event, our family man (whose name will never be revealed to us) is separated from his son and his beloved, of which he completely loses track. Accompanied by his four-legged companion, the man has in return earned a strange selection of supernatural powers which will help him make his way into an unrecognizable world.

Refugees on their own planet, the inhabitants of the Earth are individuals without a face and – more often than not – without escape. In a sci-fi dystopia that in some ways reminded us of the cinematic universe of Matrixsentries made of metal and gears eliminate any survivors, in a chilling planetary genocide.

Unrecognizable, the Earth is wrapped in a cloak of overwhelming gray tones, while every path is invaded by strange alien materials. In fact, a bizarre substance is presented in both liquid and solid form, blocking the advancement of what remains of a protagonist determined to travel all the kilometers that separate him from his lost family. Fortunately – or maybe not – the initial vicissitudes have given us a new power, which allows us to manipulate the strange material as long as you have it available a light source powered by electricity.

Divergent style and gameplay

Just the “superpower” earned by man represents the mechanics around which the whole gameplay of Somerville revolves. Using the blue energy that cloaks our left arm, we will be able to liquefy the solid agglomerations of alien matter, while exploiting the scarlet energy that wraps around the right arm we will have the opportunity to solidify disturbing biomechanical swamps. In both cases, the use of supernatural abilities will serve to open a passage for us to cross the post-apocalyptic scenarios that stand out in front of us, structured by Jumpship in a world in 2.5D.

And precisely in the architecture of the world of Somerville lies one of its main problems. The aesthetic style of the game, strongly marked by minimalism, does not manage to accurately outline the boundaries of the scenario, causing many problems in the most excited phases of the action. Some highly spectacular pursuits, for example, have repeatedly broken against obstacles that are almost imperceptible at first glance, thanks to a fixed camera that does not always favor the readability of the action. With a strong cinema system, Somerville in fact, it offers an effective direction, which however does not always manage to connect with the fluidity of the gameplay.

To complicate the picture, it also contributes a somewhat flawed collision system, which tends to make interactions with the game world more complex than necessary, both in the exploration phase and in the resolution of the numerous environmental puzzles. As mentioned, in order to take advantage of his new powers, our father must gain access to a source of light and electricity: a circumstance that has forced us to often tinker with cables, levers and generators.

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While the stylistic and chromatic minimalism it made it difficult to identify the elements with which to interact, the activation windows of the same only further confused ideas. Although present, the imperfections listed so far do not affect the overall enjoyment of Somerville, but it is undeniable that they contribute to a lot of frustration in some passages. The real flaw in Jumpshimp’s work, however, lies in an excessive restriction of the player’s freedom. The possibilities available to our alter-ego in fact seemed inconsistent in the course of advancement. In the approximately 4-6 hours necessary to reach the credits, we were able to climb rock walls, but not climb over low fences and small boulders, or carry out other simple operations that could lead us to a solution of the puzzles different from what was originally planned by the developers.

On several occasions, we have experienced a sensation similar to what we experienced in Twelve Minutes (on the pages of Everyeye you will find our review of Twelve Minutes), which presented the same tendency to favor certain possibilities only in specific circumstances of the story. The result, in these cases, is the unpleasant feeling of being manipulated by the authorsdetermined to make us only follow a predetermined path, even in the face of the presence of alternatives left open by level design.

Lights and shadows

The defects listed here unfortunately dampen the impact of a very inspired art direction, which genuinely manages to surprise and fascinate in multiple circumstances. Underwater passages, expanses of ruined cars or settlements of survivors, manage to convey a real sense of desolation, also thanks to the support offered by a almost imperceptible soundtrack, which for most of the game leaves our man practically abandoned to himself. The result in terms of atmosphere is truly remarkable, also thanks to a direction that cleverly presents the most evocative shots.

If the artistic and playful sectors sometimes tend to diverge, to hold firm the reins of Somerville it should be there narrative component. On this specific aspect, the adventure will in all likelihood tend to divide the audience. Lovers of hermetic and metaphorical tales will find in Somerville – and in its alternate endings – ample material to speculate on, in an attempt to reconstruct a coherent mosaic. On the other hand – and this was the perception of the writer – the exhausting research of the twist and the continuous changes of perspective proposed by Somerville paradoxically end up weakening the story. Lacking the power of a Limbo or a Insidethe game failed to deliver its message effectively, relegating several key revelations to moments far too fleeting to be incisive.

 

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SomervillePC Analyzed VersionWhile not reaching the expressive heights of Limbo or Inside, Somerville is placed in the wake of Playdead’s videogame experiments. Jumpship’s first work offers intriguing suggestions on the artistic and thematic front, but fails to translate the amount of stimuli proposed into a truly concrete narrative message. An unsettled contrast between level design, direction and game mechanics is unfortunately the background to the entire experience, which thus fails to fully express its potential. With a total duration of about 4-6 hours and several endings – all equally hermetic – to be gutted, Somerville could still conquer fans of the reference genre, even without representing one of the best exponents.

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.