Regardless of aliens current as some of the prevalent enemies in video video games, seldom will we get to expertise them from the vantage level of ants beneath their sneakers we might be. So usually, we’re tasked with capturing aliens in house battles or gunning them down on the again of army automobiles, and the shortage of a correct alien invasion story within the vein of Indicators or Invasion of the Physique Snatchers has been a private annoyance for years. For essentially the most half, Somerville lastly provides us such a sport, however that unusual setup I’ve so appeared ahead to is in the end hampered by each story and gameplay choices that preserve it from feeling impactful.
Created partly by a former Playdead (Inside, Limbo) developer at a brand new studio known as Jumpship, Somerville feels much like these milestone puzzle-adventures. The colour palette favors darkness, the story unfolds with out dialogue of any type, and you will discover by transferring by a world filled with threats, fixing puzzles to beat every impediment and outrun unassailable enemies.
In Somerville, you play the patriarch of a household of 4 which additionally contains your spouse, child, and canine. It does not take lengthy in any respect for the story to select up; inside minutes, you go from passing out on the sofa on a typical night at house to scrambling for shelter as otherworldly pillars rain down from the sky. Separated out of your spouse and youngster, the anonymous father and his four-legged pal embark on a quest to reunite with the others.
Early on, Somerville feels precisely like what I hoped for. A filmic opening credit sequence trails the household’s automotive from excessive above to the tune of emotive music like the primary jiffy of The Shining. Going 0 to 60 in a heartbeat appears like the best solution to introduce the sport’s alien menace, too. The characters don’t have any comprehension of what is going on on, so neither do you. And the driving drive behind the story–reunion and safety–are simple to latch onto. It begins sturdy.
However one in every of Somerville’s early variations from video games prefer it rapidly begins to go away it trailing behind predecessors. The sport appears like a 2D (or 2.5) journey, however there’s usually much more house to discover on the Z axis than you may count on, permitting you to maneuver towards or away from the display. This, in tandem with typically unclear pathway design, creates routine points with depth notion, inflicting you to bump up towards stuff usually.
In quieter moments, this simply means fumbling round a bit inelegantly, however throughout chase sequences, it usually means sport over, as such scenes are sometimes designed with the concept you completely squeeze by, over, underneath, or round every impediment.
A low variety of puzzles feels detrimental at instances. At 4 hours lengthy, I used to be stunned to seek out the final hour or so is basically void of puzzles. A lot of the sport is constructed round a particular skill with which the protagonist is imbued–a manner of manipulating the alien matter that corrupts the world, permitting him to both liquify or solidify the earth round him. The chances for such a mechanic really feel apparent as quickly as you are given this magic contact, however the sport oddly ignores utilizing it in any intelligent methods for giant parts of the sport. When it’s used, nobody puzzle or part of puzzles does a lot to raise the mechanic’s earliest usages.
It is oddly structured in different methods too, although extra efficiently. The extraterrestrials are various in form, dimension, and performance, and because of this they really feel collectively unfathomable to human eyes. The sport does properly to make them really feel intimidating by means of their unknowable intentions. Whereas single beings could clearly telegraph they imply you hurt, understanding their higher goal appears like attempting to show a spider to learn. It is on this manner that Somerville greatest delivers as an alien sport in contrast to just about another in video games–where it aligns with Chiang’s Story of Your Life greater than Insomniac’s Resistance.
The sport additionally makes use of the god-like presence of those beings to mess with spacetime and notion in intelligent methods I ought not spoil right here. Suffice it to say, typically what you assume you are seeing is just not the reality of the matter, and lifting the veil to rediscover actuality is a alternative that’s yours to make greater than as soon as within the sport.
These story beats, uniquely structured and troublesome to speak round, are Somerville’s biggest attributes. Quite the opposite, I used to be stunned to seek out the extra intimate household drama does not land as properly. Being torn aside from his family members early on, the following journey ought to have been a gutpunch, however reunion winds up taking a backseat to an even bigger image that feels more durable to narrate to, telling a extra acquainted story of fomented resistance. At the least to that finish, the sport affords just a few sneaky alternate endings–I discovered three and I believe there could also be extra.
Tucking away secrets and techniques that change your destiny supplies a satisfying, if unwieldy, layer of participant company in a narrative the place the menace is just about indecipherable as a species. You’ll be able to’t perceive their intentions, and thus, you nearly stumble into higher or worse endings for your self. Fortunately, the sport means that you can simply see alternate variations of occasions, which collectively assist paint a extra vibrant image of what Somerville is attempting to say, whilst that message feels solely partially delivered by the sport’s true endpoint.
Quick video games aren’t inherently flawed, however Somerville wanted a bit extra time to convey its main themes. The scope of the alien invasion story appears at each macro and micro relationships amongst individuals in ways in which solely find yourself scratching the floor of claiming one thing fascinating, and although it builds up an fascinating universe that leaves me with questions concerning its alien overlords, I used to be stunned to seek out in myself an indifference towards discovering the reality that is on the market.