Somerville review (Xbox One)

Jumpship’s debut title Somerville is out now for Xbox and PC, and with a former Playdead CEO/founder at helm expectations were high for this one. We tested it on an Xbox One – here’s our review.

Playdead’s puzzle platformers Limbo and Inside are pretty much universally beloved, and perhaps our biggest gripe is that it takes quite a while for their games to be developed. Inside is over six years old already, and there’s no new game in sight yet. This is where Somerville comes in, because although it’s from a different developer, there’s a clear Playdead connection and trailers seemed to hint at the game following a similar formula as well – but with an alien invasion theme.

In Somerville, an average family falls asleep in front of their TV and is rudely awoken when an alien invasion seemingly starts right outside their house. Flashes and lightbeams pierce the night sky, and before long the father of the family loses consciousness. When he wakes, his family appears to have vanished, and he suddenly has a glowing arm that is able to manipulate light and can melt the mysterious red stones that have fallen to Earth.

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As with Limbo and Inside, a lot of the game’s story development is inferred rather than explicit, which in this context makes for a mysterious sci-fi vibe that evokes memories of classic stories like War of the Worlds. The atmosphere-rich town of Somerville and its surroundings captivate players with clear signs that something dramatic has been happening here – abandoned streets and cars give off a haunting vibe, and broken streets and bridges don’t exude a lot of hope either.

And as with those games that came before, the audioscape adds to the experience without using any spoken dialogue – sounds effects and clear expressions of emotions (like sobbing) do a terrific job of telling a story without the need to actually use words, and they let the players infer their own meaning. The puzzle gameplay is much more direct in comparison though, with plenty of signposting – sometimes even literally as items you can interact with are highlighted on screen. This makes puzzles relatively easy to complete, and thus less rewarding, with less room to experiment and fail.

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This is partly because many of the puzzles rely on the same mechanic – your newly gained ability to soften and harden space rocks. Even in an adventure that only lasts just over four hours, that can feel repetitive by the time you get to the second half of the game. Sequences where you have to rely on stealth or are running towards safety are, by comparison, welcome distractions.

At launch, Somerville also has a few rough edges on the technical front, with small glitches that will no doubt be ironed out post-launch. Most of these involves scenery interactions that weren’t quite right (getting stuck, or a misaligned animation), but they’re not frequent enough to be too distracting either. We stayed engaged for the entire duration of the adventure and look forward to seeing what Jumpship does next – while hoping it doesn’t take 6+ years, as Somerville is a promising debut.

Score: 7.3/10

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