Traveling with Aliens in Search of Family: Review of Emotional Indie Game Somerville

by alex

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

5 reasons to buy Somerville

  • You need a game that will evoke emotions and make you worry
  • You haven’t played similar games and want to try something new
  • You haven't seen a game with a low-poly style yet
  • You only have one evening to complete something
  • Do you love the movie Arrival or the book “The War of the Worlds” by Herbert Wells

3 reasons not to buy Somerville

  • Are you looking for a game that will exceed Inside
  • You're not ready to buy a 4-hour adventure for $30
  • You don’t need a game where you have to figure out the plot yourself

Quick transition:

Backstory: why there was so much attention to the game?

Development of this sci-fi adventure began back in 2014 as an original project by Chris Olsen, but the fun with the game began in 2016. Then the first trailer and game build were presented to show that the game actually exists. Shortly after this, Dino Patti, the former CEO and co-founder of Playdead, which gave us the already iconic Limbo and Inside, left the team in search of new “challenges”, saw Chris’s project and offered him cooperation. And already in 2017, Jumpship was born with more than 20 developers.

First teaser trailer for the game

In general, Somerville was released back in November 2022 on PC and Xbox One/Series and received mixed reviews from players. And most of all, the presence of Dino Patti in this project influenced the ratings. People were subconsciously waiting for a game that would surpass Limbo and Inside combined. This can even be understood from the comments under the trailers, where players already wrote that they were hoping for a “masterpiece,” because the author of Limbo and Inside himself is here. Of course, it is difficult not to compare these games, but Somerville should be perceived as a separate game, which, apart from common features, has nothing in common with Playdead games. Then you get completely different emotions from the project.

Of course, there are some shortcomings, such as a lack of intuitive features. And the ending of the game could have been shortened a little and made it more intense. But if you don’t compare this game with others and immerse yourself in it, then you will get a good gaming experience that will brighten up one evening of your life.

Somerville will be released for PlayStation 4/5 on August 31st. And here, Jumpship corrected two serious shortcomings that PC players encountered at the time of release: poor optimization and terrible keyboard controls. The developers also managed to implement some DualSense functions, which enhances immersion in the game. However, to help you decide whether you should buy it, gg will tell you all the highlights of Somerville that are worth knowing.

Again mysterious aliens, again the emotional salvation of your family

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

The game starts without any explanation, with a picture of a mysterious pillar around which there is a huge flash. What kind of pillar is this? When did it exist? Now, in the past, or is it the future? And there are plenty of such moments in Somerville, so those who like to build several theories and reveal secrets on their own will like this presentation of the story.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

A mysterious pillar that greets gamers at the very beginning of the game

Immediately after the pole is shown, a scene begins in which the car is driving to its house, which is located outside the city. Here we are introduced to the family around which the main story unfolds: a dog, a small child and a wife and husband, who are about 30 years old, but their names are unknown to us. Upon returning home, the family decides to watch TV, but everyone falls asleep. The first one to wake up is the baby, who decides to go to the kitchen in search of adventure, but falls and wakes up the whole family.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

We start playing as our husband and go down to the basement to get food for the dog, but suddenly a strong explosion is heard outside the window. We run out into the yard with our family and see an incomprehensible alien pillar flying into our yard. The man quickly returns home to take all the necessary things, and together with his family, get into the car and run. But as soon as they go out into the yard again, a new pole hits the garage, and the car burns out. The family has no other option but to hide in the basement of the house. However, there are also “surprises” waiting for you here.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

The beginning of the alien invasion

An unknown man in a blue suit breaks through the roof of the house and reaches out to us. Approaching him, he transfers a mysterious power to us, dies, and we pass out. The wife, trying to bring us to our senses, cannot do this, grabs the child and runs away from the house, leaving us to guard the dog.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

A mysterious person gives us her powers

Having recovered, the main character wakes up and realizes that the mysterious power he received will help him destroy alien objects with the help of light. One of these objects just happened to be in the basement and is blocking the exit from the house. Taking the lamp, we turn the light into a blue beam, destroy the barrier and, together with the dog, we find ourselves in the yard.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

The process of destroying alien barriers with the help of light and our power

Now, within 2-3 hours of playthrough, we have to find our family, meet strange smart black balls that will help us, find out what kind of secret person in a red suit is watching us. Who is he? As in any adventure, you will have to get out of dangers of varying difficulty, survive difficult, emotional and tense moments and do everything possible to find your family.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

On the side you can see smart black balls that will help us (from time to time), and in the background there is a mysterious soldier who is watching us

Personally, as a Ukrainian, the story reminded me of a war, when one day your life changes dramatically, explosions are heard everywhere, smoke is already visible somewhere, and all you want now is to see your family. So people who have had similar experiences will get a different range of emotions from the plot of Somerville. The game doesn’t make you cry, but due to the fact that the story here is short and can be completed in a maximum of four hours, with the exception of the final segment, it constantly keeps you in suspense and skillfully plays with your feelings. Here you are scared, now you need to make a quick decision, and now you can take a little rest, and in a few minutes the problems will become even more. Therefore, if you are an emotional gamer who is looking for a secret plot for the evening and also wants to analyze the events on the screen on your own, then Somerville is for you.

The most mysterious world of the game

The solution that can help attract players to an indie game rather than an AAA title is intrigue. Anyway, back to Limbo and Inside. What makes them memorable? Mysterious atmosphere. Videos of people analyzing the plot of Inside have received millions of views at one time because people are drawn to the mystery. And Somerville decides to do the same. The game seems to be trying to tell you: “Look how mysterious I am.” And it's addictive because I completed the game without pauses. And in the morning, like thousands of other gamers, I went to YouTube to watch a video analyzing the history in order to understand it even better.

All the time you play and ask yourself dozens of questions: is our family alive, what are these black balls after all, will they give us the opportunity to better explore aliens, or maybe this is even a dream of the main character? The last segment of the game becomes so confusing that it's like you're playing a game created by Christopher Nolan. If you add parallel universes here, your brain will explode. Who knows, maybe after completing the game you will also want to record a video with your theory and collect thousands of views? Therefore, for lovers of intricate stories, I definitely recommend taking a look at the Jumpship project.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

How to play it?

The gameplay here can be divided into three main components: exploration of locations, puzzles and meetings with opponents. We saw the most similar gameplay and plot in the recent 2D platformer Planet of Lana. To understand how conceptually similar these two indie games are: they are even sold as one set on Steam, although they have different publishers.

Exploring locations here is meditative; the game doesn’t push you at all and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the locations and take dozens of screenshots. There's not even a run button, so if there are no enemies or puzzles on the horizon, enjoy the moment.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Puzzles are the basis of the entire passage of Somerville

In between exploring locations and analyzing the plot, you will have to solve various puzzles. They are not difficult here and, if you think about it a little, you can complete them all without YouTube tips. Most of them involve using our abilities with the help of light. At the beginning there will only be a blue one, which destroys objects, but later we will get a second one – red. It is needed in order to create these objects in special places. This helps most of all in moments when you need to climb over something. Sometimes puzzles won't require you to use abilities at all. You just need to do everything in the right order. It is difficult to say anything more about this aspect. I can’t single out the puzzles that I remember the most. If you have hardly played similar games before, then you will see something unusual for yourself, but if you have popular platformers behind you, then Somerville will not be able to offer anything new in this aspect.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

One of the puzzles where you need to charge the van's battery in order to destroy objects and move on

Gameplay Features on PlayStation 5

Jumpship took great care in creating the PlayStation version of the game. On PC, players complained that Somerville was simply impossible to play on a keyboard. There is no such problem at all on the gamepad. Everything works smoothly, the character instantly responds to all presses, and controlling the hero in such games using sticks is always more pleasant than using “WASD” on the keyboard. Therefore, even if you play the game on a PC, try to do it with a gamepad.

Really liked how some of the DualSense technology was used. If we activate the element of destroying objects, the gamepad begins to glow blue. If the element of creation of objects is red. This happened back in the days of PS4, but I didn’t expect the implementation of adaptive triggers in an indie game. This is a separate plus.

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When using the “blue” element, the left trigger is pressed with almost no problems, and the sound resembles the operation of an electric brush. And when you need to use the “red” element, you need to put a little effort into pressing the right trigger and the sound resembles the work of a small hammer drill. Although in the video it is more difficult to understand the difference in sound and pressure. You need to try this yourself. It was not possible to check the version for PlayStation 4, but I’m sure that the indicator there also starts to light depending on the element, and this is accompanied by the standard vibration of the controller.

What to do with enemies?

To diversify the game, in some places aliens will hunt you. At the beginning of the game we won't even see them; they will shine a huge beam from their ship in search of us and other people. In order to get through these areas, you just need to hide behind rocks, boats, tents and fences.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

An alien ray that is trying to destroy us

Later we will see robotic dogs that scan the area for people with their red laser and are able to kill us with one shot. There are only two possible situations with them. The first is when we need to hide from them and pass unnoticed. The second is plot moments when they notice us and try to catch up. I liked the last one the most, because it adds a little variety to the gameplay and forces you to act as quickly as possible to stay alive.

We will not be allowed to fight them (except for some moments, but these are spoilers). Therefore, we will always have to act carefully and think a few steps ahead, because our opponents are agile, and if we stop for 1-2 seconds, we will already see a loading screen. There won't be many meetings with them, but there will be enough of them so that you don't get bored. And if in similar games, like Planet of Lana or Little Nightmares, some of the puzzles are tied to enemies, here they still act as something separate from all the puzzles, which is a plus, because it adds dynamics to the game.< /p>

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Robotic dogs that hunt us

World exploration, ideal for trophy lovers

The developers were even able to add an element of exploration to this world. There are mysterious drawings in different locations that will help you create your own theory regarding the events of the game. For example, at the beginning you can find a stone on which there is a blue circle, a red square and a purple triangle. Some players will miss this altogether, and some will not think about why it is here, but once you reach the final, you immediately understand why we were sometimes shown these 3 colors. And if you don’t run directly, but stop and look at everything, the immersive effect in Somerville intensifies.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Mysterious drawings that can help understand the world of the game

You can also sometimes find secret locations where the above-mentioned black balls are located. This has no impact on the story, but if you want to see absolutely everything in the game, then why not?

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Instead of running to the left further along the plot, you can crawl under the tree and open a small secret location. There are about 10 of such moments in the game

And the game is also ideal for those who want a quick platinum. There are only 11 trophies in Somerville, and most of them you will unlock on 1 playthrough. And if you missed something, the game is divided into sections and subsections, so you can return to almost any location and not waste extra time on it. The trophies here are also “mysterious”. For example, one of the silver trophies is given for getting stuck in the toilet. Run around in the game and think about which toilet you need to get stuck in. In addition, the authors added as many as 5 endings, and each ending obtained is also a trophy, but for each it is enough to complete the last 2 chapters (and sometimes 1), so all 11 trophies can be opened in one day.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

There are a total of 14 sections in the game, which are divided into subsections. You can always go back to any point in the game and replay it or explore

What about optimization, visual and audio support?

There were a lot of comments on game optimization at release. Constant drops in fps and freezes accompanied the players throughout the entire playthrough. Is there a problem with this on PS5? No. Everything works well, except that several times the fps could drop for a second to 50-45. This happened during the transition between locations and at the beginning of dynamic scenes. During the entire playthrough, the game never crashed, and there were no serious bugs either. Only once the dog got stuck in the textures, but at the next checkpoint the game returned him to me. Therefore, two big problems of the game: optimization and control passed me by, which also affected the impression. I can't say how the game works on PC, but the big advantage is that Xbox and PC owners can play Somerville on Game Pass.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

On PlayStation 5, the game runs in two modes: Performance (60 fps) and Visual (30 fps)

Low polygonal visual makes you hold your breath

The visuals are the game's strongest point. If the plot here is something to think about, Somerville's visuals give you the opportunity to savor the moment. The graphics here are low poly because it's cheaper and simpler, but the style suits Somerville so well. Still, there are not many games with such visuals, and this is where the Jumpship project stands out from others. The developers also decided to apply a grainy effect, make the picture like in movies, when there are black lines at the top and bottom, and completely remove the interface. All these decisions only played into the hands, because Somerville has the most cinematic look. Fans of taking beautiful pictures in games – you know what to do.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

A screenshot that reveals the full cinematic feel of the game: black lines, lack of interface, grainy film and low-poly objects

The locations here are also in complete order. Wherever we visit: a spacious field where a downed plane can be seen; a dense forest where some trees fell from explosions; a highway where hundreds of abandoned cars remained; a rock festival from which they did not have time to pick up the equipment and installations; caves where robotic dogs hunt us; a refugee camp with a depressing atmosphere; an abandoned city in which there remains a surviving church, which is a symbol of the fact that one must always look for a way out and more. Most of the locations here are in a dark palette, but in some places there are brighter places that accompany the sunset, which enhances the contrast.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

Atmospheric locations of the game

Dramatic compositions

The audio for the game was created by French composer Dominique Charpentier. There are not many compositions in the game, but they are all dramatic, which enhances the emotional state of the hero. It’s extremely difficult for him, but he doesn’t give up because he wants to see the people he loves so much. Even the beginning of the game begins with a melancholic melody that sets the mood of the game until the end credits. If you play Somerville when it's raining, the story and music can immerse you even more in the game's world, and then you'll sit for an hour and analyze the themes of love, family, and whether alien invasion is really possible in our world.

What I didn’t like?

Somerville has a few flaws, and the biggest one has to do with the puzzles. The first disadvantage is that the gameplay is not always intuitive. For example, at the beginning of the game in the field we see bales of hay that you can even grab. You go to the first one, take it and… you can't do anything with it. Here the question arises: why was a handle attached to this bale, and even yellow in color, which hints that you need to interact with the object. Then you see the second bale, the situation is the same. It seems that the game wants to teach you that it is better not to touch bales of hay. But if you see the third bale, then you can already interact with it and a secret location will open. But why couldn’t those two be pushed, but suddenly the third one can be pushed? This problem was noted by other players, because it confuses even experienced gamers.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

The first two bales we can't push, but the third one magically manages to do so

There was also a moment when it was necessary to climb onto an object that was created using the “red” element, but the game did not teach that this could be done. She just said that objects can be created. And even when you approached the desired object, they didn’t tell you that you could climb out of it. And it would be one thing if there was a yellow ribbon hanging above it, which is often used to indicate where you need to go, but in some locations there is no intuitive navigation and it’s good if you guessed it yourself. Therefore, if such difficulties arise for people who have completed not 5 or 10 similar games, then certain moments will still cause problems for beginners

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

An object that you need to climb, but the game won’t even hint to you about it

The second minus is the drawn-out ending. The last twenty minutes of the game we just run, run and run some more. No puzzles, no encounters with enemies, or anything else new. You will only need to make a few decisions that affect the ending, interact three times with the same object, and that’s it. It should have been cut down to ten minutes because the final scene of the game, especially depending on which ending you choose, is emotional. However, while you are running back and forth for a certain amount of time, you get bored and just want to get to the goal as quickly as possible.

Путешествие с пришельцами в поисках семьи: Обзор эмоциональной инди-игры Somerville

The only advantage of the game’s drawn-out ending is the opportunity to find yourself in fantastic and sometimes cosmic locations

Five Things to Know About Somerville

  • Somerville is an emotional adventure wrapped in science fiction, where we have to survive an alien invasion and find our loved ones
  • An atmospheric journey can be completed in just one evening
  • Low polygonal graphics make the project stand out from others
  • Jumpship managed to implement some DualSense features, which enhances the immersion of the game
  • While playing Somerville, you should consider it as an original product in order to get the range of emotions that the authors intended
Somerville
Genre Adventure
Platforms PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Number of players Single-user
Developer Jumpship
Publisher Jumpship
Time to complete 3-5 hours
Release date November 15, 2022 | August 31, 2023 for PS 4/5

For those who want to know more

Gratitude

The editors would like to thank the PR agency Plan of Attack for kindly providing the game for review

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