Somerville is a 2.5D side scrolling sci-fi adventure developed by Jumpship and published by Xbox Game Studios. It releases on Xbox, Day one on Game Pass and PC on November 15 and sees a family of three and their pet dog thrust into a mysterious catastrophe, separated after an invasion practically blows up the family home. It goes from a cozy but eerie setting with red lights at the house windows, to a full-blown best jump scare I have had in a long time with an alien invasion across the landscape. There’s also no dialogue, so the story is revealed as you explore the well-detailed and moody environments.
Engrossed in the activity of feeding the family doggo, it wasn’t a necessarily scary thing but the sound effects as an alien invasion rocks the house around you were a shock to the ear drums. Kudos to Jumpship for getting the heart going, which set my mood for what was ahead of me and this family. As the family runs downstairs to seek shelter in the basement, an alien ship crashes into the home with the alien thrown half out of the cockpit. It’s arm and hand is outstretched out of the cockpit. Like in most scary games and movies, you know you shouldn’t, but you touch the alien’s hand anyway. After a flash and a quick scene, you wake up alone with just the dog – your wife and son are nowhere to be seen.
Your right wrist is glowing with blue shards, and you find that you can activate the wrist with the left trigger which shows a spark of electrical activity. This is enough to spark and illuminate a light globe where no power is present, and the light shines on some alien blocks that melts them down to liquid. This enables us to get out of the wrecked house and once outside, we see a desolate scene of crashed alien structures with some still elevated in the sky. As we move around the yard, the camera beckons us to the left and thus starts our exploration of the area, looking for wife and son.
The atmosphere of Somerville is dark and moody, and both sound design and the music help keep you engaged in the absence of narration and dialogue. Lights in the distance are our only real guide, aside from the fact it’s a fairly linear path that we need to tread. As we cross a field, we come across small round alien orbs that have a light, and these roll after us. Their light also helps to melt the red blocky alien substance, and they carry on with us as we explore further. In the background of subsequent scenes, we see a robotic figure stalking us, and later a cat-like robot too. It gave me a mixture of memories from movies War of the Worlds and Signs.
We find out the hard way that some of the crashed column-like structures are still active, with a large ‘eye’ that emits a purple light that kills us instantly. Therefore, we need to use terrain and objects to hide us from this light, as we move from cover to cover. The learning curve for these sequences took me many frustrated attempts to perfect. It came down to timing and finding the best path forward – hang in there and persist to learn their patterns. Sometimes the camera angle doesn’t work in your favour as it makes objects look like you can reach them but can’t, or as you transition from scene to scene, you can sometimes have your vision blocked by things in the foreground.
Later on, we are touched by a second alien life form, who actually saves your life at one point, and our left arm gets infected with red crystals. Activating this arm solidifies the alien substances which we used to raise the floor level, create walkways to cross gaps and chasms, and so on. You will use objects in the environment like crashed cars, camera on carts, moving dumpsters and other methods to progress from scene to scene. There are some intense chase sequences, both to get away from the purple light and also when we are chased by one of the robots, and that got the heart pumping again.
Somerville plays for around 4-6 hours depending on if you’re like me and struggle with some of the puzzles, and for most of that time it’s just you and the dog, or you by yourself. Some puzzles were cleverly designed, having to manipulate light sources to clear the way. While others had me scratching my head wondering what to do with the limited options. Trial and error really are the best way to tackle them, though there was one section that had me absolutely stumped. I quit and went back the next morning and it just worked, so I don’t know if the game glitched or if I just did the right things in the right order.
Overall, Somerville is a short but thrilling game with great visuals, sound design and puzzles in the absence of dialogue. Exploring each area was exciting and most puzzles were clever and engaging to complete. Occasionally the camera angle worked against me but generally this was a fun game to play through, and even better that its available day one on Game Pass for everyone to experience at their leisure.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis