Somerville is an unassuming name for what should be an unassuming place. It's a cozy place nestled amongst the fields and hills of a cozy little county, a beautiful place to raise a family. Right up until an alien invasion flattens your home, decimates the countryside, and leaves eldritch monoliths looming over the skyline.

Somerville is an adventure game akin to Inside (unsurprisingly so, given that Dino Patti is its producer), where players have to guide a hapless refugee through the now-twisted landscapes of his home as he searches for his family and safety against an incomprehensible event. From the very opening cutscene, where your family car snakes through the twilight to find your home, to the fine adrenaline-soaked puzzles, the atmosphere is overflowing with tension. Even as the game progresses and you gain a familiarity, if not an understanding, of the alien landscape, you never feel comfortable or safe. One early section has you exploring through what at first appears to be an abandoned refugee camp, littered with flapping tents and muddy walkways. It's uncomfortable and strange, as it feels too quick to have set up and a very poor choice for one with monoliths staring directly into it. Not long after, though, you discover this was actually a music festival, ruined not only by the drugs and lack of showers but also by the terrifying purple light of the alien war machines.

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Each area tells a story, playing with your expectations of the genre, and adds a little bit of personality to the world now left in tatters. Which is fantastic as there is no dialogue or direct address in the game, leaving you to discern the motivations of everyone you come across. And each vista and landscape you come across in Somerville looks absolutely breathtaking as well. The art style is cartoonish with muted colors, but there is a real sense of depth that creates broad landscapes even in claustrophobic levels. Early in the game, you’re treated to a view of the immediate aftermath of the invasion and its spectacular.

Fans of adventure games will enjoy the variety and ingenuity of the puzzles on offer throughout the game, while those that struggle to suspend their disbelief will be left wondering why they can’t simply climb over the ankle-high walls and avoid the puzzles altogether. An early and central mechanic is light, with the players able to manipulate it to alter the state of the remnant and active alien technology. This often involves creating paths for lighting, moving sources around, devising routes to the power supply itself, and while that might all sound familiar to fans of the genre, this game offers several little surprises and creative sidesteps that leave you feeling very smart as you solve them.

While the game is divided into narrative chapters, the design is more akin to Abe’s Odyssey or Inside, where puzzles and sections are broken up by screen, which the players circle around. Each one offers a unique vista to explore, puzzle to solve, or narrative clue to follow, and they never feel recycled throughout the game's length. While early moments offer a gentler introduction to mechanics, you’ll soon be left to discover solutions for yourself. Kindly enough, Somerville offers very few red herrings, leaving you with only what is needed to solve the puzzle.

Puzzles and exploration are how you’ll mainly interact with Somerville, but these are broken up by chase sequences, which while cinematic, often feel like the biggest annoyance in the game. This is because while the world is a shifting maze of paths to explore, overlaid with beautiful and broken scenery, navigating through them all is not always smooth. Fixed camera positions and a little difficulty perceiving depth mean the chase sequences, where fine-tuned controls are necessary, often leave you scrambling to interact with the right thing before the aliens catch you. This, coupled with an occasionally unforgiving checkpoint system, can leave you feeling less tense and more irritated. But these moments aren’t particularly common and, for the most part, do well breaking up the other aspects of the game.

The sound design of Somerville is understated but effective. While the art direction steals the show, the sound heightens and emphasizes it beautifully. The aliens sound bizarre and powerful, while the gentle interactions of the background add yet more depth and an ominous aura to the whole game. There is very little music, and the few spoken words are all done in nonsense, leaving you feeling even more unwelcome as you progress.

Somerville is a fantastic game, offering everything you could want from the impressive set-up. The relationship between the characters is well defined and surprisingly touching given the lack of dialogue, which may not have been achieved so well since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The puzzles are intricate, challenging, and rewarding, and everything else stacks up to make the experience even more intriguing. While it is not perfect, it delivers an amazing atmosphere that feels perfect for these darkening days and tells a brilliant story with little more than some lights and shadows.

Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).

9
Wccftech Rating
Somerville
Somerville

Somerville is a near-perfect adventure game themed around an alien apocalypse, with fantastic puzzles and exploration. Its few missteps do little to detract from the overall experience.

Pros
  • Atmosphere is perfect
  • Puzzles are smart and interesting
  • Exploration is varied and beautiful
Cons
  • Chase sequences feel a little awkward
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