‘Tis the season for horror video games starting with the letter S. And 5 years on from its announcement, Somerville has lastly emerged over the twilight horizon. The debut title from Jumpship — helmed by veteran movie animator Chris Olsen and PLAYDEAD co-founder Dino Patti — places the lineage of its leaders entrance and middle.
That is recognizably a wedding of top-tier visible manufacturing high quality and the darkness and narrative ambiguity of these video games. Somerville just isn’t, nevertheless, higher than the sum of its elements.
Sommerville opens with a protracted shot of a household driving residence to their distant cottage within the countryside and settles on the mum, dad, youngster, and canine all cozied up asleep on the couch in entrance of TV static. This uncanny second is the final true occasion of peace throughout Somerville’s roughly four-hour runtime, and it’s a disquieting one at that.
Unusual lights and sounds come from outdoors the household’s residence, rousing them every in flip. Just a few moments and some crashed issues later, and also you’re accountable for the daddy, who, together with the trusty mutt, now should see what’s left of the world and what’s grow to be of the remainder of his household.
Following an in depth encounter with one thing, our protagonist finds himself in possession of Somerville’s sole gameplay mechanic: a capability to control the state of the jagged, all-angles alien matter now strewn concerning the place. The caveat is that the power should be paired with a light-weight supply, and missing the foresight to pack a torch for the top of the world, this seek for mild turns into the anchor for a lot of the sport’s puzzles. How do I transfer this lamp there? Can I untangle these wired bulbs and carry them additional right here?
These puzzles aren’t notably troublesome, however that’s not precisely a criticism in and of itself. I think about they’re meant to be pretty swift affairs as you push by way of the ruins of what appears to be southern England — the large trace being the Glastonbury festival-inspired space you’ll encounter fairly early on, replete with a Pyramid Stage and proceed fleeing the monoliths seen littering the horizon, casting their ominous purple mild within the route of sentience.
The headliner right here is the environmental storytelling. It’s clearly the guts and soul of Somerville, and whereas there may be plenty of reward due for the world that Jumpship has created, together with the putting visuals and sound design, it does come on the expense of the sport itself.
Somerville is a cinematic expertise to a fault, all widescreen bordered show and gradual panning digital camera that’s endlessly out of your management. It’s refreshing taking part in by way of a complete expertise directed in a cinematic sense, and the lengthy cuts of our long-suffering dad strolling desolate farmlands because the purple lights scan for all times within the distance call to mind the fashion of Alejandro Iñárritu and even Béla Tarr.
It gives the look that you just’re being watched and provides to the unsettling feeling within the opening hour whereas all the pieces remains to be a thriller. And whereas it’s aesthetically one of many recreation’s biggest strengths, it’s usually a blocker to progress.
The disconnect that arises is that whereas watching a film, the viewers doesn’t have to know the place the solid goes; we’ll know that after they arrive. This opens up the potential for inventive camerawork and strange framing. However as a participant taking part in a online game, all these pictures can show a hindrance, as smaller obstacles in your path will be both obscured or off-camera solely. Typically the chosen angles can depart ambiguity within the degree design, because the route ahead isn’t at all times clear. The depth of subject, too, could make parsing a path by way of particles cumbersome and complicated.
In an interview with Edge earlier this 12 months, Olsen mentioned that Somerville “was 2D; now we’ve modified it right into a 3D recreation.” I’m inclined to say that you may really feel that shift tangibly. The world usually feels prefer it’s working on a 2.5D aircraft, with the digital camera points exposing the dearth of revision to those pivots.
Our protagonist is not any enjoyable to regulate. He’s unwieldy even when the digital camera behaves itself, even supposing there’s very restricted interplay – simply motion and an work together button past the power to control matter. The worst gripe is that his tempo is solely dictated by the sport – and I’ve by no means recognized a personality extra reticent to run within the face of hazard.
There is a handful of notably egregious scenes through which the extent design, digital camera work, and current menace lead the participant to assume you’d run for the closest apparent cowl, solely to have our anonymous hero stroll nonchalantly to his doom. It’s baffling to see and robs the sport of a few of its grounded sensibility. So, too, do numerous plot factors I received’t spoil, as I usually discovered myself asking “why?” with out developing with a great reply.
Throughout my 4 hours with the sport, I encountered myriad efficiency points, as effectively. Sound each disappeared solely or continued throughout scenes, and the vibration operate as soon as wanted a tough reset to stop rumbling. Character fashions would get caught in loops, gesticulating to nobody. A key merchandise within the again half of the sport flailed wildly about when within the protagonist’s arms, no matter what number of instances I reset the sport.
Somerville Evaluation — The Backside Line
- Spectacular visuals and cinematic really feel.
- Sound design and soundtrack.
- In poor health-considered as a online game, and seems like it could be a greater movie.
- Efficiency points and bugs.
- Unsatisfying to play, each when it comes to mechanics and puzzles.
Very like earlier works through which Dino Pattti has been concerned, nothing is ever solely concrete in Somerville. There is not any voice appearing, no textual content, and minimal interplay with something past the elements of puzzles blocking your progress. The story is proven, not informed, as that outdated inventive writing aphorism goes, leaving a lot to the participant’s creativeness.
The anomaly all through and as much as the top is probably going a deliberate technique of incentivising repeat playthroughs and inspiring deeper dives into the story. And I’d have favored extra time on this world to decipher a few of it myself, regardless of my points with among the greater moments within the again half of the sport. But it surely was a wholly too irritating expertise, and by the point I’d received to the top, I’d solely run out of endurance with it.
[Note: Jumpship provided the copy of Somerville used for this review.]