LifeisXbox’s Somerville review | You can’t begin to write about Somerville without mentioning the history of the developer Jumpship. Two of the finest artistic videogames, LIMBO, and INSIDE have a strong influence. As ex-CEO and co-founder of Playdead, Dino Patti helped with creating Somerville. This visually strong journey has some incredible moments with an eerie atmosphere and outstanding audio. Together with the release of Somerville was more good news for the developer. As the news that Thunderful was acquiring Jumpship was announced to the public. I full-heartedly believe this is a great mix and I’m looking forward to whatever they make in the future!
But first, all eyes are on Somerville.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- Best start of a videogame I ever played | Somerville immediately grabs you with an intense atmosphere. It puts the player in a recognizable family situation before all hell breaks loose with the Sci-Fi catastrophe that unfolds. Seeing how a normal day turns into a hectic invasion of something unfamiliar and unexplainable was my most memorable moment in a long time. It introduces the easy control mechanics exceptionally with everyday tasks like feeding the dog and walking around as a carefree child who just wants to explore the world. This continues for a good mysterious hour but eventually slows down a bit, while the story and narration continue to be strong it slowly begins to turn from excellent to only enjoyable.
- Somerville sets the bar for an apocalyptic world in video games | From your previously safe household to an entire abandoned outdoor festival, Somerville manages to completely nail the feeling of losing all hope for humanity and witnessing the superior force of otherworldly forces. Similar to the movie 28 Days Later or the start from season 1 of The Walking Dead, they allow the player to slowly explore the new empty world. These cinematic moments are often bone-chilling and when you are introduced to ‘the aliens’ or survivors it really punches the emotional soul. Things like your dog as a companion (you can’t pet him) in these large-scale empty moments help with giving it a grander magnitude. Using excellent camera work, Somerville is claustrophobic when needed or can show the great emptiness. This in recognizable places for the player such as a giant shopping mall or an outdoor festival.
- World-class visuals | Somerville’s landscape is a piece of art. Let’s take that abandoned festival as an example. Tents are realistically floating away with the wind and the scale of the entire place is huge. As if I’m walking around Rock Werchter and everyone is still recovering from last night so the grounds are all empty. Somerville has a unique mix of realistic visuals and low-poly details that really pop up nicely, especially the characters and alien presence. What makes it that awesome is the great use of lighting and how it reacts with the background. I would say it is very similar as INSIDE, although that game was more limited as it was a 2D experience. In Somerville you can really explore and move around obstacles, making it a more genuine visual showcase.
- The power of silence and knowing when to add sound or music | Part of the atmosphere is Somerville’s audio experience. It can be creepy silent or raise the tension and drama with some deafening sounds from the alien tech. You won’t see cows being sucked up in the air (would have loved to see that) but they do have that technology and the sounds coming from those tubes is terrifying. Actually, you can compare it with War of the Worlds! The game truly excels in knowing when to be silent, the audio magic from the movie A Quiet Place for example is pretty similar in Somerville. You hear and feel the pain of the nameless playable character. It is a hard question to ask myself, what do I pick best in Somerville audio or the visuals? After some thinking and remembering specific parts from the game I do have to pick the audio. Tremendous work!
- Story waters down near the end | So we got this brilliant start of the game which reminds me of a Shyamalan movie. Somerville lowers the bar bit by bit the longer you play. There is no dialogue or narrator so everything is explained visually, they have done this exceptionally well but I wish they took some different turns throughout Somerville’s story. I honestly had no clue whatsoever what was happening in the last half hour or so. All I know is that you have multiple endings about what happens with our nameless, faceless, and voiceless playable character. I am curious to see opinions from other players, maybe they connected the dots better than me. I can’t go into too many details but I think our protagonist somehow got superpowers by the presence of the aliens or he was compatible with the alien’s technology. Again, I have no clue. One thing the storytelling did was bring some emotional moments while playing, nothing that will burst you into tears like Life is Strange but they do play on your emotions.
What we Disliked
- Frustrating when interacting with the environment | Controls are mediocre, to begin with. Part of that is because of the fixed and dynamic camera that changes the control direction of the character. As the view can be from far away you don’t always notice that you are walking against something. More annoyingly is that you don’t always immediately notice what you have to pick up or push. I don’t want those typical Sony Studios puzzle guidance from God of Way or Horizon, that spoil solutions after a few seconds but a bit more guidance in Somerville would have been welcome. We have two main physics-based puzzle solutions. Our playable character has the power to light up his arm, when he touches a light source he has the awesome power to turn alien objects into something waterlike. Another skill he has is to turn that waterlike structure into something solid. They aren’t really difficult as all of them are solved by logic, only physics becomes a frustrating issue. Aligning yourself correctly with the playable character is crucial and that’s why I got stuck with a few puzzles, I had the right solution but the animation to trigger a lever or touch someone’s arm failed as I was a bedbug away from the place I needed to be. One extreme case of this was when the nameless character was stuck in a cave with doglike aliens, you must climb an almost invisible rock formation in a small room. Damn, I hated this part and the terrible game design.
- Many bugs | Developer Jumpship nailed a lot with Somerville but polishing isn’t their strongest forte. In my five-hour journey, many things didn’t go as planned, most of the time companions get stuck in the environment and magically teleport if you need them. A lot of the animations for the little kid glitch out, with the weirdest one being the woman picks the kid up and simply disappears with a floating kid as result. My controller kept vibrating multiple times, so I simply turned that off as my cat was going crazy with the sound it made. Not to mention it was simply annoying for me too! It is immensely clear and obvious that Somerville needed more time in the oven. Jumpship didn’t take out raw chicken but a few more minutes in a heated oven would have been perfect.
How long to beat the story | 5 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 7 hours (finding all alien orbs)
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