Heavy Rain was pivotal for cinematic gaming, and over the years, they’ve got better, such as 12 Minutes or the superb Conway: Disappearance At Dahlia View. Somerville, the debut from Jumpship (just acquired by publisher Thunderful) is one such title that will resonate with film fans for its… mise-en-scene. How pompous of me.
To call a video game an alien invasion story might recall Space Invaders, but Somerville represents something much more intimate and human. The story mainly follows the father of this young family and examines, without any text or dialogue, what the world might look like and how you would survive if everything you knew about Earth instantly changed. You make your way through Somerville by moving along a linear path, solving environmental puzzles, and avoiding instant death at the hands of imposing enemies. By the end, I didn’t know much about the invading force, but I didn’t care because I was only interested in how to stay alive and connected to my family.
Tthere’s a haunting simplicity to Somerville. There’s not a single word of dialogue in the whole thing, and while there are brief moments of action, most of your time with the game is spent wandering around, completing basic platforming tasks, and solving light puzzles.
Up until now, Somerville was looking really nice and exhibited a great ambience. Now, playing as this pseudo ventriloquist dummy of a child was spoiling it. The animation was dodge; they’d stumble into household objects and float on and off the coffee table while not waking their folks or the dog up. There are only a few pointers to press the A button to interact (no keyboard or mouse options!?). It looks like an accident is about to happen, and then the ‘event’ kicks in.
The simplistic designs of the characters and environment are striking. The world feels big despite being tangibly small, and there are plenty of moments where the camera looks out toward the horizon to frame a particularly impressive vista. The animation also feels natural and fluid… when it works.
Somerville’s intro is especially memorable. I’ve seen a lot of people compare it to the opening of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, and with good reason; it’s real heart-in-the-mouth stuff, generating an incredible amount of tension and suspense for what’s essentially a “walking around all the time” adventure game.
Visually, Somerville is splendid. The camera angles, such as the fixed positions, work in their favour, and besides the kid, the character modelling and animation were great too. As mentioned, I wish they didn’t clash too much with their environments. Like The Sixth Sense, colour is used to insinuate something of importance. Where the film uses red, the game uses a splash of yellow should you get stuck. It’s welcome, as there are odd occasions when you might not know what to fiddle with. Overall, it’s another great example of cinematic gaming and one worth a look at – especially if you have Game Pass.
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