The puzzle platformer is one of those genres that has seen a lot of entries, most likely due to games like Limbo and Braid kickstarting a lot of love in the indie scene. While not all of them have been good, it's still a genre that gets quite a bit of solid entries. Somerville is looking to add to that list, with some lovely graphics and a story about a family reuniting during an alien invasion. Is that enough? Read our review to find out.
The game opens up with a family getting home after a long trip and relaxing in front of the TV. It looks like a peaceful moment until there's a loud droning noise and aliens come out of the sky. When one crash lands right into the house, the husband touches the corpse and seemingly dies. He wakes up an unspecified time later to find his house is ruined and the aliens seemingly won. However, his family is out there somewhere, so he begins to look for him.
While Somerville is a game with no dialogue, you can get the general story pretty easily. I quickly found myself sucked into the tale of this lost husband, trying to find his family while surviving an alien invasion. It hits a lot of the emotional notes I expected from this kind of tale, along with several of the ones I didn't. It's not perfect. There are plenty of times when the lack of dialogue made me go "this would make more sense if you just had a basic human conversation," but if you're into a sort of more artsy take on this story, you should find plenty to like here.
You'll play as this unnamed husband as he searches for his family. The basics are pretty simple: you can run around and interact with objects, pulling or pushing them so they're in a position that helps you solve puzzles. You'll move fallen pieces of wood, crates that you can climb on, throw some switches, and basic things like that. It's nothing too out of the ordinary that you'd see in any other game. However, the husband does have one unique trick.
You see, touching the alien at the start of the game has given you some powers. You initially get the ability to turn alien objects into liquid, so long as you channel your powers through a light source. Later on, you also gain the ability to turn liquids into solids again. A lot of the puzzles involve finding light sources to channel your powers through, and making sure the light can actually reach the alien objects you need melted or solidified.
This actually leads to some rather clever puzzles. In one case you need to open a door, but anytime you use the crank a hook lowers, and, as soon as you let go, the door slams shut. To solve the puzzle I needed to head to a nearby room and start a generator to turn some lights on, allowing me to flood that room and get a mine cart. I could then fill the cart with water, crank the wheel just enough so the hook lowers into the cart, solidify the water in the cart, and then push the cart down a hill so it forces the gate not only open, but to stay open. It takes a bit to figure it out, but it's a solid "aha!" moment when you do.
Not all puzzles have that moment though. One of the last puzzles in the game is, what I can best tell, basically just Simon Says on a grand scale. Yet, no matter how I tried to participate in the puzzle, I just couldn't manage to get it to work in a way that made the game happy, and eventually, when I was offered the choice between the bad ending or continuing the puzzle, I happily chose the bad ending just to get done with that puzzle.
There are more than just puzzles in Somerville. There are a few stealth segments where you have to find ways to sneak around monsters that will spear you if you're in the light for too long. One particularly cool one has you sneaking through a department store, avoiding stepping on noisy surfaces and knocking over mannequins so you don't accidentally get attention. There are also a few chase scenes in the game, having you run away from aliens. They're not particularly hard, but they are dramatic and visually eye-catching, so they get a pass overall.
In fact, a lot of Somerville is visually eye-catching. The very first thing you see, before anything else, is one of the spaceships silhouetted against the sun. The initial alien invasion is a great scene, with jets and alien ships flying around shooting at each other. A late-game chase scene has you climbing a spiral staircase up to the top of a bell tower while avoiding shots from aliens. All of these scenes look fantastic and did plenty to really sell me into the world of Somerville.
While many of the scenes look good in general, there are a few moments that really took me out of the game. One, in particular, was a simple walk down a hospital hallway. All the scene had me do is walk from point A to point B while people looked in awe at this weird man who came in. Easy. Yet all of their animations were wonky at best. Many of them snapped into the wrong animations, disappeared and reappeared, or played animations that didn't actually match up with their actions. It's a weird scene, one that totally killed my immersion in the game. Some other random small things, like the family dog that appears and disappears at random but always seems to be where you're going no matter how little sense it made, also hurt this immersion.
Somerville Review | Verdict
However, despite this, I still found Somerville to be well worth my time. The puzzles were clever, the story is solid, and the game really is great to look at. A few iffy scenes and bad puzzles didn't really bring it down, and if this is a genre you like then Somerville should be the next entry that you grab for it.
TechRaptor reviewed Somerville on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
- Solid story about finding your family
- Several clever puzzles
- Mostly fantastic visuals
- A few really rough puzzles
- Some scenes look terrible