Somerville is a spiritual sequel to Limbo, but with a successful reach

The first thing you should know Somervillethe spiritual sequel of Limbo And Inside, is that the story makes sense. Its predecessors lived on the far end of the narrative spectrum, somewhere between “Buñuelian’s nightmare” and “that time you smoked sage in college and dissociated while reading Orwell.” But Somerville, well, that’s a bit normal. At the beginning.

The Somerville the lift only needs one floor: “And if finally someone did it War of the worlds in a decent video game? ”As HG Wells’ novel (and its countless variations) has reached that rarefied level of pop culture ubiquity, the first beats will be familiar: a bit of domestic bliss interrupted by an apocalyptic alien invasion; The collapse of the Earth from the point of view of the people on the ground; the distant possibility of a counter-maneuver to surround humanity with total annihilation.

This time, instead of following the sexiest president or scientist in the world, we have a guy who just wants to see his wife and son again. The boy has no talent for violence and no talent for survival other than a slightly elevated ability to solve problems on the fly. He is like a particularly intelligent and / or lucky ant that sneaks up to survive on a family picnic.

Of all War of the worlds adaptations, Somerville has a lot in common with Steven Spielberg’s Tom Cruise vehicle, released a few years after the 9/11 attacks. Cars whizzing erratically along a highway, fleeing in a direction where things are probably just as bad, perhaps worse. Survivors hide in sewer drains or congregate in makeshift evacuation centers. An outdoor festival is abandoned, as if its partygoers have been kidnapped.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

Since this is a video game, our boy can walk through the night with superhuman power. In the moments following the invasion, but before the family is torn apart, the father has a close encounter with an alien soldier. With a touch of his fingers and a period of unconsciousness, he receives the gift of transforming light into an instrument that bends the world.

When it touches a desk lamp, ceiling fan, or spotlight, it can channel blue energy through the current, converting natural white light into a sea foam glow that melts alien materials into a kind of living mush. Not long after, it acquires a red energy which, with a concussive impulse, solidifies the alien mush, like lava that instantly hardens into rock. Most of the puzzles in the game involve dissolving and restoring the materials, liquefying the stones to fill an empty space with the loose mud from the other world, then hardening its surface so that the boy and his dog can limp on the crust.

And so the father goes on a journey through a world that looks a bit like ours, but more moody and completely demolished. In this way, the game looks and plays very similar to Playdead games. You walk left or right in a more or less 2D space, solving puzzles, hiding from unstoppable enemies, and putting together a story performed with pantomime rather than dialogue.

At the beginning of Somerville, an alien soldier offers an average man supernatural power.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

But this is not a Playdead game. Following the release of InsidePlaydead co-founder and executive producer Dino Patti left the studio and founded Jumpship, where he hired new talent. Somervillethe director and screenwriter, Chris Olsen, came from the world of animation, and from this he brings a more acute interest in cinema, not only for the hit scenes, but also for the little things: the wide shot and the fine – on.

So while the game looks like any other at first glance Limbo or Insideas his journey continues, the similarities vanish like a snake shedding its skin.

What do I mean by this? Basically, the game works best when it’s not a game at all. When the boy leaves his demolished house, he leans against the door jamb and cranes his neck, looking for his dog. When he escapes the spotlights of a giant alien ship, the camera retracts until it is a dot on the screen. It can be said that an animator had more control than usual because every character, creature and catastrophe was given so much time and care. We’ve seen this level of detail – where characters interact with the world and the people around them – in high-budget projects like The last of us part 2but rarely in a game of this size, where prioritizing animation means depriving the priority of something else.

Husband and wife try to escape their home during an alien apocalypse in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

By the way: when the adventure takes hold, its creators seem to lose interest in puzzles altogether, for the better, frankly. The puzzles are beautiful, fussy and somewhat forgettable. In the second half, our boy’s journey approaches the Walking Simulators of the 2010s, where the only real obligation is to move on. This also brings some minor irritation, as the game’s dark graphics and small character size can create confusion as to how to interact with the world. From time to time, I figured out where the game wanted me to go, but I couldn’t immediately understand how it expected me to, for example, climb a rock or swim across a pond. Most annoying were the few instant death action sequences that cut the flow entirely, forcing me to try again three or four times.

These defects have been withheld Inside And Limboand it’s disappointing to see them now embrace three games in 12 years, presumably following creative talent from studio to studio.

To counter me, the problems may just be the inevitable side effects of this style of play. And the solution could fall as much on the player (read: me) as on the designer. For example, the way I play this type of platform adventure game has changed over the years. They are narratively static, built like movies, moving from scene to scene in exactly the same way every time. So now I treat them as films for me to show. The first playthrough serves as a script annotation and dress rehearsal, allowing me to work out the knots and holds. The second playthrough is where the game becomes itself, so to speak, as I act out the journey in perfect rhythm. I hit my grades and in return, the game plays out like the show it was always meant to be.

A man watches a crashed plane covered in alien stone in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

I wonder if Somerville expects most players to have a similar experience, earning credits and starting over, this time with less interest in puzzles and more interest in the movie. The short run time of the game (just a few hours) and the possibility of alternative endings (we’ll leave Reddit and YouTube to unpack) suggest this.

For the second playthrough, I switched from the Steam Deck to a large TV. I’m glad I did because while this game doesn’t necessarily look like a AAA game, it does. So play on the bigger screen with the best headphones or speakers you can find.

Somerville it’s a delicious and delicious bite to end a year that will be remembered for multi-course meals. We could let it go, I suppose. But I would like to return, one last time, to the pedigree of the game. Because in addition to being a fun video game, Somerville brings an unusual amount of meaning to the gaming industry – or luggage – depending on your angle of approach.

A millennial father, mother, son and dog sleep on the sofa in front of a TV on in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

In 2010, the Danish studio Playdead came out Limbo, one of the first indie games to benefit from internet-connected consoles and digital storefronts. A small team could reach a large audience without appearing on Walmart’s shelf and without all the associated overhead costs. Inside appeared six years later in the midst of the “indiepocalypse”, when those same online stores were overcrowded with dozens of new releases every week. Its predecessor garnered the attention of reviewers and its quality garnered high marks, elevating the dystopian thread above the thousands of contemporaries. Now, another six years later, we have some sort of conclusion Somerville, a project that shows how indie gaming has become not so indie, that established talents have the money and the cache to break up and do separate things. Additionally, Jumpship has partnered with Microsoft to create Somerville available at launch on Game Pass, drawing a direct line backwards Limbo‘S original appearance on Xbox Live Arcade. The newcomers became the elderly.

Of course, Inside the Playdead developer still exists. In 2020, the studio announced a partnership with the game publisher and showcase Epic Games. When that deal bears fruit, we could see the official conclusion of this historic indie game trilogy. With Somerville in the world as a tentative conclusion, somehow, it is safe to expect that both the original plant and its cut will do well, branching out in their moody and adorable ways.

I kept one thing from you, and this is the final act. Limbo, and especially Inside, realized that a memorable ending makes a memorable game. Somerville keep this lesson, and for all its familiarity and narrative clarity, the game loosens your grip on the wheel until it suddenly swerves off-road in … something you’ll need to experience for yourself.

Maybe then Somerville is the coziest of the three games, starting with the familiar and riding the slow and exponential line up into the bizarre. Wise choice. Despite all the skills needed to make a clear and playable movie, nothing beats the otherworldly weirdness of video games.

Somerville will be released on November 15 on Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X via Game Pass. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Jumpship. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find Learn more about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: