Game

Somerville is a spiritual sequel to Limbo, but with blockbuster scope


The first thing you should know about Somervillespiritual sequel of limbo and internal, it’s a story that makes sense. Its predecessors lived on the far end of the narrative spectrum, somewhere between “Buñulian’s nightmare” and “that time you smoked salvia in college and split up while reading Orwell.” But SomervilleWell, it’s a little bit normal. At first.

The Somerville The elevator pitch only needs one floor: “What if someone finally made it War of the Worlds into a decent video game?” Because H.G. Wells’ novel (and its myriad variations) has achieved rare pop-culture popularity, the initial beat will be familiar: a bit of family bliss interrupted by apocalyptic alien invasion; The earth collapsed from the POV of the people on the ground; the far-fetched possibility of a counterattack to save humanity from total destruction.

This time, instead of following the world’s sexiest president or scientist, we come across a guy who just wants to see his wife and kids again. The guy has no knack for violence and no talent for survival other than his slightly high ability to quickly solve problems. He’s like a particularly smart and/or lucky ant on the run to survive a family picnic.

Of all War of the Worlds Adaptation, Somerville has the most in common with Steven Spielberg’s Tom Cruise vehicle, which was released a few years after the 9/11 attacks. Cars swerved along the highway, going in a direction where things were probably just as bad — maybe worse. Survivors hid in sewers or gathered in impromptu evacuation centers. An abandoned outdoor festival — as if the partygoers were mesmerized.

In Somerville, the hero solves puzzles using magical light to transform materials into rocks and liquids.  Here he is melting a wall to escape from his house.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

Since this is a video game, our guy is allowed to go into the night with superhuman strength. Moments after the invasion, but before the family fell apart, the father had a close encounter with an alien soldier. With a tap of his finger and a period of unconsciousness, he receives the gift of turning light into a world-bending tool.

When he touches a table lamp, ceiling fan or spotlight, he can channel blue energy through an electrical current, turning the natural white light into a bright, sponge-like glow that melts foreign materials into a poop. living. Not long after, he acquired a red energy that, with a shockwave, froze the alien goop, like lava instantly hardening into stone. Most of the game’s puzzles involve dissolving and recovering materials, liquefying the rock to fill the void with melted otherworldly mud, then hardening its surface so the guy and his dog can hobble through the shell.

And so the father begins his journey through a world that looks a bit like ours, but is more moody and completely destroyed. In this way, the game looks and plays very much like Playdead games. You travel left or right through a more or less 2D space, solving puzzles, evading unstoppable enemies, and piecing together a story made with pantomime instead of dialogue.

In the beginning of Somerville, an alien soldier grants an ordinary person supernatural powers.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

But this is not a Playdead game. After release internalDino Patti, Playdead’s co-founder and executive producer, left the studio and founded Jumpship, where he recruited new talent. SomervilleDirector and screenwriter by Chris Olsen, from cartoon worldand since then, he’s brought a deeper interest in cinema — not just in blockbuster settings, but in the little things: wide shots and close-ups.

So while the game at first blushed like a different game limbo or internalAs its journey continues, the similarities disappear like a snake shedding its skin.

What do I mean? Basically, a game works best when it’s not a game at all. As the guy left his destroyed house, he leaned against the doorframe and craned his neck in search of his dog. As he hides from the spotlight of a giant alien ship, the camera pans back until he appears on screen. You can tell that an animator has more control than usual because every character, creature and disaster is given a lot of time and attention. We’ve seen this level of detail — in which characters interact with the world and the people around them — in big budget projects like Our Last Part 2but it’s rare in a game of this size where prioritizing animation means discarding something else.

A couple try to escape from their home during the alien apocalypse in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

Speaking of: As adventure finds its place, its creators seem to have completely lost interest in puzzles – for the better, frankly. The puzzles are good, fussy, and a bit forgettable. In the second half, our guy’s journey leans forward Walking Simulator of the 2010s, where the only real obligation is to keep moving forward. This also causes some minor discomfort, as the game’s dark visuals and the diminutive size of the characters can lead to confusion about how to interact with the world. Sometimes, I understand where the game wants me to go, but can’t immediately grasp how it expects me, such as climbing a rock or swimming across a pond. Most frustratingly, some of the instant death action sequences completely broke the flow, forcing me to retry three or four times.

These errors are kept internal and limboand it’s disappointing to see them span three games over 12 years, presumably following creative talent from studio to studio.

To combat myself, the problems may just be an inevitable side effect of this style of game. And the solution can depend as much on the player (read as: me) as well as the designer. For example, the way I play this kind of platform adventure game has changed over the years. They are narratively static, built like a movie, moving from scene to scene in exactly the same way every time. So now, I treat them like movies for me to act in. The first playthrough serves as script notation and costume rehearsal, allowing me to work out the key and elusive points. The second playthrough is where the game comes into its own, so to speak, as I make the journey in perfect pacing. I achieved my goal and in return, the game played out as it should.

A man looks at a crashed jet plane covered in alien rocks in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

I wonder if Somerville hopefully most players will have a similar experience, gain the credits and start over, this time with less puzzlement and more attention to cinematography. The game’s short runtime (just a few hours) and the possibility of alternate endings (we’ll leave that to Reddit and YouTube to unpack) suggest a lot.

For the second playthrough, I switched from the Steam Deck to a large TV, making the second play even further, because while the game doesn’t look like an AAA game, it feels feels like a game. So play on the biggest screen with the best headphones or speakers you can find.

Somerville is a fun, delicious dish to end the year that will be remembered many courses meal. We can leave it at that, I suppose. But I want to go back, one last time, to the game’s pedigree. Because in addition to being an entertaining video game, Somerville carries an unusual amount of meaning in the game industry — or baggage — depending on your approach.

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

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

In 2010, Danish studio Playdead released limbo, one of the first indie games to benefit from an internet-connected console and digital storefront. A small group can reach a huge audience without being on the shelf at Walmart — and without incurring all the overhead involved. internal emerged six years later during the dense “indiepocalypse” era, when those same online stores became overwhelmed with dozens of new releases each week. Its predecessor has secured attention from reviewers and its quality has earned it high marks, elevating the obsolete yarn above the thousands of its contemporaries. Now, six years later, we have a conclusion about types Somerville, a game that shows how indie games have become not so independent, that established talent has the money and the buffer to break and do separate things. Furthermore, Jumpship has partnered with Microsoft to make it available at launch on Game Pass, drawing a line from limbo‘S Original skins on Xbox Live Arcade. The upstarts have become the elders.

Of course, internal Playdead developers still exist. In 2020, the studio announced a partnership with game publisher and store Epic Games. As that deal comes to fruition, we could see the official conclusion to this historic trilogy of indie games. With Somerville world as a provisional conclusion, sort of, it’s safe to hope that both the original tree and its cuttings will be fine, branching out in their own moody and endearing way.

I have kept one thing from you, and that is the final act. limbo, and special internal, Understand that a memorable ending makes for a memorable game. Somerville remains the same lesson, and for all its familiarity and clear storytelling, the game loosens the wheel until it suddenly plunges from off-road into…something you’ll have to experience for yourself. experience.

I suppose, then, that Somerville is the most welcome of the three, starting with the familiar and working in a slow, exponential straight line to the exotic. Wise choice. For all the craftsmanship required to create a clean, playable movie, nothing beats the otherworldly weirdness of video games.

Somerville will be released on November 15th on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass. The game has been evaluated on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Jumpship. Vox Media has an affiliate partnership. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.

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