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Somerville | game review

These aliens don't quite stick the landing.

A screenshot from the game Somerville, with a man and his dog watching an alien invasion across the English countryside
 

Game summary: In the wake of catastrophe you must find the means to make your family whole again. (Xbox.com)


I like science-fiction and I like horror, especially if it's set somewhere familiar, so mashing those two genres together and setting it in what appears to be the English countryside seemed set to make sure that I would love Somerville, which turned out to be true for the most part. Unfortunately, there are some pretty big flaws that did hamper my experience and made me like it less than I really should have.


To start with, the game looks great. I really like the visual style, especially for the alien technology and what may or may not be alien creatures or technology that resembles animal life. The game knows when to focus in on the character and when to pull back for some pretty stunning wide shots, with the consistently interesting locations being shown off about as well as you could hope for.


Unfortunately, the camera is fixed, which means there are plenty of occasions when a piece of the scenery is blocking your character's movement and you can't quite see what it is, or the perspective just isn't quite right and what might look like somewhere you can walk turns out to be a dead end.


And that's not where the problems with playing Somerville end either. Just like the camera being fixed - so is how fast your character can move. Most of the time it isn't an issue, but there are still more than a few occasions when progress feels frustratingly slow or sections where you need to move quickly and you're restricted to how fast the game lets you move rather than having any say in it yourself.


On the plus side, those issues turn out to be relatively minor thanks to just how atmospheric the game is, which is quite the achievement consider the lack of any speaking characters or text to help you figure out what's going on. The various locations you have to travel through provide a nice variety to the visuals on your journey and the sound design - especially for the aliens - is top-notch stuff.


Leaving aside the issues above, Somerville's biggest problem is it's climax, where the game's tone changes from one of near-constant creeping dread, to bonkers science-fiction action and super technology without any real explanation as to why. In fact, it's such a jarring change that I wouldn't be surprised if plenty of others feel that it actually diminishes the experience rather than being a grand finale to close proceedings.


I'm not sure how strongly I can recommend this game as a result of that ending. Maybe going in forewarned might help you out, because not knowing anything about the story like I did might result in complete bafflement like what happened with me! I really can't help but wish the entire game had kept to the premise of an alien invasion in the countryside rather than ending in a manner complete incongruous with the rest of the game.


Somerville is pretty great for roughly the first eighty percent of the game before the low-key horror sci-fi gives way to super technology and anime-like action, which feels like it comes from nowhere thanks to the lack of any dialogue or text - a great choice for the game up to that point - crippling any kind of understanding and will probably leave you googling to figure out just what the hell happened when it's over.

[7/10 - Good]

 

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