What happens when your world is suddenly turned upside down by forces you don’t understand? Somerville throws you into such a situation when unexplained phenomena disrupt your character’s idyllic life with his family. Given a strange power that can clear away unknown structures, you must find a way to reunite with your family and survive.
You have no idea what has happened, or what is going on. The only thing you need to know is that you have an unknown destination, and you must reach it. Somerville has gorgeous visuals to look at, and you can’t help but appreciate the ruined environments that you find yourself in. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of a story or gameplay, and it is easy to get frustrated since you have to learn on the go. Somerville feels less like an adventure game and more like a simple puzzle game, because there’s nothing motivating you to get to the end.
The story has a simple beginning. Your family has moved to a new home and you are enjoying life together. That life is soon disrupted by alien forces arriving on Earth, and your home is caught in the crossfire. One of the invaders lands in your home and transfers their power to you, which knocks you unconscious. When you wake up, your house is abandoned and the family is gone. You embark on a journey to reunite with your family and survive the conflict.
Somerville chooses to have no narration, character development, or exposition when telling its story. This choice doesn’t work, because you don’t understand much of what is going on. Where do you need to go? What do you need to do? What objects can be interacted with? The only assistance you have is the game telling you what buttons you need to push, and that only exists at the start. You’re on your own when it comes to knowing what to do.
Unless you were reading external material, you wouldn’t know that aliens had invaded, or that your goal is to find your family. The story could be a war between two technologically advanced cities, and a man trying to rebuild a life for himself. There’s no attempt at exposition, which fails to immerse the player in the story. The result is a journey that feels empty, because you have no idea what is happening or why you are embarking on your mission.
“You walk around and move things to get from Point A to Point B, and do this repeatedly until the end.”
For an adventure game, the sense of adventure isn’t there. The only objective is to go from Point A to Point B, solving puzzles along the way. You don’t have any reason to proceed other than “there’s nothing else to do”. Adventures ignite a feeling of excitement, you want to know what’s coming up. Somerville’s lack of story lowers the stakes, because solving puzzles just isn’t exciting. It’s difficult to motivate yourself to reach the end.
The main form of gameplay will be the small puzzles that you must solve to continue. These puzzles suffer from the same problem as the story: there’s no explanation regarding them. The early stages of the game will be spent fumbling around as you try to look for any direction on what to do. The story may be linear, but you often have no idea where to begin with puzzle solving or what to do. You might rely on some orange visual cues that indicate an item can be interacted with, but you’re more likely to get stumped. There’s no guidance when it comes to puzzle solving, nor are there any hints if you get stuck.
The initial excitement from the visuals and environment begins to disappear when you start puzzle solving. Frustration becomes the dominant feeling as you wonder what you need to do, or what else you can do. While you feel a sense of pride for finding the solution, you are often spending several minutes running around seeing if objects can be interacted with. Searching for solutions isn’t unusual for the point-and-click adventure genre, but Somerville doesn’t tell you what the problems are.
That would be great if there was a tutorial to help players understand the puzzles, but you are thrown straight into the deep end. This results in an experience that artificially extends the game length, because you’re not enjoying the story. You’re taking a long time because you’re trying to find solutions to puzzles that aren’t obvious. The game takes 4-6 hours to complete on average, but you are spending most of that time solving puzzles.
Somerville feels more like a puzzle game than an adventure. Moving from Point A to Point B isn’t an adventure, and solving puzzles isn’t thrilling enough to keep someone’s attention. It feels like a missed opportunity, as character development and a story could help us be more attached. Forgoing those elements makes the game feel empty, as all you have are brief scenes with others and puzzles to keep the game going.
What Somerville succeeds in is creating wonderful environments for you to journey through. Every landscape that you walk through is beautiful to look at. The alien technology that is occasionally interspersed in the environment doesn’t look forced. You see a world ravaged by conflict, which is equally stunning and horrific. It’s a stark reminder about the damage that is caused by combat, and how it affects the world around you. But it also reminds you that even in a land ravaged by fighting, there is still some beauty in the world.
The music is also fitting for your travels. Sounds of nature and abandoned locations are interspersed with destroyed alien technology, trying to stop your progress. It’s a perfect contrast of sounds that only heightens your experience during your travels.
Somerville tries to present a sci-fi adventure which tries to tell a story without narration, but the attempt doesn’t succeed. What ends up happening is a journey that is filled with puzzle solving that only has brief breaks. It’s a lonely experience that, if it wasn’t for the environments and sound, would be difficult to tolerate.
- The environments are wonderful to look at
- Striking audio contrast between nature and alien technology
- Lack of basic story elements prevents you from caring
- Solving puzzles is the only activity you do
- No explanation or puzzle tutorials can lead to frustration
- Artificially extending game length
- No hints if you get stuck or aren't sure what to do
Somerville relies on its fantastic animations and settings to tell a story of a father trying to reunite with his family. But without important story fundamentals such as exposition, you have no idea what is going on. Coupled with the fact that the adventure consists of simply solving puzzles while walking around, it is hard to immerse yourself in the story or even care about what will happen. Solving puzzles can also be difficult because you are expected to fumble around and discover what can be interacted with. There’s no guidance or assistance, which leads to frustration when you have no idea what to do next. There’s a good attempt at telling a story here, but it’s difficult to find yourself wanting to reach the end.