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Somerville has its own ideas

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It’s late evening. A family is dozing in front of the TV, their dog at their feet. Suddenly the TV turns to static, the ground shakes. While the parents peacefully sleep on, the toddler stirs. Oh no. I instantly expect nothing but the worst for the toddler, seeing whose game I’m playing – developer Jumpship was co-founded by Dino Patti, himself co-founder of Playdead, the studio behind Limbo and Inside. Both aren’t exactly known for treating their child protagonists well.

Somerville has its own ideas too. You don't just scramble from one side of the screen to another, you have limited power over alien matter that the invaders have left behind. It starts with lumps of voxelly red-tinged stone, the kind of thing Gary Numan might build cover art around. If you have a light source or electricity source you can use as an amplifier, you can squeeze a trigger to turn this stone into soupy blue voxelly liquid. So maybe you can clear an obstacle blocking your way, or make a path upwards.

A shame, as that immersion is quite something. There are puzzles – most of which aren’t overly obtuse, relying on common sense on the whole – but the star here is the world itself. The subtle details that imply events that have transpired. You’ve arrived after the story has been told, only able to piece together what’s gone on as you venture forward in an attempt to put your own life back together following a calamitous world-shattering event.

Tonally, however, Somerville is in a league all of its own. While I won’t spoil what happens to the toddler, Somerville’s protagonist is actually the father. After the ominous shaking actually turns out to be an alien invasion, he gets separated from the rest of his family and has to set off to find them. Our protagonist is nameless and near-mute, as Somerville tells its entire story non-verbally. I only hear the man’s groans of exertion as he moves heavy items or tries to recover from a heavy fall. More importantly, he is really just a man – someone who had a normal evening in front of the telly before the aliens came.

The best puzzles lead to genuine a-ha moments, and use a wide range of items in the environments. The least inspired, though, often run aground of the fact that Somerville can be surprisingly fiddly. Maybe it's the shift to three dimensions, but the sluggish protagonist is not above getting stuck on things now and then, and occasionally even glitches out. These are all very rare occurrences, but the sad truth is that for long stretches Somerville isn't a very pleasing game to control: movement feels fuzzy and dreamlike in the worst sense - one of those dreams where you're wading, weighed down, pushing through the thick mineral air.

In truth, I’m not the biggest thinker when it comes to media. I watch a film, read a book, play a game, and take what’s happened at face value. If meaning is hidden behind a 10k-post Reddit thread, then, well, maybe it wasn’t conveyed well enough. Somerville doesn’t have this problem. It’s affecting in all the right ways, and a game I really can’t recommend strongly enough.

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29, Aralık, 2022 Ubuntu kategorisinde rodeoneerer (160 puan) tarafından soruldu

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