Travelling with aliens in search of family: Review of the emotional indie game Somerville

By: Vladyslav Nuzhnov | 17.08.2023, 09:00

Somerville is the debut indie game by the English studio Jumpship. The story tells of an ordinary American family that one evening faces the invasion of mysterious aliens on Earth. Playing as a man, we try to escape together with his wife, small child and dog, but the forces are unequal and now we have to find our relatives. And because the game doesn't tell you anything, from the very beginning to the very end, you won't be able to tear yourself away from the passage and will try to find answers to questions and try to figure out what happened in this emotional story. Most of all, the game impresses with its low-poly visuals, and you want to constantly take screenshots of the locations we meet on our way.

5 Reasons to Buy Somerville

  • You need a game that will evoke emotions and make you care
  • You have hardly played any similar games and want to try something new for yourself
  • You have never seen a game with a low-poly style
  • You have only one evening to complete something
  • You love the film Arrival or the book The War of the Worlds by Herbert Wells

3 Reasons Not to Buy Somerville

  • You are looking for a game that will exceed Inside
  • You are not ready to buy a 4-hour adventure for $30
  • You don't want a game where you have to think of the plot yourself

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Background: Why So Much Attention to the Game?

The development of this sci-fi adventure started back in 2014 as a personal project of Chris Olsen, but the most interesting part of the game started in 2016. That's when the first trailer and a game build were presented to show that the game really exists. Soon after, Dino Patti, the former CEO and co-founder of Playdead, the studio that brought us the iconic Limbo and Inside, left the team in search of new "challenges", saw Chris's project and offered him cooperation. And in 2017, Jumpship was born with more than 20 developers.

The first teaser trailer of the game

Somerville was released in November 2022 on PC and Xbox One/Series and received mixed reviews from players. And the presence of Dino Patti in this project had the biggest impact on the ratings. People were subconsciously waiting for a game that would exceed Limbo and Inside combined. This can even be seen in the comments under the trailers, where players wrote that they were hoping for a "masterpiece" because the author of Limbo and Inside was involved. Of course, it's hard not to compare these games, but Somerville should be perceived as a separate game that has nothing in common with Playdead games, apart from the general features. Then you get completely different emotions from the project.

Of course, it was not without its drawbacks, such as the lack of intuitive moments. And the ending of the game could be shortened a bit and made more intense. But if you don't compare this game with others and immerse yourself in it, you will get a good gaming experience that will dilute one evening of your life.

Somerville will be released for PlayStation 4/5 on August 31. And here, Jumpship has fixed two serious drawbacks that PC players encountered during the release: poor optimisation and terrible keyboard controls. Also, the developers managed to implement some DualSense features, which enhances the immersion in the game. However, in order to understand whether you should buy it, gg editorial team will tell you about all the main points of Somerville that you should know.

Again Mysterious Aliens & Emotional Rescue of the Family

The game starts without any explanation, with the image of a mysterious pillar around which there is a huge flash. What is this pillar? When did it exist? Is it now, in the past, or is it the future? Somerville has a lot of such moments, so those who like to build several theories and reveal secrets on their own will like this presentation of the story.

A mysterious pillar that meets gamers at the very beginning of the game

Immediately after the pole is shown, a scene begins in which the car is driving to its house in the countryside. Here, we are introduced to the family around which the main story unfolds: a dog, a small child, and a wife and husband who are about 30 years old, but we do not know their names. After returning home, the family decides to watch TV, but everyone falls asleep. The first one to wake up is the baby, who decides to go to the kitchen in search of adventure, but falls and wakes up the whole family.

We start playing as the husband and go down to the basement to get the dog's food, but suddenly we hear a big explosion outside the window. We run outside with the family and see a strange alien pole flying into our yard. The man quickly returns home to take all the necessary things and get into the car with his family and flee. But as soon as they go out into the yard again, the new pole hits the garage, and the car burns down. The family has no other option but to hide in the basement of the house. However, there are some "surprises" waiting for them there too.

The beginning of the alien invasion

A strange man in a blue suit breaks through the roof of the house and shakes our hand. Approaching him, he transmits a mysterious power to us, dies, and we black out. Our wife tries to bring us back to consciousness, but is unable to do so, grabs the child and runs out of the house, leaving us to guard the dog.

A mysterious person gives us his powers

After recovering, the protagonist wakes up and realises that the mysterious power he has received will help him destroy alien objects with the help of light. One of these objects is in the basement, blocking the exit from the house. Using the lamp, we turn the light into a blue beam, destroy the barrier and get out into the yard with the dog.

The process of destroying alien barriers using light and strength

Now, during the 2-3 hours of the game, we have to find our family, meet the strange smart black balls that will help us, and find out what kind of secret man in a red suit is watching us. Who is he? Is he an enemy or a friend? As in any adventure, you will have to get out of dangers of varying complexity, go through difficult, emotional and tense moments and do your best to find your family.

On the side, you can see smart black balls that will help (from time to time), and in the background there is a mysterious soldier who is watching us

Personally, as a Ukrainian, the story reminded me of a war, when one day your life changes dramatically, you hear explosions everywhere, you can see smoke somewhere, and all you want now is to see your family. So people who have had similar experiences will get a different range of emotions from the Somerville story. The game doesn't make you cry, but due to the fact that the story is short and takes a maximum of four hours to complete, except for the final segment, it keeps you in suspense and skilfully plays with your feelings. You are scared here, you have to make quick decisions, and now you can take a little rest, and in a few minutes there will be even more problems. So, if you are an emotional player looking for a mystery story for the evening and still want to analyse the events on the screen on your own, then Somerville will suit you.

The Most Mysterious Game World

The solution that can help to attract players to an indie game rather than an AAA project is intrigue. However, let's return to Limbo and Inside. What makes them memorable? The mysterious atmosphere. The videos of people analysing the Inside storyline have garnered millions of views because people are attracted to mystery. And Somerville decides to do the same. The game seems to be trying to tell you: "Look how mysterious I am". And it's addictive, because I played the game without pausing. And in the morning, like thousands of other gamers, I went to YouTube to watch videos with story analysis to understand it even better.

All the time you're playing, you're asking yourself dozens of questions: is our family alive, what are these black balls, will they give us the opportunity to better explore the aliens, or is this the main character's dream? The last part of the game becomes so confusing that you feel like you're playing a game created by Christopher Nolan. Add parallel universes and your brain will explode. Who knows, maybe after completing the game, you will also want to record a video with your theory and collect thousands of views? Therefore, for those who like intricate stories, I definitely recommend checking out the Jumpship project.

How to Play the Game

The gameplay here can be divided into 3 main components:

  • exploring locations
  • puzzles
  • encounters with opponents

We have seen the most similar gameplay and storyline in the recent 2D platformer Planet of Lana. To understand how conceptually similar these two indie games are: they are even sold as a single bundle on Steam, although they have different publishers.

The exploration of locations here is meditative, the game does not rush you at all and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the locations and take dozens of screenshots. There's not even a run button, so if there are no enemies or puzzles on the horizon, just enjoy the moment.

Puzzles as the Basis of the Entire Somerville Experience

In between exploring locations and analysing the plot, you will have to solve various puzzles. They are not difficult and, if you think about it, you can complete them all without YouTube hints. Most of them involve using our abilities with light. In the beginning, there will be only blue, which destroys objects, but later we will get the second one - red. It is needed to create these objects in special places. It helps most of all when you need to climb over something. Sometimes puzzles won't require you to use abilities at all. You just need to do everything in the right order. It's hard to say anything more about this aspect. I can't single out the most memorable puzzles.

If you have hardly played any similar games before, then you will see something unusual for yourself, but if you have played the most popular platformers, then Somerville will not be able to offer something new in this aspect.

One of the puzzles where you need to charge the van's battery to destroy objects and move on

Features of the Gameplay on PlayStation 5

Jumpship has carefully approached the creation of the PlayStation version of the game. On PC, players complained that it was simply impossible to play Somerville on the keyboard. On the gamepad, there is no such problem at all. Everything works smoothly, the character responds instantly to all the clicks, and controlling the character in such games with sticks is always more pleasant than using the "WASD" button on the keyboard. So even if you play the game on a PC, try to do it with a gamepad.

I really liked how they used some of the DualSense technologies. If we activate the element of destroying objects, the gamepad starts to glow blue. If we activate the element of object creation, it glows red. This has been around since the PS4, but I didn't expect the implementation of adaptive triggers in an indie game. This is a separate pro.

When using the "blue" element, the left trigger is pressed almost without any problems, and the sound resembles the operation of an electric brush. And when you need to use the "red" element, you need to make a little effort to press the right trigger and the sound resembles the work of a small punch. Although it's harder to tell the difference in sound and pressure in the video. You have to try it yourself. I didn't have a chance to check the PlayStation 4 version, but I'm sure that the indicator light starts to light up depending on the element, and it's accompanied by the standard controller vibration.


To diversify the game, aliens will hunt you in some places. At the beginning of the game, we won't even see them; they will shine a huge beam from their ship in search of us and other people. In order to pass these areas, you just need to hide behind stones, boats, tents and fences.

An alien ray trying to destroy us

Later on, we will see robotic dogs that scan the area for people with their red laser and are capable of killing us with a single shot. There are only two possible situations with them. The first is when we need to hide from them and pass unnoticed. The second one is the storyline moments when they notice us and try to catch up. I liked the latter the most, because it adds a little variety to the gameplay and makes you act as quickly as possible to stay alive.

We will not be allowed to fight them (except for some moments, but these are spoilers). Therefore, you will always have to act carefully and think a few steps ahead, because our enemies are agile, and if you stop for 1-2 seconds, you will see the loading screen. There will not be many encounters with them, but they are enough to keep you busy. And while in similar games, such as Planet of Lana or Little Nightmares, some of the puzzles are tied to enemies, here they still act as something separate from all the tasks, which is a plus, because it adds dynamics to the game.

Robotic dogs that hunt us

The World Exploration Ideal for Trophy Lovers

The developers even managed to add an element of exploration to the world. There are mysterious drawings at different locations that will help you create your own theory about the events of the game. For example, at the beginning, you can find a stone with a blue circle, a red square, and a purple triangle. Some players will miss it altogether, and some will not think about why it is there, but once you reach the final, you immediately understand why we were sometimes shown these 3 colours. And if you don't run straight ahead, but stop and look at everything, the effect of immersion in Somerville is enhanced.

Mysterious drawings that can help you understand the world of the game

You can also sometimes find secret locations where the above-mentioned black balls are located. This does not affect the story, but if you want to see absolutely everything in the game, why not?

Instead of running to the left further in the story, you can crawl under a tree and discover a small secret location. In total, there are about 10 such moments in the game

The game is also ideal for those who want to get a quick platinum. There are only 11 trophies in Somerville, and most of them will be unlocked in the first playthrough. And if you missed something, the game is divided into sections and subsections, so you can return to almost any location without wasting time. The trophies here are also "mysterious". For example, one of the silver trophies is given for getting stuck in the toilet. So run around in the game and guess which toilet you need to get stuck in. In addition, the authors have added 5 endings, and each ending is also a trophy, but for each one, it is enough to complete the last 2 chapters (and sometimes 1), so all 11 trophies can be unlocked in one day.

In total, the game has 14 chapters, which are divided into subsections. You can always return to any point in the game and replay it or explore it

Optimisation, Visuals, and Audio

There were a lot of comments on the game's optimisation during the release. Constant fps drops and freezes accompanied players throughout the entire playthrough. Are there any problems with this on PS5? No. Everything works fine, except that several times the fps could drop for a second to 50-45. This happened when switching between locations and at the beginning of dynamic scenes. During the entire playthrough, the game never crashed, and there were no serious bugs either. Only once did the dog get stuck in the textures, but at the next checkpoint the game returned it to me. Therefore, two big problems of the game: optimisation and control passed me by, which also affected my impression. I can't say how the game works on PC, but the great advantage is that Xbox and PC owners can play Somerville on Game Pass.

On PlayStation 5, the game works in two modes: Performance (60 fps) and Visuals (30 fps).

Low-Poly Visuals are Breathtaking

Visuals are the game's strongest point. If you need to think about the story, Somerville's visuals let you enjoy the moment. The graphics here are low-poly because it's cheaper and easier, but this style suits Somerville so well. Still, there are not many games with such a visual, and this is where the Jumpship project stands out from the rest. The developers also decided to impose a grainy effect, make a picture like in films with black lines at the top and bottom, and completely remove the interface. All these decisions only played into the hands of the developers, because Somerville looks as cinematic as possible. If you like to take beautiful pictures in games, you know what to do.

A screenshot that reveals the whole "cinematic" nature of the game: black lines, no interface, grainy film and low-poly objects

The locations are also in perfect order. There's no shortage of places to visit: a spacious field where you can see a downed plane; a dense forest where some trees have fallen from explosions; a road with hundreds of abandoned cars; a rock festival where equipment and installations were not removed in time; caves where robotic dogs hunt us; a refugee camp with a depressing atmosphere; an abandoned city with a surviving church, which is a symbol of the fact that you should always look for a way out and more. Most of the locations here are in a dark palette, but there are also brighter places accompanied by the sunset, which enhances the contrast.

Atmospheric locations of the game

Dramatic Soundtracks

The game's soundtrack was created by French composer Dominique Charpentier. There are not many compositions in the game, but they are all dramatic, which enhances the emotional state of the hero. It is extremely difficult for him, but he does not give up because he wants to see the people he loves so much. Even the beginning of the game begins with a melancholic melody that sets the mood of the game until the final credits. If you play Somerville when it's raining outside, the story and music will immerse you even more in the world of the game, and then you will sit for an hour and analyse the themes of love, family, and whether aliens are really possible in our world.


Somerville has several drawbacks, and the most important one is related to puzzles. The first disadvantage is that the gameplay is not always intuitive. For example, at the beginning of the game, we see bales of hay in the field, which can even be grabbed. You approach the first one, pick it up and... you can't do anything with it. This raises the question: why did they attach a handle to this bale, and it's yellow, which hints that you need to interact with the object. Then you see the second bale, and the situation is the same.

It seems that the game wants to teach you that it's better not to touch hay bales. But if you see the third bale, you can interact with it and a secret location will open. But why couldn't you push the first two, and suddenly you can push the third? This problem was noted by other players, because it confuses even experienced gamers.

The first two bales that we can't push, but magically manage to do so with the third

There was also a moment when we had to climb on an object that was created using the red element, but the game did not teach us that we could do so. It only said that objects could be created. And even when you approached the desired object, you were not told that you could climb it. And it would be one thing if there was a yellow ribbon hanging over it, which is often used to mark the place where you need to go, but in some locations there is no intuitive navigation and it's good if you guessed it yourself. So if such difficulties arise for people who have played more than 5 or 10 similar games, then for beginners, certain points will still cause problems

An object that needs to be climbed, but the game does not even hint at it

The second disadvantage is the protracted ending. For the last twenty minutes of the game, we just run, run, and run again. There are no puzzles, no encounters with enemies, or anything else new. You just have to make a few decisions that affect the ending, interact with the same object three times, and that's it. We had to cut it down to ten minutes because the final scene of the game, especially depending on which ending you choose, is emotional. However, while you are running back and forth for a certain amount of time, you get bored and just want to get to the goal as soon as possible.

The only advantage of the game's protracted ending is the opportunity to find yourself in fantastic and sometimes outer space locations

5 Things to Know about Somerville

  • Somerville is an emotional adventure in a science fiction wrapper, where we have to survive an alien invasion and find our relatives
  • An atmospheric journey can be completed in just one evening
  • Low-poly graphics make the project stand out from the rest
  • Jumpship has managed to implement some DualSense features that enhance the immersion in the game
  • Somerville should be considered as an original product in order to get the range of emotions that the authors intended
Genre. Adventure
Platforms. PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Number of players Single-player
Developer Jumpship
Publisher Jumpship
Time to complete 3-5 hours
Release date November 15, 2022 | August 31, 2023 for PS 4/5

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The editorial team thanks Plan of Attack PR agency for kindly providing the game for review