Review | Somerville

Originally published at: Review | Somerville - XboxEra


Even the name sounds a bit mysterious. Indeed, when I first saw the game announced, way back in June of 2017, I was extremely excited. The reason for that excitement was the people behind it – Dino Patti, co-founder of Playdead, had “jumped ship” and co-founded Jumpship, a new studio based in Guildford with UK film animator Chris Olsen.

Playdead of course, had made Limbo and the incredible INSIDE, which is one of the very few games I’ve awarded a 10 out of 10. So as one might expect, as a lover of these sorts of games, I had extremely high hopes. Were they satisfied?

Let’s find out together, in this spoiler-free XboxEra Review of Somerville.

Family Man

Somerville puts you in the shoes of an everyday Dad, and possibly the tallest protagonist I’ve ever had the courtesy to control (albeit, not very well, but I’ll get into that) as he deals with a most unusual scenario – alien invasion! In a scene somewhat reminiscent of the film Arrival, giant monoliths descend from the heavens, and unfortunately, they do not appear to be peaceful.

What follows would swiftly have me descending into spoiler territory, but suffice to say Dad gets separated from the family, and sets out on a journey, not only to survive, but to find them again, against all odds. Some of the trailers have arguably spoiled or at least, teased far more than I will reveal, but I think it is fair to summarise thusly – things get weird.

When Somerville was announced, many people simply assumed the game would be something that was in a similar vein to both of the now classic titles from Playdead, but they are mistaken. It does have some similarities, but firstly, the game isn’t confined to a 2D plane, and secondly, it’s not really about puzzles or platforming, though the former does crop up every now and again.

Instead, the only real similarities I can truly draw for fans is firstly, the broad strokes, concept-art-in-motion painted style of the presentation. While the colours are somewhat muted, it is absolutely gorgeous to look at. It’s not for everyone, but it ticked the boxes for me. It’s a lovely looking game.

Secondly, is the game’s approach to storytelling. It’s all done through atmosphere, art, animation and gameplay with no voice-acting to speak of, aside from the occasional grunt or cry. It’s a very minimalist approach, and I think it mostly serves the game well here.

Intriguing Concept, Confusing Execution

I won’t mince my words with how I feel about Somerville, and I can sum it up pretty succinctly – I’m a little disappointed. There is so much incredible world building, seeds of sci-fi intrigue and interesting design on display here, but it’s let down in some key areas that simply made the game a bit frustrating to play.

Firstly, the decision to not have the player simply navigate a 2D plane with a 3D backdrop felt in some ways a mistake. It made things difficult to control with precision on several occasions, and when certain moments require me to run away at speed, I found the character getting hung up on scenery and pathing them correctly – feeling like I’m heading through a doorway, but instead hitting the side of it, which took me out of the moment. Fans of Tarsier Studios first venture into their Little Nightmares franchise will be used to the downsides of this setup, and how it feels, though they did go to great lengths to improve it for the sequel. For some reason, the main character also moves incredibly slowly, which began to irritate me after a while.

Somerville also has some inconsistent signposting on what to do or where to go next – sometimes, the game will mark a path or an object with the colour yellow in some fashion, which at the start of the game felt reliably placed and fairly obvious, and as player, I thoroughly appreciated.

However, as things progressed, that signposting for players became less frequent, more obscure and in some cases, went missing entirely. One particular section had me puzzling around with certain physics elements for some time, with an additional area and a obscure puzzle seemingly needing to be solved in order to progress. Wrong! You can just climb up here, congratulations on wasting an hour or so of your time.

The animations on display from the main character as you navigate the world are hit and miss too, with lots of gangly arms and odd positioning on occasion. Perhaps that’s what it really is like being that tall, but in truth, it just occasionally looks a bit strange. Some of the NPC characters, including the family dog, also get stuck, walking on the spot, forcing you to abandon him and just push forward. (Don’t worry, he’ll catch up)

Science Fiction Finale Fatigue

Normally, I can follow a story pretty well, honest! Heady sci-fi is my jam, and I think I get what was going on, but even once the credits rolled, I’m not entirely sure I fully understood it all. Again, I won’t spoil things in anyway here, and I’m very curious to see the discussion regarding the overall plot on forums and message boards following the games release. Again, without going in to too much detail, there are persistent, light and sci-fi-esque puzzles and obstacles throughout, and the effect used to display them in the world is very cool indeed.

Somerville is full of varied and ambitious locations, from being lost in the woods or alone in dark, foreboding cave systems, to the grand stage of a music festival long since vacated following the invasion; motorways full of abandoned vehicles as the population has fled to find shelter. It paints a bleak world, where humanity has seemingly been utterly defeated, but there are lovely little moments and seeds of hope along the way, despite being hunted by our mysterious invaders.

Charming interactions like tidying up after your child (an autopilot setting for all parents, surely?) and the way your family dog trots faithfully at your heel give the game a sombre but hopeful tone, and as more and more of the sci-fi parts of this adventure come to the forefront, the more of those human elements get left behind. In particular the finale of the game, goes way out there, and while I was initially positive at the direction, the end sequence did drag on for a bit.

A Solid First Outing

Overall, Somerville feels like great ambition being stretched a little thin, and fundamentally, the way it feels to actually play makes me wish it spent a little longer in the oven, refining and polishing the best parts. Fans of the genre, and sci-fi fans in particular will absolutely find a lot to love in this 5 hour or so adventure, but once the credits roll, you may be left feeling more than a little underwhelmed.

As the game releases Day One on to Xbox Game Pass, it’s well worth checking out.

Code provided by the developer for review.

Reviewed On Xbox Series X
Available On Xbox One, Xbox Series, Windows PC & Steam
Release Date 15th November, 2022
Developer JumpShip
Publisher Xbox Game Studios
ESRB / PEGI Ratings PEGI 7 – “Implied Violence, Fear”

It doesn’t seem impressive or mind-blowing like Limbo and INSIDE were but still sounds like a nice more of the same type of dose of the sub-genre with Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares which I quite like.

I’ll check it out tomorrow.

Played for about half an hour yesterday on my One X and it was not the best first impression I have to say, besides the feeling that I was pixel hunting to progress the game runs really bad on the One X which is actually the second indie game lately that runs horrible (Ghost Song is the other one and it runs even worse than this one). Lots of stutter and lots of tearing, audio & game pauses and hiccups…I tried to move the game in my external SSD but it didn’t improve anything so yeah I think I should wait to play this either on Series and/or after some patches.

It’s a shame because the game looks interesting enough, atmosphere is top notch and visually looks incredible IMO. Oh well… :frowning:


The performance problems and occasional tearing are unfortunate. The game is audiovisually remarkable, the scene setting and the cemra placement/angles are incredible, the audio is very well made. But so far, the performance issues and all around a sense of unpolished-ness, the game feels rushed, it holds it back from shining.

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I am ejoying my time with it so far (1 hour or so).

Happy to read I am not the only one having tearing and it is something the game suffers from. I guess there certain games’ issues you can turn a blind eye to, cause I am definitely going to keep playing. Puzzles and story beats are nice so far and the setting is totally up my alley.

This is cool but I’m stuck.

Okay, so I get the arm mechanic I think. The atmosphere is great. But there is a bit with a plane (?) and a light that doesn’t seem to make any sense. I go to the light shining on the corruption and it starts to dissolve and then the game boots me back to a check point.

Is it a glitch? What am i missing?

Edit-I didn’t realise that the light moved. It is hard to make out the depth a bit on that scene! Anyway, if anyone else is stuck you can move the light backwards to point it up at the wing. I guess it was killing me, by falling? Lol.

Finished this last night in one sitting, what a trip!

I have more questions than answers but thats a good thing, will give it a week or two and then fall down the rabbit hole of YouTube theories.

Don’t think it’s as good as Inside, but not much is and I just love these kind of games in general, looking forward to what they do next and the eventual reveal of Playdead’s new game.


I love the world building l, atmosphere and ideas. but damn if some of the odd getting stuck on random things or just like I try something and it’s right but sense either the physics didn’t agree with what I was doing or standing a foot off where I was meant to. Made me think my solution was wrong kinda ruined a bit of the game for me


Yeah it definitely doesn’t have the polish of Limbo or Inside but this game is a lot more ambitious in its scope and execution, so i can certainly forgive any wee quirks.

For a first attempt at a game as a studio, i think Jumpship have done a sterling job and I’ll eagerly await whatever they do next.

Just finished.

It remained interesting up until the last bits after you jump onto the spaceship? and leave your family? and then wtf? but not in a cool and mysterious way but in a bullshit and unsatisfying way lol

I did overall enjoy my time, I like this type of game, my favorite of them remains Little Nightmares.

Just finished the game in little more than 3 hours and a half and I want the devs to pass the joint.

I liked the mechanics, albeit there are basically two, the setting, visuals (despite technical issues), story beats (despite as @DARK-PARADISE mentioned, there is a point in which they basically lose it)…

I like games that leave you saying “What the fuck did I just play?” so I am going to give this one a thumbs up and recommend you playing it. It is short, it is on Game Pass. Risk-free.


I just finished up yesterday, didn’t have any particular problems with any of the puzzles once I got to know their style and what to look out for.

Should point out that there are multiple endings to the game and the story makes more or less sense depending on the ones you get.

Unaided I managed three but had to google for the “best” ending solution.

Overall would recommend apart from the speed that guy walks/runs. Who on earth play tested this game?

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I thought there were two endings? one where everything blows up and one where you enter the house

Might give it another go this weekend and see what’s what.

No there are actually 5. 4 are achieved at the end when you are responding to the alien things and 1 at 1 of two points in other levels (can’t remember which ones though).

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I finished it yesterday and I’m glad it was short because overall it was a passable experience. Not bad, but not great either.

It has its moments and it was not a chore to play either, it was okay, but everything felt so random or not fully thought out. Like the story is just a mess and weird for the sake of being weird.

At the end, I feel like there was something missing from the game, like somehow they had to cut half of it . Maybe they were too amibitious or had too many ideas that didn’t panned out. I don’t know. But if I had to buy it at full price, I would have felt robed to be honest…

I’m kind of disappointed as it could have been so much better if the game had been much more mysterious and not as “in your face” with the Sci Fi stuff. I liked the strange robotic creatures that follows you, but there wasn’t much gameplay with them.

I remember the teaser trailer and it had so much potential. At least it’s on GP, so it’s free to try it.


Completed this today.

I wish there was more interaction with the little spheres to work out their language a bit more before the last chapter.

I also wish the 3D navigation was more on rails as it wasn’t as smooth an experience as the simple 2D titles like Inside or Limbo.

Overall I enjoyed it and am glad it was on GamePass.

I am looking forward to seeing their next title. Hopefully they’re able to really refine it because of their recent acquisition.


Good game. I liked it.


Early on I’m noticing spotty performance here and there and screen tearing, that’s unfortunate.

Other than that, Interesting so far.

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Do you play on a VRR display because I do and the only thing I noticed were occasional hickups. But that’s it. Nothing game breaking at all as imo the game is a slow pacer anyway. Dog was my favorite NPC :wink:

Yep, VRR is enabled on my TV. I saw the tearing when I got out of the house after the big happening. Sounds like it won’t be a returning thing then.

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