IToday is Sunday – or at least it looks like it. When you wake up, you realize that you fell asleep in front of the TV. The dog barks impatiently at lunch. Reluctantly, you leave the warm embrace of your wife, put your son to bed, and drag your dog buddy out of the basement. Thus begins the debut of the Jumpship developer: not with a clap, but with a yawn. It’s a charmingly intimate look at country life that, as expected, doesn’t last long.
Once you’re done with your mongrel’s food, an explosion rocked your farmhouse. As you run outside to inspect the damage, you see glowing obelisks swarming through the sky, their lasers destroying farmland. It’s all very much like H. G. Wells, and after a strange glowing life form knocks you off your feet, you’re mistaken for dead, setting the stage for an intense solo journey.
Somerville is atmospheric, overtly British sci-fi. When we see the apocalypse through the eyes of Americans so often in movies and games, there’s something strangely comforting about how close this horror feels at home. From running past hay bales and crossing fields ripped straight out of a National Trust guide to clambering over dusty Fiat 500s on an abandoned A road, this is English Armageddon. The regular appearance of your trusty little terrier is a welcome sight against the backdrop of an increasingly barren, death-strewn vision of the home you once knew.
In true video game fashion, the aforementioned extraterrestrial encounter leaves you on the hunt for otherworldly electromagnetic abilities that are useful for solving puzzles. When you pull the left trigger, your bandaged hand transforms into a Thanos-style glaive, emitting a surge of environmental-manipulating electricity that can affect light bulbs, fuse boxes, batteries, and any other working wiring you stumble upon.
Somerville tells his entire four-hour story without saying a single word. Like co-creator Dino Patty’s previous games, Limbo and Inside, Somerville communicates through expressive animations, quiet interactions, and simple controls. From escaping four-legged cuboids as you dive and weave through a creepily abandoned music festival, to a river of plasma solidifying to seal off a flooding cavern, its simple mechanics are put to good use. But I wasted too much time wandering through each new vignette, wrestling with the camera while Village Dad fiddled with what I wanted him to interact with. He walks painfully slow, and clumsy movements always break immersion.
As with Breath of the Wild, the subwoofer-disturbing music and sound effects are used sparingly. During the long stretches of your perilous journey, your only soundtrack will be the gentle pounding of the rain and the eager snorting of your furry companion. When you are about to enter into a close encounter with a killer sight, the sound makes you very aware of it. This quiet foreboding makes Somerville a decidedly winter game. As the days get shorter and the outside world becomes less inviting, this adventure is made to enjoy one rainy evening, ideally in a dimly lit room.
Somerville is the only game where I’ve had to hide from aliens in a dark festival Portaloo. However, his latest attempt to finish galactic brain science fiction ends in a disappointing blow. While its head-turning ending leaves you wishing its non-verbal narration was small more verbal, Somerville remains a masterclass in minimal storytelling; a series of haunting, haunting vignettes.