Preview: Somerville is a beautiful, challenging puzzle

Aliens are invading, and you have lost your family. Can you find and save them? 

In Somerville, you, your wife and your child are living in the country, and have fallen asleep watching television. You wake up to discover an alien invasion is in progress. You quickly gather your family to hide, as giant glowing alien monoliths fall from the sky. An encounter with a dying alien knocks you out as the game begins.

Jumpship

You wake up to find your family gone, with no idea where they went. The only one left is your trusty dog, who joins you on the journey to find your wife and son. The encounter with the alien gave you special powers, which allow you to control light and electricity in a way that can melt rock and other objects. As you progress, you also find some alien creatures who assist on your journey, thanks to your encounter with the dying alien. 

Somerville is a puzzle game that does not hold your hand, even a little. It throws you into the world it creates, and expects you to figure out what you need to do to survive. Trial and error teach you exactly what you and the aliens can do. Puzzles can be difficult and frustrating at first. Occasionally your dog or alien friends provide clues if you are stuck. 

Jumpship

 

Somerville was developed by Jumpshilp studio, a company founded by former CEO and co-founder of Playdead studio Dino Patti. Playdead is known for Limbo and Inside, two predecessors to Somerville with a similar play style. 

In Somerville, Jumpship creates a beautiful dystopian science fiction world. Music builds tension at difficult moments, but relaxes when there are slow or tender ones. The story evolves and grows the more you play and the more you learn. 

Jumpship

 

Whereas the environment in Somerville is splendid, the controls occasionally annoy. Character options are basic, and there are limited actions a player can make. Areas you think you can get to are blocked by invisible walls. Items you think you can interact with occasionally deceive. 

Like the world created in Somerville, this game is a difficult beauty. I did not play Somerville to completion, but the game does a good job mixing complexity and reward. It presents the kind of puzzles you continue to think about after you rage quit, to the point where you can’t wait to fire up the game again and try a new solution. 

If you like puzzle platformers such as Limbo and Inside, Somerville is another worthwhile game in that genre. Somerville releases November 15 on PC and Xbox, and is included on Game Pass.