Somerville is a spiritual sequel to Limbo, but with blockbuster scope

The first thing you should know about somervillethe spiritual sequel to Limbo Y Inside, is that the story makes sense. His predecessors lived at the other end of the narrative spectrum, between the “Buñuelian nightmare” and “that time you smoked salvia in college and fell apart while reading Orwell.” But somervilleWell, it’s a bit normal. First.

the somerville The elevator speech needs only one floor: “What if someone finally did war of words in a decent video game? Because the HG Wells novel (and its myriad variants) has reached that rarefied level of pop culture ubiquity, the first few beats will be familiar: a bit of domestic bliss interrupted by an apocalyptic alien invasion; The collapse of the Earth from the point of view of the people on the ground; the long-shot possibility of a counter-move to protect humanity from total annihilation.

This time, instead of following the world’s sexiest president or scientist, we get a guy who just wants to see his wife and kid again. The guy has no flair for violence and no flair for survival beyond a slightly elevated ability to solve problems on the fly. It’s like a particularly clever and/or lucky ant that slithers to stay alive during a family picnic.

Of everything war of words adaptations, somerville it has more in common with Steven Spielberg’s Tom Cruise vehicle, released a few years after the 9/11 attacks. Cars slide erratically along a highway, fleeing in a direction where things are likely to be just as bad, maybe worse. Survivors hide in sewer drains or gather in makeshift evacuation centers. An open-air festival is abandoned, as if the partygoers have been taken away.

In Somerville, the hero solves puzzles using magical light to transform materials into stone and liquid.  Here, he is melting down a wall to escape from his home.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

Because it’s a video game, our boy can walk at night with superhuman power. In the moments after the invasion, but before the family splits up, the father has a close encounter with an alien soldier. With a touch of fingers and a period of unconsciousness, he is given the gift of transforming light into a world-bending tool.

When she touches a desk lamp, ceiling fan, or spotlight, she can channel blue energy through the current, turning natural white light into a sea foam glow that melts foreign materials into a kind of living goo. Not long after, he gains a red energy that, with a concussive pulse, solidifies the alien goo, as if lava instantly hardened into rock. Most of the game’s puzzles involve dissolving and restoring materials, liquefying stones to fill a hole with molten otherworldly slime, and then hardening its surface so the guy and his dog can limp through the bark.

And so the father goes on a journey through a world that looks a bit like ours, but more melancholic and completely demolished. In this way, the game is very similar to the Playdead games. You walk left or right through roughly 2D space, solving puzzles, hiding from unstoppable enemies, and putting together a story performed with pantomime instead of dialogue.

At the beginning of Somerville, an alien soldier offers an average man supernatural power.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

But this is not a Playdead game. After the release of InsidePlaydead co-founder and executive producer Dino Patti left the studio and founded Jumpship, where he recruited new talent. somervilleChris Olsen’s writer-director came from the world of animation and from there brings a keener interest in cinematography, not just in the blockbuster settings, but also in the little things: the long shot and the closure. -up.

So although the game appears at first glance as another Limbo either Insideas their journey continues, the similarities wear away like a snake shedding its skin.

what do I want to say with that? Basically, the game works best when it’s not a game at all. As the guy walks out of his demolished house, he leans against the door frame and cranes his neck, looking for his dog. As he evades the spotlight of a gigantic alien ship, the camera pulls back until it’s a dot on the screen. You can tell that an animator took more control than usual because each character, creature, and catastrophe has been given a lot of time and care. We’ve seen this level of detail, where characters interact with the world and the people around them, in big-budget projects like the last of us part 2but rarely in a game of this size, where prioritizing animation means not prioritizing anything else.

A husband and wife attempt to escape their home during an alien apocalypse in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

Speaking of: as the adventure finds its footing, its creators seem to lose interest in the puzzles altogether, for the better, frankly. The puzzles are okay, they’re finicky and a bit forgettable. In the back half, our boy’s journey gets closer to the Walking simulators from the 2010s, where the only real obligation is to keep moving forward. This also comes with a minor irritation, as the game’s dark visuals and diminutive character size can lead to confusion about how to interact with the world. From time to time, I would understand where I wanted the game to go, but I couldn’t immediately understand how it expected me, for example, to climb a rock or swim across a pond. Most annoying were the handful of instant-death action sequences that broke the flow completely, forcing me to retry three or four times.

These retained defects Inside Y Limboand it’s disappointing to see them span three games over 12 years, presumably following creative talent from studio to studio.

To counter me, issues can be an unavoidable side effect of this playstyle. And the solution can fall to both the player (read: me) and the designer. For example, the way I play this type of platform adventure game has changed over the years. They are narratively static, constructed like movies, moving from scene to scene in exactly the same way each time. So now, I treat them like movies to me. The first game serves as a script notation and dress rehearsal, allowing me to work out the problems and traps. The second game is where the game becomes itself, so to speak, as I act out the journey with perfect pacing. I hit the mark, and in return, the game plays out like the show it was always meant to be.

A man looks at a crashed jet plane covered in alien stone in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

I wonder if somerville he hopes most players have a similar experience, rolling over the credits and starting over, this time with less interest in the puzzles and more interest in the cinematics. The game’s short runtime (only a few hours) and the possibility of alternate endings (we’ll let Reddit and YouTube unpack it) suggest as much.

For the second game, I switched from the Steam Deck to a large TV. I’m glad I did because even though this game doesn’t necessarily feel like a AAA game, it feels like one. So game on the biggest screen with the best headphones or speakers you can find.

somerville is a delicious bite to conclude a year that will be remembered by various courses foods. We could leave it at that, I guess. But I’d like to go back, one last time, to the game’s pedigree. Because beyond being an entertaining video game, somerville it carries an unusual amount of gaming-industry significance, or baggage, depending on your angle of approach.

A millennial father, mother, son, and dog sleep on the couch in front of a turned-on television in Somerville.

Image: Jumpship via Polygon

In 2010, the Danish studio Playdead released Limbo, one of the first indie games to take advantage of internet-connected consoles and digital stores. A small team could reach a large audience without appearing on the Walmart shelf, and without all the associated overhead costs. Inside it appeared six years later in the midst of the “indie apocalypse,” when those same online stores had become overcrowded with dozens of new releases every week. Its predecessor guaranteed critical attention and its quality earned high marks, elevating the dystopian yarn above its thousands of contemporaries. Now, another six years later, we have a kind of conclusion in somerville, a project that shows how indie games have become not-so-indie, that established talent has the money and cache to break away and do separate things. Additionally, Jumpship has partnered with Microsoft to make somerville available at launch on Game Pass, drawing a direct line back to Limbo‘s Original appearance on Xbox Live Arcade. The upstarts have become the elders.

Of course, Inside the developer Playdead still exists. In 2020, the studio announced a partnership with game publisher and store Epic Games. When that deal pays off, we’ll be able to see the official conclusion to this storied trilogy of indie games. With somerville In the world as a sort of interim conclusion, it’s safe to hope that both the original plant and its cutting are doing well, branching out into their own charming and moody ways.

I have kept one thing from you, and that is the final act. Limbo, and especially Inside, I understood that a memorable ending makes a memorable game. somerville it retains this lesson, and for all its familiarity and narrative clarity, the game loosens its grip on the wheel until it suddenly hurtles off the road into… something you’ll have to experience for yourself.

maybe then somerville it’s the most welcoming of the three games, starting with the familiar and moving down the slow, exponential line to the strange. Wise choice. For all the artistry required to make a clear, playable movie, nothing beats the otherworldly weirdness of video games.

somerville It will launch on November 15 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X via Game Pass. The game was patched on PC using a pre-download code provided by Jumpship. Vox Media has affiliate associations. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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