HG Wells bequeathed to us in 1898 one of the most influential works of science fiction: War of the Worlds it opened the door to a stage, until then, unknown; an alien invasion. This premise served the author to dissect the morality of Victorian society, questioning the colonialism of the British Empire. Both his fiction and his criticism revolve around the invasion of one’s home by technologically advanced beings who, in their eagerness to conquer, objectify the native, stripping him of his humanity until transforming him into another resource. Chris Olsen, director and writer of Somerville, does not shy away from the sources that inspired him when talking about the first Jumpship title. What’s more, he points to them unequivocally, pointing to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds (1978), as a fictional anchor, since Another World (Éric Chahi, 1991) as the main videogame influence. What Olsen shies away from is direct comparison with Limbo o Inside. Curious, both for its organizational chart —Dino Patti (co-founder of Playdead) is also in charge of Jumpship—, and for the obvious bridge that connects Another World con Inside.
It is true that, after finishing the trip (which lasted about seven hours), I think more about HG Wells, Spielberg (for Encounters in the Third Kind) or even Lynch, than about Playdead’s works. Although it is also true that, by saying this, I am talking about the substance of the story, its themes and how they are approached. What I want to say is that tonal level, linking what Somerville offers with the work of Playdead seems, to some extent, natural to me. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative. I understand it, rather, as a starting point, a foothold from which the player can begin his relationship with this new adventure, having clear, in advance, the tone and the type of proposal before him. This is how I approached Somerville, and this is how I have delved into it, finding the best moments of it, precisely, in those passages that are most distant from its spiritual ancestors.
From the familiarity of their models low poly and its desaturated colours, Somerville begins to build its own identity through movement, offering scenes subject to the three dimensional scan, in which the side scrolling and the platform are abandoned, and in which the title allows itself the luxury of fiddling with the camera according to the needs of the moment; something that, as a fan of fixed cameras, I have enjoyed -especially when the title gets creative when it comes to experimenting with perspectives and transitions. help it a artistic minimalism that does not stay in the aestheticand that is transferred to the narrative and the playable in a more or less successful way.
Somerville lacks dialogue, so it focuses all its attention on the visual narrative of a story that starts from science fiction commonplaces. The first two acts of him navigate with success, but without great fanfare (beyond his powerful start) through the tropes of the alien catastrophe. The game relies on the balanced puzzle to keep the player glued to the screen, something that works out moderately well. And I say moderately because, after two or three hours of continuous puzzle solving, I couldn’t help but feel in a narrative valley in which I could not find more incentive than to see where the adventure wanted to take me. They are, without a doubt, Somerville’s lowest moments, impasses in which the script is not capable of delivering powerful motivations (it does not seem to me that the role of the family manages to achieve the emotional involvement that it seeks), while its puzzles begin to unravel. become somewhat more bland than recommended.
Luckily, the exposed universe is strong enough to keep the player in the fiction it presents. I am speaking here mainly of a question of application, of an approach to the unknown in which the absence of information is handled judiciously, plunging the player into a continuous feeling of incomprehension, which is most natural if we understand that we are facing an alien invasion experienced from the perspective of a, In principle, simple father of a family. Going through its scenarios is going through the desolation of the invaded territory, for spaces that have been victims of the exodus that arises from hopelessness, a hope that, in my opinion, is more linked to the context than to its protagonist. In addition, the pájara, despite existing, does not go so far as to ruin the experience as a whole.
In fact, when classicism leaves the structure of the story, it is as if Somerville threw off his shackles and started running wild. There, in its last third, the game achieves the narrative pulse that gives it the experimental identity that its creator defends, and the residue that I am talking about. A part in which the focus on the trip becomes more evident than ever, and the audiovisual experience goes up a few integers; a series of chapters that, because they are risky, I understand that they can generate division among the players, but that, without a doubt, Those who enjoy video games that move away from conventionalism will like them.
So no, Somerville isn’t Inside because, from the outset, it doesn’t have a speech as forceful as that of its cousin (not so distant) and, furthermore, it approaches the puzzle from a different perspective, both visual and conceptual. However, she does not manage to escape her shadow, nor her memory, until well into the adventure, until he loses his hair and is carried away by the honeys of unreliable narrators and the possibilities of science fiction to which he turns. Perhaps, for this reason, I would speak before of a video game with excellent moments, than of an excellent video game.
All this does not mean that Somerville seems to me a title to claim, and an interesting experience that remarkably portrays the scenario posed by. A trip that lovers of narrative adventures will like, and anyone looking for a direct and restful video-ludic refuge, that does not require large doses of commitment. A remarkable video game that is stimulating both visually and narratively, which will give you a few beers, debates and theories, around the different readings that can be done. And that’s always good.