Somerville, the intriguing sci-fi adventure that wowed audiences at E3 2021’s Xbox showcase and The Game Awards, isn’t what you may have assumed it to be.
While made by 30-ish developers at Jumpship, a studio co-founded by former Playdead CEO Dino Patti, Somerville will not play like Limbo or Inside. “It used to be 2D; now we’ve changed it into a 3D game,” writer and director Chris Olsen told Edge, in an exclusive look at the game ahead of its launch on PC and Xbox this year. “It used to have a jump and then I was like, I don’t want to jump. I don’t want it to be a platformer.”
Olsen first conceived Somerville as a side project alongside his work as a film animator and previs artist on Marvel and Star Wars movies, before partnering with Patti to form Jumpship. “From the beginning, all the press was like ‘from the creator of Limbo!’ and loads of reductive comments like that,” Olsen laughed.
Rather than wake up as a child in the woods, as is Playdead tradition, Somerville concerns the father of an ordinary family caught up in an alien invasion. And instead of jumping puzzles, it forefronts the use of colour-coded light to push back and transform an alien substance. This ‘sediment’ is found not only in pools and geological formations but gives shape to your enemies and the floating monoliths that loom over Earth too.
Sometimes you’ll be burning away sediment, creating tunnels through levels; at others solidifying it so that you can walk across. You’ll gain a number of coloured powers over Somerville’s four to six hours, and channel them through lamps and torches. The interactions with sediment signify “the fluidity and rigidity of ideas, and the cost of one or the other”.
Of course, despite Olsen’s protests, there’s plenty for Inside fans to recognise and appreciate here. This is a short and refined game, filled with one-off animations and unique moments, with hidden layers to its story that aren’t expected to be understood on a first playthrough. There’s no direct combat, and no voiced dialogue. “It just appeals to my sensibilities of not having anything be too explicit, and people being able to project onto them a little bit,” Olsen says.