Since its conception, videogames have featured fighting aliens. Space War was the very first videogame. Space Invaders is a cultural phenomenon of the early 20th century. It was believed that Space Invaders inhaled so much coin that it caused supply problems for Japan’s currency. Halo, the largest videogame franchise ever made, is about a constant war against aliens. We enjoy fighting aliens in video games because it’s easy to make creatures from another planet the enemy and they can look like anything.
The smaller, more personal alien invasion story, however, is a specific sub-genre of extra-terrestrial narrative we don’t often see in video games. When we fight aliens, it’s usually a power trip meant to offer a playground of action possibilities, but Somerville tells the story of a family just trying to figure out how to survive in the face of an unknown menace. You’re not trying to find the best weapon to hit the aliens’ weak point. You’re not even taking the time to get a good look at the aliens. You’re just trying to get to the next point of safety.
Somerville’s excitement is for that reason. In its finest moments, It reminded me of Half-Life 2, the last time an alien invasion was truly thrilling.
There is an argument that Half-Life, and its sequel in particular, isn’t about alien invasion. Half-Life’s enemies, the Combine, are from a different dimension as opposed to an alien world, but the core Spielburg-ian idea is the same – there are new strange beings on the planet, we don’t know what they are, and we don’t know how to deal with them.
Half-Life 2 is a much more powerful game than Somerville. You don’t really get put in a place of power, even though you have special abilities. Even though the Gravity Gun does some incredible feats late in the game it still maintains the shock and terror of being subject to an invasion.
Half-Life 2 drops you into a world where the Combine has been threatening humanity for many years. Humanity is scared and confused – but they are alive. The game’s opening hours allow you to wander around the city and absorb everything. Half-Life 2 is all about humanity’s response to invasions. Somerville, however, is the story of what happened.
The two are remarkably different games in completely different genres (even if the protagonists have the same facial hair), but I couldn’t help thinking of taking my first steps into City 17, Breen’s voice booming over the loudspeaker welcoming to me to my new reality, while my dog and I tried to outrun the gigantic purple light breaking through the trees. Half-Life 2’s general tone is great, but Somerville will be a better choice. You can also visit City if Somerville interests you, even if Half-Life 2 is not your favorite game.
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