When you’re not running from monsters, you’ll be piecing together the underwater base’s history and coming to terrifying realizations about what’s happening.
From a story standpoint, SOMA is practically everything I love about sci-fi put into a game. That is, until now.
Frictional Games previously developed the Penumbra series and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. That’s about where the similarities end. Questions regarding what it means to be human come up frequently, including in the form of multiple crew personality tests on consoles around Pathos-II’s complex. And even after you have a pretty good handle on what’s going on SOMA continues to shock with dialogue that serves as a thoughtful, philosophical analysis of the meaning of what you’ve come to know. You pull the other wire. It’s genuinely disconcerting, and few games play with ambiguity so well or confidently. Guiding him through the various subsections of the facility, you slowly uncover the truth behind Simon’s existence as well as the awful events that wiped the undersea establishment of human life. How would you know if you were the original? The soundscape will change from light, eerie, trance-like synth tones to a sudden harsh dramatic melody the more aware an enemy becomes aware of your presence. I was not only shaping my destiny, but I was also shaping the destiny for the facility as well. It feels weighty but never dry or ponderous thanks to an engaging and surprising story. Kind of like a Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp.
I’ve spent that downtime solving puzzles, reading emails and soaking up the game’s narrative. If a door was locked, there weren’t any tutorial pop-ups or glowing lines to lead you to the solution. Once you’ve figured out the behavior, they’re easier to get past – but you’ll still worry as one creeps by your hiding place. You don’t even have the means, were it possible. As fans of the genre we were pleased to see big budget games such as The Evil Within, Alien Isolation, and Silent Hills, but we were wary that they all seemed to be jumping on a bandwagon that hadn’t yet been proven to exist.
Maybe it’s just us, but when being pursued by monsters of the id our first thought is not to reach for the nearest dictaphone. Nearly as soon as the object hit the ground, the monster was on top of me and it was so startling that I had to call it a night. The terror provided by SOMA is delicious. Its combination of utter helplessness, disorientating sanity effects and physics-based interactions made for an experience that was unusually absorbing and truly scary.
It’s this same scenario that gets visited in SOMA.
You have no weapons. In the cases where you don’t die right away you’ll awaken in a daze, your movement slowed and vision significantly blurred. You’re given a suit that is capable of communicating the distance between you and an enemy, which proves endlessly useful. But the process is a bit of a catch-22. Early on in the game, I also wondered if I was the sole survivor or if there were others.
Different elements throughout the game hint at that, as well. There will be at least one option that is unavoidable but for the most part the decision is yours. There’s no way to attack the world’s creepy robots, many of which think they are human. I’ve been thinking about what happened in SOMA for days now, especially the game’s closing minutes, and can’t let it go. Some teleport to your location, Slender-style, if you look at them. Even sections that take place in small areas can be very time-consuming and harrowing depending on the number of enemies and the difficulty of the objective. While stealth gameplay and navigating around these patrolling horrors are advised, SOMA doesn’t fully punish you for being caught, which I appreciate. Excellent presentation and some absolutely terrifying set pieces.
The set and sound design of SOMA are essential in making the game what it is: terrifying.
Review code provided by publisher.