SOMA Game Review

 

By – Eric Lovelock

 

It’s not unfair to say that the Horror genre is one of the most diverse, and the most troubled, genres in the media today. From the influx of low budget, high gore “Exploitation” in both games and cinema, coupled with some breakout successes, horror is one of the most divisive and difficult mediums for artists to explore. There are many sub genres in horror as well, some games focus more on Jump Scares, such as the recent Five Nights at Freddy’s series, some games focus more on a feeling of helplessness in the face of unstoppable danger, such as Alien Isolation, while others focus on theme and minimalist story in order to evoke fear, such as Imscared: a Pixelated Nightmare.

 

Frictional Games’s newest adventure, SOMA, represents a new kind of fear that will surely begin to seep into the subconscious of the gaming community in the upcoming months. Frictional Games is no stranger to horror via circumstance, as the fans of its earlier masterpiece Amnesia: The Dark Descent can attest to. While in Amnesia, the player may be shocked, appalled and terrified at the past actions of the game’s protagonist, in SOMA the player learns to fear the only thing more terrifying than the actions of others, the very actions that they themselves take while descending into the madness that SOMA creates.

 

By the time I completed the 12 hour campaign of SOMA, my palms were sweaty, my pulse was elevated, and any interactions with those around me were drenched in anxiety, but it wasn’t the robotic foes that traverse SOMA’s environment that frightened me, it was the actions that I took and the choices I made. While this is hardly the first Horror game to have some element of player choice (Even Amnesia: The Dark Descent had multiple endings), this is the first I’ve ever experienced that utilized choice to such an extent. The line between Morality and Immorality is blurred to such an extent that players will cease being the omnipotent deities of the game world that they once were and become entangled in the game’s story and characters, and when your choices come back to haunt you, you feel it, and it hits hard. Not since Life is Strange have I felt so strangely in tune with the main character, as if my mind and his were inseparable, my choices were his, his pain was mine, and our morality was fundamentally linked together. When he felt anguish, I did as well, when he felt sadness, I almost weeped, this level of connection that SOMA achieves with its characters is astounding, and SOMA uses it to the fullest extent of the human mind.

 

Amnesia made me afraid of what went bump in the night, SOMA made me afraid of the emotions and thoughts in the back of my mind, and forced me to look at my own behavior and reevaluate how I thought of myself. The true horror of Amnesia was what was hiding just out of sight in the darkness, while the horror of SOMA was just how far I would go, and how many people would I hurt to get there.

 

Gameplay wise, any hardcore horror fan will latch onto SOMA instantly, it draws both from Frictional’s past games and some of the horror titles released in their wake, most notably Alien Isolation and P.T. You can run, crouch, lean around corners, and interact with your environment in ways that are picked straight from the typical genre tropes. The frame rate for the most part is smooth and steady, with the exception of some frozen moments as the game transitions from one area to another, which, while not totally catastrophic, does create a little bit of disconnect between the player and character. One of the most interesting additions to gameplay are strange, alien nodules that appear on the walls, acting as a mixture of checkpoint and health potion, to touch them heals the main characters injuries, while rendering the nodule useless, but these growths are hardly rare, so there is little worry for running out of health so long as you are careful in enemy encounters.

 

SOMA image 2

Speaking of which, Interacting with the monsters that venture in Pathos II is nothing particularly new, the mechanical behemoths that stalk the station function very similarly to the Alien from Alien Isolation. In fact, some of the earlier encounters are easier, as it’s easy to tell where the automaton’s are looking due to the searchlight like beam they emit.  I will admit, I was disappointed in the lack of use of sound in enemy encounters. The machines can hear you, drop an item, nudge a rock, and the slightest “Clink” will send the autonomous monstrosities towards you, and yet to take a rock or piece of debris and throw it will have no effect. While it does make the encounters more difficult, it seems like a strange flaw in the games design. The encounters themselves aren’t quite on par with, say, Isolation’s eponymous alien, but they are very tense in their own right. There are some nice enemies that, in a fashion quite similar to the Sanity system that other horror games have employed, are dangerous even to look at, causing the screen to glitch and distort in a computerized manner, as if the program of the game itself was being attacked. This aesthetic is nice, and makes these encounters all the more tense.

SOMA image 3

The most important, and well developed aspect of SOMA is its story, which, much like a film like The Sixth Sense, needs to be experienced firsthand, it’d be wrong for me to spoil the delightful terror it creates.

 

All in all, SOMA is an exceptionally crafted glimpse into the darkness of the human mind, creating one of the most uniquely terrifying experiences to emerge from the Horror genre in recent years. While some framerate issues do exist, they do not detract immensely from what is a terrifying, thought provoking, and soon to be classic experience.

 

SOMA deserves a solid 9/10 for its ambition, story, and gameplay, even with a few glitches here and there.

 

About the Blogger

Eric Lovelock is a longtime game fanatic living in Virginia and is preparing to go into College to study game design. His favorite games Include Metroid Prime, Earthbound, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Bloodborne. His dream is to become a Lead Designer in the video game industry and to leave a big creative mark on the gaming world. When not playing games, he often enjoys working on Photoshop or Editing/Producing video’s for his friends on Adobe Premiere.