From the makers of Amnesia: The Dark Decent, Frictional Games has brought us an intriguing new psychological thriller game about consciousness and identity: SOMA.
This review will contain mild spoilers of what happens at the beginning of the game. If you do not know what happens in the first 30 minutes of SOMA, and do not want to know, I’d recommend checking back afterwards!
The game begins with a simple enough premise. You play as the main character, Simon Jarrett, who has scheduled to get a brain scan after suffering some brain damage following a car accident. A “Doctor” (Who admits to not actually being a doctor) tells you to take a seat and begin your scan with hopes of finding a solid recovery and treatment solution for your brain damage. After sitting down and getting connected to the scanning machinery, Simon Jarrett wakes up in a chair similar to the one he sat in, but in an entirely different room. You quickly discover that this isn’t the doctor’s office you were just in. This is a strange and different world, and something is wrong. Robots are seemingly trying to kill you, things are broken, and there’s a strange cybernetic growth all over the place. From this point on, you set out on a mysterious mission of trying to find out how you got there, and what’s going on around you in this unique and unknown world.
SOMA can be considered scary by some, but I would attribute the thrills as being more of atmospheric mystery with plenty of suspense. There are creatures to run and hide from–similar to Outlast–and like in many horror games, you can’t even fight them. Running and hiding are generally your only options. The enemies in SOMA are rather diverse in their behavior, however. Some require you to simply hide from them, while others won’t notice you as long as you aren’t making noise. Another enemy type will not notice you as long as you do not look at them, similar to the Slender Man from Minecraft. Every different enemy encounter felt unique and different, adding a different sense of depth to the problem of getting from one point to the other, or trying to fix things without being discovered.
When dealing with most enemies, the first time you are “caught” by one you will lose consciousness. When you regain consciousness, your vision is shifty and you wobble. This can make things harder to notice or look at, but overall it’s not that detrimental. The game has points that allow you to go back to “full health” where your vision will clear back up and everything will be normal again. If you get “caught” again before refilling your “health”, you will be greeted with a interesting montage of images followed by a Game Over screen where you can “try again” which loads your last autosave.
The game had various puzzles of all sorts. The puzzles ranged from calibrating signals to finding missing parts and working with contraptions to create or put things together in order to move forward. Pretty normal stuff in games like these, but none of it actually felt repetitive or boring. All the puzzles seemed like natural issues or problems in the world and none felt like a tedious task “just to progress”. The game was full of interesting and engaging content, and it moved at a nice pace without lingering too long in any one area. Anytime I felt as though I had fully “explored” an area, it was also time to move on to the next which was nice. Some places took longer than others, simply from the openness of various zones and having to explore to find certain things. There were a few instances where I overlooked what I was supposed to click on, or a missing terminal, to activate, but I always found them without getting frustrated on wondering what to do next.
The voiceovers, sounds, and background music, all contributed to an immersive and cinematic experience. Voices sounded sincere when emotion was needed, and the dialogue was very thought provoking, as was the entire story of the game. Speaking of which, the story of the game is certainly SOMA‘s strongest point, and definitely one worth experiencing. I don’t want to delve into anything that would spoil any aspect of the story as everyone deserves to experience the full un-spoiled story for themselves. The game deals with a premise of what the ‘self’ is. If that sentence confounds you, then it’s going to be quite an interesting experience for your playthrough. SOMA picks your brain and forces you to consider the implications of who you are, and what it means to be who you are and why. It manages to do it in a way that makes you care about what’s happening around you, which is hard to do in games these days. There are various times in the game where the player must make a decision to do something, or not to do something, and often times the results of these decisions manages to feel meaningful to you as the player. When I came to these forks in the road, I couldn’t help but feel weighted by the decisions I had to make once I realized the different results they would bring. It was a nice change to feel as though I really had to consider the consequences of my actions.
The visuals in the game, are spot-on. There is a lot going on in the environments and the scenery changes enough to make it interesting and new from area to area. I won’t divulge what the areas are, or where you’ll be going, but SOMA does an outstanding job on the graphical front of making this unique world come to life. There are plenty of things to click on and toss around (which I found to be a lot of fun), as well as plenty of dialogue segments, audio recordings, and log entries to read. The game was bursting with additional lore and content that you’d be able to find with just a little looking around.
Overall, the game is one of the most complete and immersive pieces of work I’ve seen in a while. There’s literally nothing I disliked about the game. Yes, the game was a bit aggravating at times if I overlooked something, and at times I couldn’t figure out how to get around some of the monsters, but this was often my fault and even still was essentially the “difficulty” of the game. However, the cinematic world and immersive storytelling has created a true masterpiece in the genre. SOMA is currently available on Steam and the Playstation Network for just $29.99 which is already such a bargain for such a wonderful experience. I spent 11 hours with the game and didn’t regret any of the time spent. This is one of those games that you wish you could wipe your memory for and experience all over again.