Trying to stay alive under the deep blue
Truth be told, when I originally found out about SOMA, I expected something along the lines of Dead Space or the more recently Alien: Isolation, but I’m glad that once I finally got my hands on the game that it wasn’t the case. Instead, I was treated to a sci-fi story of survival and more importantly an intriguing story that makes you wonder what many could consider perhaps the single most asked question of all time. Who am I? What does it truly mean to be human? Yes, folks, SOMA is that kind of game that not only offers some entertainment, but a introduces moral overtones as well. Even before diving into the game, if you’ve paid attention to the trailers that Frictional Games released, you should have an idea as to what you’re about to get involved with.
Game Name: SOMA
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Publisher(s): Frictional Games
Developer(s): Frictional Games
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Reviewed on PC
In SOMA you play the role of Simon, a young man who we meet at the start. Right off the bat, we can see that he is suffering from sort of accident and is scheduled for a brain scan to see what’s going on with him. Sounds simple, right? Sure, it does, until that brain scan turns out into something else. Something else that warps your entire world and sends you, spiraling out of control as you start to question what exactly is going on and why you end up where you do, the desolated underwater facility of PATHOS II. If I was to describe what PATHOS II was like, just imagine the underwater city of Rapture from Bio Shock, meets the cold and uninviting setting of Dead Space’s Ishimura and you’ll have a good idea.
SOMA is played in a first-person perspective, you never see the character you play directly, but you eventually see his hands. Game-play is handled by navigating and interacting with your surroundings as you attempt to unravel the story surrounding PATHOS II and well, your existence there. As you progress through the game, you’ll experience a number of different encounters, such as being chased by creatures or solving a puzzle to progress further into the game. And while this is a survival game, it handles being killed differently than other games. For example, if you’re damaged by a creature, it doesn’t simply kill you and roll the game over credits. Instead, Simon goes into what I called “limp mode”. You get slower and get one more chance to get away from whatever just caused you harm and hopefully you’ll be able to find something to heal yourself. If you take another hit in that state and then it actually will be game over. That all said, it feels sort of like cheating in a sense, as you never truly feel like you’re in danger as you can simply get a redo vs having to reload the game and starting over again.
As with most survival horror games, you are typically alone for most of your journey. You’ll meet up with others, some who are just as lost and hapless as you are, others who are still trying to finish something they started, while the remainder are…. let’s just say they’re what you’re up against. While I’m on the subject of the creatures, I wish they did pose more of a threat. It seems Frictional Games was going for a simpler approach to how they handled them, but the finished product just doesn’t feel up to par. And while I get the concept of being helpless, the ride and hide game got a bit tiring after a while.
Normally I try to stay away from spoiling the gaming experience, with SOMA I can’t really describe the game without providing some insight as to the game. And while I can’t say too much as the story is the main reason to play the game and the reason why once you start you’ll want to finish. There are so many questions that SOMA asks of you, so many decisions to contemplate and more than anything, makes to wonder what about if what transpires in the game could actually happen. And if so, how you or anyone else for that matter handle it. And there you have it, I can’t say anymore, you’ll just have to play the game to find out.
Thanks to the extraordinary job of the visual and audio simulation, the eerie effects and the visual cues such as your vision suddenly becoming blurry or even the sound of your heart picking up the pace, all done in a satisfying and very convincing way. In the matter that it was handled, it provided a sense of helplessness, at the most opportune times. But the winner here is just the vast environment that you traverse through. Sure the game is handled in an underwater hell, it simply looks stunning. While SOMA doesn’t feature any sort of jump scares, something I expect a lot of, it wasn’t needed as I found my heart pulsing several times throughout my game-play, with nothing other than the aforementioned quest.
It was if my mind was preparing me to get scared, yet at the same time, I was expecting it at the same time. Regardless, the audio and visuals are top-notch. And since I played this on a somewhat medium to high-end PC, I was able to enjoy the game at max settings via 1080p@60fps. However, there were times where the game either loaded a new section or when I moved between rooms and a new effect, such as water rising and lowering that caused my fps to spike occasionally. Short of that, it was a high frame rate experience.
SOMA provides a worthwhile gaming experience that simply has to be played, regardless if you’re a fan of survival horror titles. There’s just so many things that the game does right while providing an emotional roller-coaster that doesn’t let up. Nope one bit, and if you play long enough and manage to complete the game, you’ll understand exactly what I mean. If there was anything I had to fault with the game, it would be with Simon. I never felt any kind of attachment to him and frankly never cared about him. To me he came off like of a child who was pissed off that things didn’t go his way, hell I felt more remorse for the NPC’s I encountered and ultimately either tortured and or killed (on accident).
And the ending, that ending indeed. It just makes you wonder. There have been many of movies that have used this perspective but, it’s just ironic to have it in a game, at least how they handled it in this game at least. And don’t cheat if you do attempt to play this game. Don’t go to YouTube and watch the ending or for that matter any game-play as I feel it cheapens the overall experience. Instead, take some time with this, play it during the day or at night, it doesn’t matter, just enjoy the ride.
SOMA is currently available for the PC and PlayStation 4.
PC code for this review was provided by the publisher.
Under the Sea, truly alive.... or are you
Graphics - 9/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Audio - 9/10
Value - 8/10
Frictional Games, considered to be one of the best when it coems to games of this nature, really drives home a story that makes you contemplate what humanity really issues. Filled with moral overtones, SOMA straps you in for one hell of a drive and never stops, even at the very end. SOMA is without a doubt of the better crafted survival horror games I've played in a while, hell if ever, even if the the whole underwater environment has been used several times over (Bioshock).
+ Gripping story
+ Beautiful graphics and haunting audio
+ A survival horror game that doesn't rely on jump scares
- Way to easy to get lost
- Monsters aren't very exciting
- Wasn't as scary as expected, definitely not as scary as Amnesia