SOMA is reviewed by our lovely Cat of Red Lace Reviews!
SOMA is a sci-fi horror game from Frictional Games, creators of the groundbreaking Amnesia and Penumbra series.
The radio is dead, food is running out, and the machines have started to think they are people. Underwater facility PATHOS-II has suffered an intolerable isolation and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. What can be done? What makes sense? What is left to fight for? SOMA is a sci-fi horror game from Frictional Games, the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It is an unsettling story about identity, consciousness, and what it means to be human.
Title: SOMA | Developer: Frictional Games | Publisher: Frictional Games | Release Date: 09/22/2015 | Genre: Horror | Platform: PC | Source: Purchased | Starred Review
SOMA (2015) is a first-person survival horror game developed by Frictional Games, well known for their Penumbra and Amnesia titles. It delves into the Atlantic Ocean with Simon, the game’s protagonist, who mysteriously awakes in an underwater research facility named PATHOS-II. The main objective is to make sense of events by exploring the various sites while avoiding being caught by its inhabitants.
An hour in…
Frictional’s games always prove entertaining for one main reason: the physics of it all. I’m so used to clutter that can’t be interacted with in pretty much every modern game, so as soon as I got into SOMA’s prologue, I spent the first few minutes throwing around objects for absolutely no reason. Did this affect the overall gameplay at all? Well, I’d argue that it did, as everything from pulling on latches, opening drawers and doors, plugging in power chords, it all felt so impactful despite being nothing groundbreaking.
The opening hour set up an interesting mystery surrounding the main character as it plunged him into a dark and dead facility. With great use of audio, I was put on edge almost instantly, my exploration of the Upsilon site full of morbid intrigue.
The meat of it…
Equipped with my trusty Omnitool, I delved deeper into PATHOS-II, which in its entirety consisted of eight abandoned stations linked together by railway. I had a distinct sense of excitement when discovering the other sites were all potentially accessible and awaiting exploration—the setting gripped me enough that I wanted to learn all I could about it. Atmosphere was one of its biggest strengths, the visuals unnerving with various dead bodies strewn about, some of them melded to an organic substance that had seemingly invaded every corner of the facility. Obviously there was some sort of terrible incident, with poor Simon left to the aftermath.
Coming into contact with a woman named Catherine Chun, she provided much-needed assistance, as well as engrossing dialogue with Simon, their interactions the primary medium for the story, along with the ability to eavesdrop into past events via audio snippets. The question of the day: what makes us human? Sure, I’ve come across this existential crisis a number of times in horror and science fiction alike, but it was done so damn well here, each new revelation drip-fed over time. It also hit a peak with its various puzzles, and I’m not talking about simply finding an object to progress to another area, but in actually having to solve a problem, be it using computers to redirect power, building simulations or just having to operate machinery.
It wasn’t all a walk in the park. Stealth was necessary for getting past the game’s mechanised monsters, with each type having their own detection quirk depending on location, either relying on sight, sound, or movement. This definitely slowed the pacing down due to having to carefully navigate through their territory, but I didn’t mind it in the slightest. When it comes to an enemy, once I’ve encountered them a handful of times, that initial fright usually bleeds away, but SOMA kept me on my toes, spooking me more than once. With one monster, it hid away until I alerted it to my whereabouts, where it then honed in on my location. Talk about stressful, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
I think I’ll always be able to recall the exact moment I stalled out of fear. Underwater gameplay has this uncomfortable aspect about it, yet SOMA’s deep sea segments seemed merely a way to travel from base A to base B with a couple of puzzles thrown in, resulting in them being mostly waking simulation in nature. That, I could deal with, I could even enjoy the view. What really got me—what left me wanting to close down the game—was the absolute hell of the later sequences that dialed everything up to eleven—just darkness, with some giant monstrosity out of sight.
As for the ending, I can’t say much without spoiling it, therefore I’ll describe it with one word: perfect.
I didn’t expect to get so invested in SOMA, but I found myself drawn into its mystery almost immediately. Bereft of life, the various complexes of PATHOS-II each offered new obstacles to overcome – there was a balance between struggling to stay alive against the assortment of enemies and the quiet moments where the atmosphere seeped into my bones. With decent voice acting, it told a phenomenal story about consciousness, identity, and preservation. If you can’t tell by now, it impressed the hell out of me. I’ll recommend this game for years to come.
For those that desire a more story-focused playthrough, that’s okay, the game has a Safe Mode that, while keeping the enemies, they’re essentially turned into aesthetics rather than posing any real danger to the player.
It’s roughly ten hours in length, costing £23 ($30 in the US), however goes on sale quite often, so it can be picked up for less than £10, and that’s practically a steal.
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.
Hah- I love how there’s a safe mode on that one! I sure as hell can’t play thoses types of games xd I tried the amnesia after watching so many let’s plays of it.. and nope! after 5mins I just gotta stop rofl
You make me want to watch playthrough of this one though! Thank you!
Excellent review, captures my own thoughts perfectly.