It was 3 a.m. when I finished Frictional Games’ newest title, SOMA. I sluggishly got up, turned off my PC, and walked into the kitchen. I pulled out a bar stool, sat down, and poured myself a shot. SOMA explores consciousness, suicide, the way we perceive our reality, and what it means to be human, and it does it so well, it’ll leave you drained.
SOMA Is a first-person survival horror game. In it, you take on the role of Simon Jarrett and traverse the underwater facilities of PATHOS-2. Over the course of your journey, you’ll discover what happened to Simon, the people of PATHOS-2, and what the heck is the “WAU”?
SOMA’s story is one of its greatest assets. The way this information is relayed to the player is primarily through spoken exposition. The amount of dialogue in SOMA is fantastic. Simon is a loquacious protagonist and the people he meets throughout his journey have a lot to say. Every character you meet unravels a little bit of the story and helps Simon become acquainted with what exactly is happening to him throughout the course of the game.
While you can spend as much time as you want exploring your surroundings for every little bit of story, if you choose to follow the main arc, the game moves at a deliberate pace. SOMA isn’t a story full of twists and turns. There’s never a revelation, only a realization. It’s evident early on that something major has happened to your character. Instead of holding that reveal to the conclusion of the game, SOMA handles it in a smart way during the first act. Playing SOMA, I wasn’t wondering what was going to happen at the end, but how it was going to happen. It was compelling and a testament to its good storytelling.
It will reward you with as much backstory as you’re willing to look for.
The majority of SOMA has you walking around PATHOS-2 and interacting with your environment. The game wants you to explore every nook and cranny and interact with each one of the creepy things it has to offer. This is where a lot the game’s horror arises from. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you were afraid of the things you couldn’t see. In SOMA, the horror comes from the grotesque scenes and characters that are presented to you.
The environment also plays a huge role in SOMA. Littered throughout, you’ll find corpses that can be interacted with to reveal the final few seconds of a person’s life. This is basically SOMA’s version of the audio log. However, these final moments carry weight to them and some of them are incredibly impactful. There will be notes scrawled on bits of paper laid across someone’s desk that offer some insight, and most of the computers will carry a few tidbits of backstory and information. Again, this lends to SOMA’s sense of exploration. It will reward you with as much backstory as you’re willing to look for. Almost everything in SOMA is interactive. You’ll be able to grab, pick up and move objects, manually slide open doors, and pull down on levers until they click into place.
SOMA also includes various puzzles throughout the game. These usually revolve around interacting and manipulating various machines, gears, and hardware. The puzzles are handled well and are intertwined with the story to make the gameplay and narrative feel like one cohesive whole, rather than separate entities. For instance, one puzzle has you roaming the environment collecting employee I.D. cards to find specific numbers needed to log into a computer. Each employee (who have all passed away) reveals a little of what happened in this specific wing of PATHOS-2.
Throughout the game you will come across some enemies that, well, let’s just say aren’t very friendly. While there aren’t too many of these encounters, they’re certainly memorable. From an early encounter with a monstrous brute, to relentless aggressor in a decaying diving suit, no two creatures are alike, and figuring out how they act and react to your presence forms the basis of these unsettling confrontations. Just like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you can’t fight these enemies. Your only method of dealing with them involves running away and hiding. I didn’t really enjoy these moments. While they certainly felt tense, once you figured out a monster’s pattern, it became boring and overlong.
When you’re not exploring one of the many modules of PATHOS-2, you’ll be tasked with walking on the ocean’s bottom. The sound is muted, the sea floor is awash with strands of seaweed, and the rotting husks of disused metal and decomposing facilities all litter the landscape. These sections certainly looked nice, but as with the creature encounters, were incredibly boring. When playing these sections, I was holding in sprint so I could get back to the other sections of the game as quickly as possible. For instance, one of the earlier creature encounters involves a hulking monster playing hide-and-seek with you. The monster has a vision cone, but it moves incredibly slow. So the section boils down to waiting for a minute or two each time the monster walks by, so that you can walk to the next place where you need to go.
SOMA is a tense, grotesque, and thought provoking game. It’s a game that rewards its players with as much background story as they’re willing to look for, but doesn’t handicap those who just want to see the main story play out. The puzzles are smart, and help to further enrich the story. Inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s work, SOMA does a great job at presenting themes of humanity and consciousness to the player. While I thought there were some tedious sections sprinkled throughout, namely the monster chase and ocean floor sequences, those never derailed my overall enjoyment of the game. SOMA is a game for anyone in the mood for a narrative driven game that will make you think, make you scared, and make you question.
A PC copy of SOMA was purchased by the reviewer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.