Through compelling narrative and deep storytelling, SOMA, a survival horror game creates an eerie atmosphere and mystery that begs to be solved. Created by the same developers as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, SOMA is recognized as it’s spiritual successor; however, counting SOMA as a sequel of sorts does it injustice to all the good it does.
The story is the backbone behind this whole game. It provides the horror and mystery that old-school horror games were known for. Playing as Simon, you realize that this man is suffering from some brain damage and has signed up for experimental treatment. This treatment will analyse and copy Simon’s brain waves to allow in-depth study to what is wrong inside his brain. Right after the brain scan, Simon wakes up after a flash of light in an unfamiliar base like structure under the ocean. He and you both have no idea what is going on in the world around you. This confusion shared by both the in-game character and you helps to generate a more realistic experience.
You are not playing as some hardened soldier in a world where you know everything.
Simon is confused and scared of what he doesn’t know. Fairly early in the game, you come across Catherine through a transmitter. While she appears to be helpful and a welcome voice of sanity, you will not be able to help feeling a sense of unease at what her true intentions are. I won’t spoil what happens next because the story is honestly the best part of the game. To spoil it would do this game and the readers a huge injustice. What the game does throughout its story is continuously question your sense of what it means to be human. SOMA does not use cheap jump scares or loud noises as its method of scare, instead, it makes you uncomfortable with the implication of every choice you make. This is essentially what SOMA’s identity is. Although everything else is done at a decent or great level, the story is what makes this unique.
To help the story, the writing and voice acting is top notch.
There is unique set of dialogue for nearly everything that can be interacted with. This helps to immerse you more into the world as Simon seems to ask questions we all have, done in a way which feels authentic and real. For this game the voice acting and writing for every small thing had to have been done well to give the story full effect, and it does not disappoint. With the voice acting and the story, you find yourself just interacting with everything possible to find more about this strange world you have been placed in.
Gameplay is familiar yet unique. The controls of the game are fairly easy to understand and feels intuitive. In terms of that, there is nothing really new which SOMA brings to the video game world. What makes it unique is how the game allows you to take your time. With the exception of certain segments, you are allowed to look at and interact with a multitude of things. This usually triggers some form of dialogue or text which helps to explain either what you are looking at or gives a reaction from Simon. The simple controls are necessary because the game needs you to be able to focus on exploration. Having overly complex controls or game mechanics would take you away from exploration and go against what the game is trying to do. So while simple, the game does it in the best way possible.
The environments within this game create an atmosphere which has a constant feeling of unease. There will never be a moment of this game where the eerie feeling of unease is completely lifted. Even in times of when things are seemingly peaceful and calm, the environment makes it feel as if something is inherently wrong. This is inherent in both inside the base and out in the ocean. Inside the base, you will feel as if every corner has something horribly new that will make you question your sense of reality. The ocean provokes a different type of fear as the vastness of space around you coupled with the darkness invokes an uncomfortable smallness. All this helps the game to question you on the truth of existence and the reality of what it means to be a human.
There are monsters within the game which quickly gets old. While the sound designs of the monster growling and scraping on the walls are excellently done, it gets old fast. This is due to the monsters going directly against what the game encouraged you to explore in the first place. For the majority of the game, it has allowed and encouraged you to explore the world at your own pace and take process the information being presented. Unfortunately, the monsters create a sense of urgency making exploration stressful while they are present. As you play, monsters will eventually create a sense of frustration as it forces you to hurry up and stop careful exploration in order to complete the monster segment. While the inclusions of a threat were interesting the first couple of times, it should have changed in nature to encourage further exploration. It seemed as if the monsters were simply added because every other horror game had them, rather than being a thought out decision to help make the game better.
SOMA is what a video game should be. It tells a story through play rather than unnecessary cutscenes. The gameplay consists of mainly exploration in order to better understand the world that you have been thrust upon. Almost everything within in this game has been created in order to help further the story experience in some way. Unfortunately, the monster design and mechanics seem to directly oppose the exploration that is encouraged in the first place. Yet even with this small slip up, the game still manages to create an enriching experience which has you questioning the meaning of life and consciousness. SOMA definitely creates its own identity away from Amnesia: The Dark Descent in such a delightfully uncomfortable way. People should pick this game up to see the unique ways in how a video game can tell a story in only a way a video game can.
● Great storytelling through gameplay
● Eerie atmosphere that never lets up
● Voice acting and writing are consistently good
● Monsters go directly against the game