I played SOMA on the PS4. I encountered some issues with slowdown in a couple of areas. The action pauses when loading, giving a terrible stuttering effect. Other than that though, it performed well.
Developer Frictional Games is no stranger to the horror genre, providing one of the more stellar horror titles of the past decade. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a game that managed to capture the essence of horror without slapping you in the face with gruesome monsters and cheap jump scares. 5 years later, Frictional is back with another horror outing called SOMA, a title that is narratively more ambitious than anything the company has done before.
SOMA is a narrative-driven horror experience that knows when to pull back and let the atmosphere do it’s thing. You are cast in the shoes of an everyman, Simon Jarrett, who goes for what he believes to be a normal brain scan. Something happens though, and he wakes up thousands of years later in an undersea base inhabited by robots who inexplicably think they’re human. The story echoes the themes and concepts explored by the greats of science fiction. Walking around SOMAs environments is almost like walking around in a Philip K. Dick novel, or even, in its nastier moments, a Harlan Ellison short story. SOMA truly does these themes justice as it looks at the uglier side of an all robotic future.
SOMAs gameplay marries pure exploration with tense monster encounters. During the time you will spend exploring the base, you will find small clues as to what has really happened to the world, how Simon got there and just why the base is so deserted. These segments are very rewarding, meaning you’ll want to scope out every little corner. The world is so well realised that it is enriching just to be there.
The monster segments are altogether more standard. There is no combat in SOMA, no way to defend yourself against the bizarre creatures you will encounter. This means you’ll be doing a lot of sneaking around, and…well more sneaking around. The monsters are indeed scary, and it is nice that there are different monster designs for every area, but you hardly see them. These sections are not particularly hard, and Simon can take two hits so it’s never much of an issue. And, very much like Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, the spotty nature of the encounters can become a pain. They are easily the least interesting part of SOMA.
SOMA impressed me with the way the story was handled. Learning the exact nature of how Simon got to the base is your initial driving point, but it is not your last. It would have been easy to keep certain elements back for a ‘big reveal’ at the end, but instead Frictional sprinkles them throughout the game, leading to a more fulfilling narrative overall.
It took me about 7 hours to fully experience SOMA. There is no replay value – all trophies are tied to the story – but I felt satisfied with one playthrough, and tacking on additional elements for the sake of it would undermine the story. However, in terms of value, it’s a little harder to recommend. I bought SOMA for £23.99 on the PSN store, which seems high for a download-only title. SOMA seems to be in an odd grey area between full retail production and a downloadable game. I don’t regret buying it, but it is an odd case.
SOMA had me hooked until the very end with it’s twisting narrative and tight claustrophobic atmosphere. The story expertly handles grandiose concepts like the nature of the soul and a disparate future. Although the actual ‘horror’ segments often feel unneeded, the gameplay makes up for it in quiet foreboding exploration. SOMA is a horror experience every fan of horror and science fiction should at least try.
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