SOMA Review – The Second best Under-The-Sea Science Fiction Game

Title: SOMA

Developer: Frictional Games

Publisher: Frictional Games

Released For: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Sony Playstation 4

DRM and DRM Free Versions Available      

Released On: September 22, 2015

MSRP: $29.99

Purchased Copy

 

Hello dear old Frictional Games,  I see we meet again. I remember when we first met with the Penumbra trilogy, and I adored it’s gameplay, and only wanted more and more as I played. They weren’t graphically impressive, but they were fun, and at some points even provoking. I was first introduced with Overture, and I was amazed by how incredible it all felt. As a long time player of the horror genre, the Penumbra series always stood out to me. When Amnesia: The Dark Descent released, I too enjoyed it. Yet, I felt something was missing, a step misplaced if you will. Nothing was exactly wrong per se, but it began to all blend together, and it didn’t quite set itself apart from the Penumbra series as I had first thought. Penumbra’s games fell more so into story and puzzles, while leaving horror and ‘scary’ factors on the side. Amnesia: The Dark Descent, took a different route, and reversed the rolls, mainly focusing on horror and leaving the story and puzzles to the side. So did SOMA go back to its roots?

In SOMA, the player character is put into the role of a character by the name of Simon who lives in Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Simon is sick with the *insert this somehow incurable illness or ailment that only has one hope*, which in this case is a brain injury after a fatal car crash that killed his friend Ashley, and believes that a certain doctor may have the cure. The doctor tells Simon that if he scans his brain, they’ll be able to give him a plan to help cure his ailment. However, after the scan, Simon wakes up nearly 100 years later in a strange underwater facility lying in ruins where a strange AI-like parasite known as the WAU is taking over everything in sight, the world above is now lying in ruins, and Simon needs to figure out what he can do, if he can do anything at all.

The player will start off in the research facility of Pathos-II; a bastion of the last [known] human survivors on the Earth after a meteor crashes into earth, and the entire surface lights ablaze. Simon will start off at one of the facilities within Pathos-II known as Upsilon, and eventually goes through all of them on a quest he himself isn’t entirely sure of.

For one, SOMA doesn’t follow Amnesia’s roots, and instead follows Penumbra’s roots. Meaning the game attempts to focus more on story and character development or interaction, and uses the horror and puzzle elements as a means to get to those moments. Similar to both Penumbra, Amnesia, and even games like Outlast, the player can’t fight back. The player either hides, runs, or both.

SOMA at heart isn’t a horror game, as much as a science-fiction game with horror elements. Don’t get me wrong, the horror elements and horror atmosphere IS there and present, and (at some points) really is great and detailed, but it feels pushed to the side, and (at times) a little too pushed to the side. Nothing’s really scary, and there were a few points in the game where I felt there were quite a few missed opportunities.

I figured out the game’s enemy ploy rather quickly. The game’s method of showing off new enemies without coming up with circular reasons as to WHY those new enemies are at one place and not another, they went for the ‘one new enemy per section’ gimmick. More bluntly, each section of the game gives you almost exclusively one type of enemy to fight. While it sounds like I’m upset at the idea, it’s not poorly implemented, it’s just been done before by the developer in previous games. If you’ve played previous games by Frictional, you’ll also notice the decrease in difficulty or challenge from the enemies. Enemies are far less challenging, and the puzzles are short and simplistic. Most enemies do search for the player to some degree, but not nearly as much and as vigorously as they did in say, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In Amnesia, they searched until you were unreachable, or dead. In Soma, they just tend to search for 30 or so seconds before leaving. The chapters and divides between segments of game are also often shorter, and (as such) so are the segments of dodging and hiding from enemies. I enjoy this more, but I enjoy it more because I enjoy the story more than previous games. It’s a story that asks a lot of questions, and doesn’t provide many answers. Simon answers some, but ultimately the player must answer the questions for themselves, and the game doesn’t make the player suffer if they chose a different view point or decision than what the game intends.

Similar to Amnesia, the player will solve puzzles, read/listen to notes or audio recordings, and will eventually piece together the story through context. The game doesn’t tell everything to the player, and mainly leaves the player to fill in the gaps that the story doesn’t fill. I enjoyed this as most of games that Frictional Games has released do the same thing. The problem is that there isn’t much new in terms of actual gameplay. Yes some things DO change, but most of it all carries over from Penumbra and Amnesia, and (at some points) feels too similar to them gameplay wise.

This doesn’t mean the game didn’t do anything differently. For example, voices! Voice has always been a stumbling point for Frictional Games, often enough being seldom seen if being included at all, but it’s inclusion here I feel was needed in order to deliver a believable world. While a few performances fall towards the ‘okay’ side, most of them were well done. The voices are convincing enough that it makes the player feel really bad in certain situations, and the only ‘okay’ voices are the ones that the player will only hear for a few minutes. All the main character(s) have very accurate and believable performances.

As for the visuals, they’re not exactly ‘2015 AAA studio’ quality. The game worlds are beautiful, and that’s why I personally can forgive the texture quality. It’s very reminiscent of Bioshock, with remnants of the level ‘Cortana’ from Halo 3. It’s an amazingly gorgeous world, but it suffers ultimately from feeling aged, despite it being from late 2015. Certain water effects were impressive, but the texture quality, decal effects, and the overall game didn’t feel the same. To some extent, certain textures looked arguably worse than some of those found in Bioshock 2. Astatically; it’s beautiful. Quality wise, it could do with an overhaul.

The soundscape was also well done, and would be on par with Amnesia. Sounds were creepy, and helped to build the already great atmosphere. The soundtrack is memorable, and it fits with the game. Think “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” meets “Moonlit Sonata”.

As for the controls, they were fine. It features controller support, and I enjoyed the fact that I could actually use my controller if given the option, but the keyboard layout was fine by default. The settings department also is fully featured, and the game even as an FOV slider. Nice touch.

Overall, the game is top notch. I won’t spoil the story, but the game is worth it on story alone. While the gameplay was okay, I pushed through the more ‘boring’ gameplay segments simply to get back on the story. The story is not only well done, but something I’d actually be interested in seeing a sequel of in some form. If you decide to purchase the game, know that you’re purchasing it for a top notch sci-fi story with Amnesia gameplay begrudgingly added in, all put into an atmospheric and believable world.

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