SOMA isn’t a complicated game, but it doesn’t need to be. I definitely appreciated its pared back approach to horror and the attention paid to the idea that not only can we not always fight the boogeyman but even running doesn’t always help. While there are some misses in this one, its one big success story is atmosphere. There’s something about this game that settles into you as you explore and several hours after playing it, it was the sticky philosophical ideas that were proposed that continued to haunt me rather than the thought of the thing creeping around the corner.
- The atmosphere and storycrafting is textural and engaging. Utilizing a first person perspective, SOMA delivers a beautifully rich glimpse at the best intentions going horribly wrong, something that harks back to movies like Event Horizon or Sphere. Facts are slow in coming, but given how beautiful this broken world is and how disturbing presences are that the player begins to encounter, I didn’t find myself minding the story pacing at all.
- PATHOS-II becomes its own character. I’m sure a lot of people will find echoes of other iconic science fiction environments such as Bioshock’s Rapture or Aliens’ LV-426, but it doesn’t feel like a derivative or a cop out at all. Instead I found myself poking and exploring PATHOS-II with some impressively smooth control mechanics that felt both intuitive and didn’t distract from the story I was experiencing.
- The game uses its story as a vehicle for some really interesting ideas. It’s hard to offer up plot points without spoiling the winding coil of the game itself, so I’ll refrain while saying that ethical questions that are raised are ones that are worth asking as tech advances continue and the feasibility of what’s proposed in SOMA begins to make itself more than vaguely possible.
- The impact will lessen on repeat playthroughs. There were times while playing where after an encounter with one of the monsters, I would become frustrated and having seen the horror full on had dampened its psychological effect, but these were fairly easy to adapt to and learn from for future encounters. However, once you know what’s behind the corner, it’s difficult to regain that tension again.
- The acting was making some pretty peculiar choices. The voice acting wasn’t my favorite, and I feel like that’s a comment that will be repeated by other players. The delivery was sometimes pretty far off the mark for a given situation but if this wasn’t being looked at from a critical point of view, I would most likely have just shrugged my shoulders at it because the game itself is gorgeous and provides the player with a wonderfully haunted world and well crafted visuals to interact with that minor misses like some funny voice acting choices won’t be a deal breaker for most.
For me the best horror movies were always the ones that focused on the concept of isolation and were set in a location that reinforced that condition. Alien, The Thing, The Abyss… all of these classics of the late 70s/early 80s are benchmarks of this mentality. The “Oh, Crap in the Snow/Space/Water” genre is effectual for a reason- it preys on what we as a social species fear- namely a loss of security when removed from others and a realization that we are not always going to be the apex predator.
It’s this same scenario that gets visited in SOMA. Frictional Games, the developer that created Amnesia: The Dark Descent, offers up a familiar taste of this particular subgenre of horror while managing to keep it from getting stale. Taking place primarily in an underwater facility named PATHOS-II, SOMA drops the protagonist into the environment mostly devoid of any understanding of what is going on and pushes you to explore the surroundings and figure out why this is all happening and just what went wrong in the PATHOS-II facility.