SOMA Review

Player(s): 1
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SOMA is a first person survival horror developed by Frictional Games. Frictional Games are most well known for working on Amnesia and Penumbra, both of which I haven't played yet. To go into too much detail about SOMA would spoil the game so I'll just stick with the basics for the story setup. The game starts out with you in control of an ordinary guy (Simon Jarret) that is on his visit to the doctor and before long, you're thrust into a futuristic underwater station where machines appear to have taken over and they seem to act like humans. Some of the machines are extremely hostile and you'll often have to run or hide from them. You'll get to explore the station throughout its different buildings and even outside in the water.

The gameplay of SOMA plays much like Outlast. Your character can run and duck behind objects to avoid enemies. There is no option to fight back in any way. Closing doors can help out, but your attackers can often open them. Hiding behind objects or hiding around the side of a corner are pretty much the extent of the stealth gameplay in SOMA since it doesn't focus a whole lot on encounters like Outlast did. That doesn't mean it doesn't have many enemy encounters however. You'll be running into a variety of disturbing looking enemies ranging from machines to bloated flesh torsos that walk. It was very noticeable that the game rarely recycles enemies per encounter - most enemies are different from the last one that you ran into. The method of avoiding an enemy is sometimes different as well. There is one enemy that you can avoid by simply not staring at it when it passes by and there is another that only gets hostile whenever you get near it.

SOMA screenshot 1

The overall gameplay feels a lot like Half-Life 2 where you pick up objects and can't see your character's hands reaching out for them. From what I have seen on Twitch Penumbra plays around the same way. You'll have plenty of doors to open and puzzles to solve. The most common puzzle is finding a way to turn on power or open locked doors since many of the rooms of the station are often sealed off for containment. There were a few parts where the objective for a puzzle was not always obvious. I spent several minutes trying to figure out how to advance in some areas since the game doesn't give any hints or highlight a useful object. For instance, on one part, all I had to do was plug a cable up to a console to supply power to a console, but I didn't notice the cord to the side since it blended in with the environment and couldn't get the prompt to activate while looking around the room but I finally noticed a button prompt when looking at the top of the power cord on the floor.

SOMA has some incredibly scary atmosphere and overall surroundings in its many areas. You'll often see a black ooze called "structure gel" along the corridors and walls of the station that appears to be mutating like a cancerous growth over the various areas. Corridors are littered with dead bodies and robot parts at times as well. It's very noticeable to me that the game doesn't try to scare you with jump scares at all, aside from a few flickering lights. Most of the fear that I felt came from just the overall fear of the unknown or what waits around the next corner. Make sure you play this game with headphones since the sound design is fantastic and really helps to make the experience all the more creepy. You'll hear groans of upcoming creatures and sounds of machines very often. The character voice overs are all very well done as well, whether you meet a new character or hear them through an audio file.

The graphics aren't exactly current gen graphics. I'd say they are around what we saw at the end of last generation. The character models lack detail, but many of the surroundings look great, especially underwater environments. It's noticeable that the PS4 version has many instances of slowdown and stutter in between areas at times. The load times range from decent to very long. The starting load time when you load up your save file is around a good 30+ seconds each time. Load times between areas don't take all that long but that is when the stuttering and slowdown might start afterward. SOMA also has a problem with loading certain objects. There was one part where an air lock door disappeared and I was able to walk out into the water through the doorway and back into a room with only air, but I had to fill the chamber to leave the area... through an invisible door. I had a few other instances of disappearing doors as well.

SOMA screenshot 2

SOMA is extremely story driven. If you're in the game for the story, you've got a very fun roller coaster ride ahead of you. The story is told through the usual character interaction and cutscenes along with many files, audio files and past experiences to look through or listen to. Your character can approach speakers or dead bodies and touch them to listen to past conversations that help set up some backstory or answer some questions about the current story.

The main plot itself is a thought-provoking masterpiece. If you like to go off and have discussions about the ideas from a game or movie, you'll really like SOMA's story. One of the main ideas brought up in the game is basically "what constitutes life" and the game has that theme throughout the story. It challenges you to make moral decisions throughout the game that are entirely optional. It's really too bad that the decisions don't impact the story. Sadly, SOMA only has one ending and there are no extra mode or difficulties - basically there is no reason to replay the game aside from experiencing the story once again. The game lasted me a little over 10 hours so it has quite a bit to offer with its campaign. SOMA really isn't the type of game for everyone but if you want to sit down with a game that is suspenseful until the very end and keeps you thinking after the credits roll then be sure to check this one out.

The Good:
+ One of the best stories in a horror game
+ Many scary areas
+ Good characters

The Bad:
- Aside from experiencing the story again, the game has no replay value
- Slowdown and stuttering at times
- A few long load times
- A few bugs and glitches involving objects not loading

Final Rating: 80% - One of the most thought-provoking stories you'll see in a horror game.


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