SOMA is a beautifully atmospheric game with a curious setting which drives exploration while progressing an interesting story, albeit slightly lacking in the horror department.
At it’s core SOMA is a first person adventure game. Gameplay involves exploring a mysterious environment with light puzzle solving and avoiding the occasional creepy being. I found the puzzles to be simple, and even though SOMA doesn’t hold the player’s hand with onscreen objection makers, the game prevents players from getting lost in dark environments or distracted hunting for hidden story clues, by reminding the player of what they should be doing with helpful dialogue or monologues from the different characters.
Developer: Frictional Games
Platform: PS4 & PC
MonsterVine was supplied with a PS4 code for review
Playing SOMA, it is difficult to not make comparisons to games like Gone Home. This new genre of videogame storytelling isn’t for everyone but involves rich, detailed worlds with light puzzle solving. The story, and world that Frictional Games built for SOMA is what kept me engaged for the nine or so hours I spent with it. I won’t go into much detail about the story because the mystery of everything is what I found to be the most compelling. If you like creepy science fiction, SOMA is right up your alley.
One way in which SOMA breaks the mold is by including ‘game over’ as a possibility. There are multiple sections within SOMA where enemies need to be avoided. Enemies cannot be defeated, and the protagonist has no weapons or any other means to attempt combat. SOMA intentionally makes the player feel helpless, and it works to strengthen the mood and narrative of the story. These encounters also add a layer of tension that acts as the biggest point of fear in SOMA as getting caught once will injure the player, causing slower movement and distorted vision. Unfortunately, while having enemies present did increase the tension, it didn’t offer any sort of fear other than the worry of having to reload from the last checkpoint.
The puzzles that SOMA puts players through are usually pretty simple. Gathering all the required components to repair something, figuring out a sequence in which to activate certain devices and even some interesting computer ‘hacking’ style mini puzzles. These challenges are peppered throughout the game, but do little to provide that sense of accomplishment that goes with something of a higher difficulty.
Visually, SOMA has a very run-down, grunge art style. The mixture of future, cold machine environments were paired with bits of organic life that blended and did a lot to further tie the story to its location. Unfortunately, there are some technical issues that are just jarring enough to pull you away from some of the immersion the game creates. In the PS4 version, low frame rates in high actioned areas are frequent and also occur in hitches during environmental loads and save checkpoints throughout the game. Additionally, the load times seem punishingly long. When I did take breaks from playing SOMA it was often after I died, because the thought of waiting for the game to reload frustrated me.
Frictional Games is responsible for one of the most terrifying gaming experiences I have ever had. Amnesia: The Dark Descent had me feeling like I was a child, home alone and had just watched a movie I shouldn’t have. Maybe it’s because of Amnesia that I had higher expectations for the horror within SOMA. Instead of things being terrifying the setting is more intriguing, and the encounters come off more as creepy than scary. I was left with a weird interest surrounding the different enemies instead of a fear. Often times I would let myself get captured or attacked by the enemies, just to learn more about what they looked like.
The Final Word
SOMA contains an interesting world with wonderful atmosphere and aesthetic. The puzzle solving gameplay lends some variety while progressing the story, but never in a way that stands out on its own or provides a strong challenge. Finding all of the audio logs, reading all of the story bits is what’s most enjoyable about the game.If you are looking for a creepy, interesting narrative you’ll be pleased with the engaging world that Frictional Games created with SOMA. If diverse gameplay, interesting mechanics or traditional horror is what you seek, you won’t find what you are looking for with SOMA.
– MonsterVine Rating: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair