E3 2015 – SOMA Preview: Underwater Amnesia
From the developer of Amnesia comes another survival horror game, SOMA. These guys and gals know horror. I was scared witless by Amnesia‘s excellent pacing and tense atmosphere, but unfortunately the series never made its way to PlayStation. Finally, Frictional Games is bringing their horror chops to consoles with this release. We spent some quality time with the game while at E3 last week, and have our analysis ready for you.
The story of SOMA takes place underwater. The developer stated that they have always wanted to do an underwater game, and now have their chance. It could be said that the world is inspired by BioShock, but there are fewer jump scares and more tense moments caused not by enemies, but by atmosphere. The main character, who suffers from some amnesia but at least knows who and where he is, has the ability to play the last 10-30 seconds of anyone’s life before they died thanks to neural implants they had received previously. This will obviously come in handy throughout the game. It’s your job to piece together what happened to cause everyone to either flee or die. Not much of the story was revealed during this demo, but then again why ruin the surprise?
Frictional Games mentioned that they had their work cut out for them and their proprietary game engine. New features such as walk-up terminals that the player could interact with, all without a loading screen or breaking immersion, were here and appeared to work as intended (though a screen was accidentally flipped during an in-game conversation; I kind of liked it, and thought that it might make the area feel even more derelict). This includes finding key codes and punching them into the computers in order to route power, activate doors, and more.
Much like the Amnesia games before it, in SOMA, there is no real option to fight. When you see an enemy, your best bet is to find a good hiding spot, and wait for a good moment to get the hell out of there. The enemies are kind of hard to make out, but appear to be lumbering humanoid robots, sort of like Big Daddies but not nearly as large. They also give off a weird screen artifact every now and then, which the developer did say is your clue that something is not friendly.
I Think, Therefore I am, I Think…
It looks like the developer is going for a game that may get you to think a little bit beyond just pure entertainment. At a certain point in the demo, we came across a dead worker whose name was Carl. We listened to the last few moments of his life, during which time something unexplained happened, and his feed went dead. It was sad, but kind of expected given that we knew we would be listening to the last half minute or so of his existence. Or was it? A few rooms away, we stumbled upon a robot that had been heavily damaged. It was leaking some sort of fluid which looked like oil. The robot, however, was still operational, and called himself Carl. Was this the same Carl? I’m not sure. This robot fully believed that he was human. It sounds absurd, even funny at first, but then you turn on a switch to route power to this room, and the robot shrieks in agony as you do so. If you turn the power back off, the robot thanks you, and begs that you find a medic. Your character jokes that he means a mechanic, which Carl does not find amusing. The sequence is another example of Fractional Games’ mastery of pacing, humor and thoughtful story. It does make you question what it means to be human, if only for just a little bit before you remember that your life is at stake.
It’s hard to say just how scary SOMA is at this point in time. E3 isn’t necessarily the best place to get a genuine scare, unless you’re in a theater presentation. The ambiance does seem spot-on; the underwater station you find yourself in has seen better days, and it was suddenly and mysteriously abandoned for reasons unknown. There is a menacing enemy that always seems to be just a few steps behind you, and there is a strange, almost alien-like growth slowly covering up surfaces. I’m curious to see where this story will take us, and eagerly await a new release from one of my favorite horror game developers.