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SOMA Is a PS4 Horror Game You Daren’t Take Your Eyes Off

September 21, 2015 Written by Michael Briers

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Summer is all but a distant memory at this point and with the nights beginning to darken — in the Northern Hemisphere, at least — horror fans are keeping one eye on the release schedule with a mix of fear, longing and gleeful anticipation.

Silent Hills may have left a gaping hole in the genre’s line-up — and in our hearts — but there are still plenty of blood-curdling experiences making their way to PlayStation platforms to stoke excitement and fuel nightmares; one of which being Frictional Games’ soon-to-be-released title, SOMA.

The Dark Descent

As the creative minds behind the spine-chilling Amnesia series, the studio is introducing a new breed of horror to PlayStation 4. Part Dead Space, part BioShock, the sci-fi title unfolds across an abandoned underwater lab deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Infused with the stylistic tendencies of a H.P. Lovecraft tale, Frictional’s existential horror will have players explore the eerie, serpentine corridors of Pathos-2 as they try to piece together what exactly went wrong within this most mysterious experimental site.

It soon becomes clear that the threat lurking in the shadows is decidedly alien, and that the researchers of the facility dabbled with science far beyond their control. Couple this with the murky underwater setting and you have a horror experience that is aiming to really get under your skin.

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Upon booting up SOMA, intrepid explorers step into the shoes of Simon, an engineer tasked with searching every nook and cranny of Pathos-2 in order to find out what happened to the remainder of his crew. One of the elements that grounds Frictional’s lucid and distorted scarefest is the game’s submerged setting.

Rather than venture into the more fantastical corners of the sci-fi genre, SOMA is situated in a grimy, industrial workbase; one which boasts a blue-collar atmosphere that wouldn’t feel out of place aboard the USCSS Nostromo.

You’re not alone in Pathos-2, however, as you soon learn that the facility’s machinery has begun to adopt human characteristics — Hell, some of these Big Daddy-esque creations even think they’re human.

Teetering on the venereal horror of one David Cronenberg, Frictional’s towering abominations are fundamental to the game’s twisted storyline, with the studio leveraging a fair portion of said lore across audio tapes and notes scattered throughout the dark, dank environment. Indeed Frictional has claimed that SOMA represents its most story-heavy title to date, which is no doubt a consequence of the horror’s prolonged production.

Creatures of the Deep

In development for half a decade, the developer’s successor to The Dark Descent was originally hatched in 2010 — as The Chinese Room took the reins of the Amnesia series — before being nurtured and slowly massaged into shape as Frictional nailed down the game’s identity. It was for this reason that SOMA incubated in active production for longer than expected, with Creative Director Thomas Grip explaining the story behind the game’s numerous beta phases:

“Getting this right has been extremely hard as it’s not something you can easily iterate on. Creating that disturbing sense of existential horror just right takes hours of setup. It also requires a lot of assets to be in place before it can be tested properly. So while other games can make several iterations a week on their foundational elements, it’s taken us roughly a year for each iteration.”

At its murky core, SOMA may read like an underwater haunted house, though in layering themes of consciousness and distorted realities on top of this archetypal framework, the studio’s new IP has a shot at being truly unique.
Stringing players along with jump scares and marauding cybernetic monsters is one thing, but when a game challenges the very fabric of our reality with its mind-bending narrative, it’s worth standing up and taking notice.

Horror Hits Home

After fuelling sleepless nights across both the Amnesia and Penumbra series’, Frictional has fast become one of the principal studios to watch — or indeed fear — in the survival horror space, pumping out rich atmospheres and nightmarish moments that have lingered in the dark recesses of our minds ever since.

SOMA, then, represents an evolution of this first-person game design, enveloping the user in a world where the tension is as potent as it is omnipresent. Forget weapons, the shadows of Frictional’s submerged facility will become your best ally, as you tip-toe around the game’s Lovecraftian monstrosities.

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Player vulnerability has long been a core tenet of any great horror game, and the studio is setting out to amplify this by toying with our perception of reality. There’s a cancer gnawing away at the rusty innards of Pathos-2, and Frictional’s teases of a mind-bending story has caught our attention firmly in its claws and refuses to let go.

From Cronenberg to Lovecraft to the existential themes synonymous with Phillip K. Dick, SOMA’s DNA is a putrid concoction of some of the best tenets of the genre. A submersible haunted house and, we hope, an exercise in nerve-shredding terror. Expect more environmental puzzles and psychological horror than you can shake a Big Daddy at when SOMA slithers onto PS4 on September 22.