Frictional Games is well-known in the PC gaming world. They created Amnesia, a series of horror games that tasks you with surviving while basically being treated as prey, with no weapons or real defenses against the onslaught of gruesome monsters and other terrors of the night. In that same spirit of defenselessness, then, we have SOMA. Is this first console entry from the venerable developer worth your time and money?
Expect the Unexpected
The game starts off in a completely unexpected setting. I will not divulge that setting as a courtesy for those who may want to experience the game spoiler-free. Just know that it does not begin in an underwater city at all. After only a few minutes, things are quickly turned upside down, and you are shown that playing SOMA guarantees that you don’t know what’s coming next.
That’s the general feeling of the whole game, really. You never know what’s around the next corner, or in the next room, though you can certainly hear something moving about, or dripping, or moaning, or swinging… The way that Frictional Games have managed to generate a massive feeling of dread is so perfect, it’s hard to put into words. After a while, things can become so tense that you think any moving shadow is an enemy, or something as harmless as a talking/singing teddy bear will cause your heart to race.
Messin’ With Your Mind
But wait. We’ve already seen jump scares and tense atmospheres in the Amnesia series. Frictional Games isn’t content with merely repeating their successful formula in SOMA. They attempt to improve upon it by screwing with your head, just a little bit. The game’s story becomes surprisingly philosophic, with questions of just what it means to be human posited early on, and then expanded on by the time you get halfway through the story. If humanity could only be saved virtually, would it be worth the effort? Can you really declare humankind saved if we’re only a few corrupt bits away from not existing anymore? What if a person could be digitally replicated inside a machine, and that machine could think and feel exactly as the original person did? Is that machine, or rather that machine’s consciousness, any less human simply because of the vessel that encompasses it? These are some intense topics to explore, and SOMA dabbles in them without getting too preachy about it.
Must-Read on SOMA:
- SOMA Is a PS4 Horror Game You Daren’t Take Your Eyes Off
- SOMA Launch Trailer Plunges You Into the Abyss, Devs Confirm Static Effects Can Be Turned Off
Unfortunately, it seems the game needed a bit more polishing time, at least on the PlayStation 4. While the beginning of the game runs fairly smoothly, the rest of the experience is marred by an unstable frame rate. Looking at an area with a lot going on will cause the game to start to noticeably stutter, and walking to a new location will often pause the action to load the new section, Half-Life style. Other times, some random spots of levels will cause the game’s audio to cut out, a symptom that lasts until you leave that particular spot. When the audio is working, however (which is most of the time), it is impeccable. Whether it’s a marauding zombie-like enemy, ominous footsteps, and especially water, every sound has a purpose and adds to SOMA‘s immersion. Yet, the main character, Simon, has voice work that feels a bit underwhelming. I could sense a feeling of sarcasm in his voice, like he never took his predicament seriously. Perhaps that’s a deliberate part of the story, and it kind of makes sense in hindsight. But his voice didn’t sound as dramatic as the rest of the cast.
SOMA is generally open-level, rather than open-world; you’re usually confined to a single area, but can freely roam around and you are encouraged to explore early and often. While this is great for the completionists out there, with no map or way of viewing objectives, it is easy to get distracted or simply not be sure of what your next steps are. In fact, I even encountered a game-breaking bug in the “Delta” area that hindered my progress until I loaded a save game from a previous section. Your experience with bugs will vary, naturally; I may have simply been unlucky.
Despite the issues outlined above, most horror fans will have a good time with SOMA. Frictional Games have shown us time and time again that they are masters of telling a scary story; this time, without the crutch of plentiful jump scares. SOMA is a game that can cause you to question your humanity, if only for a few moments. It’s just a shame that the HPL Engine 3 was not up-to-snuff for the PlayStation 4. Still, this is a great game to play, whether by yourself or with others watching, and considering a play time of around 12 hours, it’s a pretty good thriller for $30.
Review code for SOMA provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.