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Posted on Apr 28th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, Horror, Story, Plot twist, Philosophical, Science fiction, Frictional Games

As some on this site know by now, I have been a huge survival horror fan for a long time.  I have even made it a point for the last several years to spend the month of October (and sometimes September also!) playing various titles from the genre as my own way of celebrating the Halloween season.  During this time, I always like to go back and play some of my old favorites from the genre, but I always like to attempt to expand my horizons and play something new and unfamiliar to me.  So when I obtained a copy of SOMA from the September 2016 Humble Monthly Bundle, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try a new horror title that I had heard many good things about.

SOMA was released worldwide on September 22, 2015 for the PlayStation 4 and PC.  Developed and published by Frictional Games, it was met with generally positive critical reception and has won industry awards for its story and visual design.  Like other games developed by Frictional Games, most notably Amnesia: The Dark Descent, SOMA is a first-person survival horror game that eschews the conventional jumpscares and focuses more on psychological horror.  There was also a live-action miniseries produced by independent film company Imagos Films that is available on YouTube that serves as a prequel to the game.

SOMA begins in 2015 as main protagonist Simon Jarrett, who was previously involved in a car crash and left with brain damage, agrees to an experimental brain scan.  During the brain scan, Simon loses consciousness and awakens alone in what looks to be an abandoned facility of some sort.  Utterly confused, Simon explores the facility and attempts to figure out where he is and what is going on.  This feeling of confusion and isolation sets the tone for most of the game going forward.  While it is tempting to reveal more of the plot in this review, it would be best if I left it as spoiler-free as possible as this game is best experienced with as little knowledge of the plot as possible.

Being primarily a story-driven experience, the story of SOMA is the highlight of the game.  Much of the story is told through the interactions between Simon and another NPC, although there are many things such as audio logs and crew email that can be found to deepen the backstory.  The story becomes quite philosophical as it progresses and will present you with choices that will make you question your own morality and what it means to be "alive."  There are some great plot twists that occur throughout the game as well, and while some players may see them coming, the excellent ways that they are presented keeps them effective.  Even if the gameplay of SOMA is not something you would normally be interested in, it is still worth it to experience the game in some fashion for its great story alone, even if that means watching it in its entirety on YouTube.

Speaking of gameplay, the action in SOMA is quite minimal for the most part.  Much of the game involves exploring abandoned and dilapidated facilities, and at times the game treads the line of being what some would consider a "walking simulator."  There are certain puzzles that will need to be solved in order to progress, but these are usually relatively simple.  Objects in the environment can be interacted with, but most things just serve to add detail.  SOMA is primarily about the story, and much of your time in the game will be spent trying to piece together the events that led Simon to where he is now.

Enemies in the game are very few and far between, and there is no combat to ward off the few enemies you do encounter.  Enemy encounters are limited to one unstoppable enemy that patrols a certain area, requiring you to hide and sneak around it in order to progress.  It is reminiscent of games such as Alien: Isolation and Frictional Games' earlier work Amnesia: The Dark Descent, although the encounters in SOMA feel less involved and less intrusive than in those games.  Most of the enemies are easy enough to avoid and shouldn't cause too much trouble, but there are a couple that can be annoying to deal with.  Getting attacked by an enemy usually just results in being knocked down, and afterwards the protagonist will simply get back up and continue on their way.  Get attacked too many times however, and you will eventually get a game over.  I can understand that the developers felt the need to create some opposition for the player and to add scary enemies for the sake of the horror element of the game, but for the most part, the enemies can feel like a hindrance more than a welcome challenge, and one might wonder if the game would have been better off had enemies not been included at all.

Watch out for this guy!

As I mentioned before, the scares of SOMA are much more psychological in nature.  The game uses the creepy environments, spooky sounds, and oppressive atmosphere to create a feeling of suspense and tension rather than having scary images jump out at you from behind corners.  Sneaking around and hiding from enemies can also create some intense moments as you try to proceed through areas undetected.  There is also a strong sci-fi theme present in SOMA, and it may be more appropriate to label the game as sci-fi rather than survival horror.  While it is often creepy and unsettling, it should not be overwhelming for those who don't like horror.

SOMA's presentation shines with its great visual and sound design.  Although it is dark and foreboding, it is still a beautiful game thanks to its art style and visual fidelity.  There is an impressive level of detail in the environments, and some of the assets in the game feel as though they may have been inspired by H.R. Giger's work.  There has also been a great level of care dedicated to the audio department as well.  There was an exhaustive amount of recording done to realistically capture different sound effects, and it shows while playing the game.  Being a horror title, the music is fairly minimal and is mostly made up of atmospheric tracks that fit the mood.  The voice acting in the game is great as well.

SOMA is a game that I can wholeheartedly recommend to horror fans, as well as those who don't mind slower-paced games.  It is usually light on the action, but as long as you don't go into it expecting an adrenaline rush of a game, you should find something to like about SOMA.  The game's profound and thought-provoking story is well worth the price of admission, so try to experience it any way you can.  SOMA can be found digitally on PS4 and PC.

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I enjoyed SOMA. I had some friends over and we streamed it for a few hours. I got to a point where I kept getting lost wandering in the ocean and ended up looking up a video that stitched all the story bits together. Aside from a few things (difficult actions you need to take in order to move the story forward) I enjoyed watching it and hearing it discussed more than actually playing it.

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