SOMA is rated M for Mature.
**This review does contain some spoilers.**
Since this is a very story heavy game i’ll try and keep them to a minimum.
SOMA is one of those games that I got so immersed in that it’s tough to talk about without spoiling anything. If you like first person horror games at all, go play it and come back here. It really is that good! Ok now that we got that out of the way, let’s get into it.
SOMA has a very straightforward, sometimes ambiguous story that gets under your skin. The game starts with you going to a doctor’s appointment at an eerie, deserted office and it only gets worse from there. Somehow you are transported to a different world, PATHOS II, an underwater facility. As you play you unravel more of the reason of how and why you are where you are, and you slowly unravel what the hell is actually going on.
The story is one of the best things about this game, and the more I leave to mystery, the better. It may be confusing at first but if you stick with it and trust the game, it explains everything very nicely. If you can, just watch the trailer above to gage your interest, and dive in with the lights off.
This is a gorgeous game. You notice it as soon as you start exploring PATHOS II and notice all the little details littered around the environment. Environmental storytelling is tough to do and really requires a fine touch that you don’t see much anymore. Frictional studios gets a lot of mileage from the updated engine here, and the lighting especially is fantastically moody while still being subtle. There are no typical video flashbacks, you have to piece the past together reading notes and listening to audio logs. While some may be put off by this, you can listen to most audio logs as you explore, so it’s not too bad. These logs also have very good VO (voice overs) that make them very believable. I played this game on medium settings and still walked away very impressed. It also ran pretty well on my aging PC.
Very similar to other FPH(first person horror) games like Amnesia and Outlast, this is a game of hide and seek when the enemies show up. When there are no enemies, you are solving puzzles and piecing together the plot by observing the environment for logs. While this game was not quite as scary and unsettling as Amnesia: The Dark Descent was, the puzzles were less obtuse and the whole pace of the game was near perfect. I do really hope for their next game Frictional brings back the sanity meter from Amnesia. That mechanic not only set it apart from every other horror game out there, but it made the game consistently terrifying.
The sanity meter was a great mechanic in Amnesia that made you constantly find sources of light, and use matches (which you had a limited supply of) so that you wouldn’t go insane. Spend too much time looking at an enemy or too much time in the dark and your sanity would slowly slip away and slow your movement, while warping the environment around you.
Sometimes the enemies can be frustrating, because you don’t have many good hiding spots and you can’t fight back, you just have to keep moving forward and be as quiet as possible. When this works, you feel like a ninja, but when it doesn’t the game comes off as clunky and death can come fast when you got nowhere to go. Luckily there are a good amount of checkpoints so you don’t get sent back too far and health isn’t too hard to find.
Lastly, the level design is superb. You never really get too lost, and there are little details littered throughout the environment that point you in the right direction so you don’t get frustrated. This happened to me a few times near the end of Amnesia, so I was very happy to see Frictional has learned from their mistakes here.
Overall, this game was a joy to play. In the 8 or so hours it took to beat I rarely got frustrated with it, it was pretty creepy and the story was so good that it made me not only think about what it means to be human, but also where humanity is headed. The ending was perfect (it’s after the credits) and I can’t wait to see what Frictional does next. This game was very successful for them, so if they bring back the sanity meter and make another FPH game at least this good or better we could have ourselves a perfect horror game on our hands.