Developer: Frictional Games
Release Date: 9/21/2015
Also Available On
The Good: One of the best stories told in gaming, foreboding and disturbing atmosphere, memorable characters, creepy creatures
The Bad: Slightly dated visuals, certain sneaking areas are extremely difficult, some vague puzzles
Have you ever wondered what would happen if humanity was on the brink of extinction? I really mean it to, not just in a cheesy sci-fi movie way. Soma makes you truly and honestly think about this and it scares the crap out of me. Right up front I want to say that Soma is one of the most original stories I have seen in a game in a very long time. The story takes a while to understand what’s going on, but once you do understand you’re in for quite a ride.
You play as a man named Simon who is fighting brain cancer, you go to a doctor’s visit and sit inside a chair. One moment you think you’re getting scanned and then you wake up in a mysterious lab wondering what’s going on. Immediately the plot and time line are continuing on around you while you’re catching up. It really makes you feel like you’re dropped into the middle of a shit storm. The premise of the story is that a meteor wiped out nearly all of humanity (which is a real and possible reality) and there is a system called the ARK that is to preserve humanity digitally. Now the story makes you think the ARK is several different things and works in different ways. The story is so well told that you actually organically understand everything exactly as Simon is understanding them, it’s quite unique and ingenious.
The game is made by Frictional Games who made Penumbra and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, so you know what you’re in for; a very scary game. Soma is actually much more intense than those games and more scary. The graphics engine has been pumped up quite a bit, while not state of the art it looks way better than Frictional’s previous games and it still quite beautiful artistically. Your goal is to solve simple puzzles in some areas while also discovering more of the story through audio and text files while you explore rooms. The most intense part of the game is when these WAU creatures are wondering and shuffling around. You have to hide and sneak around them which is some of the scariest things I have done in gaming in quite a long time. The sounds help sell the scare factor and I really felt claustrophobic through the whole game. Running around on a derelict underwater lab isn’t a walk in the park.
The game is broken up into areas or lab sites and the whole game takes place underwater. As you go further and further into the ocean floor things get more and more crazy. The WAU is an organic computer system that we built to help sustain life underwater, but it’s now taking over and has killed off nearly every remaining human left on the research site. The way this place is built is awe inspiring and really makes you feel puny thanks to the way the story is told. You literally go through every step to launch this ARK into space and you have a computer AI companion that makes you feel even more alone. The various story pieces that come together in the game are fantastic and very memorable, I can’t say much more without major spoilers. I will say that you get morale choices in the game, but in the end they mean nothing, and that’s actually the way you want it. Thew way the story is told there is no way to find out what happened with your choices and it makes it feel that much more real and scary.
I did run into a few issues in the game like some of the sneaking areas were really difficult without a walkthrough because you need to keep your flashlight off and you’re basically feeling around in the dark. This made certain areas just extremely frustrating and caused multiple deaths, I also found a few puzzles were very vague. If those issues would have been fixed this would be the perfect adventure game as it revolutionizes several tired elements already. You will look past these issues thankfully due to the story being so incredibly amazing you will want to go on.
The atmosphere itself is just very forboding, all you want to do is find another living person, but Simon’s luck is just really bad. Frictional Games forgoes the cheesy predictable quirks of gaming stories and makes you press on and feel alone and hopeless which is fantastic. Walking around in labs then stepping outside into the vast ocean is a great experience and makes you realize just how screwed you are. You can still be attacked outside and you must follow the procedures and safety measures setup throughout the underwater city or you will die. The fact that Simon relies so much on his AI companion just reminds you how fragile this whole mission could be and that humanity could be lost forever so easily.
With that said, Soma is one of the greatest gaming stories ever told and I seriously mean that. It’s just too bad this is an indie game and won’t get the attention it deserves. The game has a few flaws like slightly dated visuals, difficulty spikes, and some vague puzzles, but you won’t care and will want to press on thanks to the amazing atmosphere that nearly makes you feel like it’s happening to you.