From the beginning of its production, something was very special about SOMA. Whether it was the horror-marine theme or its Amnesia developer ancestry, there was a hidden quality to this game that players everywhere have been aching to explore.
From the beginning, it is important to know that SOMA is not comprised of the typical monster-terror video game experience. To its core, SOMA is a mentally trying and anxiety evoking experience. There was never a moment while playing that I felt mildly at ease or somewhat comfortable to continue. That being said, I ventured further and what I saw was worth remembering.
Taking place in the first person perspective of a troubled man named Simon, you explore the abandoned, underwater facility of PATHOS-II. Along with a strong focus on survival and escaping the grounds, Simon makes it his goal to discover the truth. With painful memories plaguing his mind, Simon —at times, is his very own worst enemy.
One of the most incredible attributes to SOMA is how undeniably good it looks. With the game’s claustrophobic spaces and pathways, incredibly realistic lighting, and gorgeous ocean environments, anxiety and awe were two of the most prominent emotions that I felt during my playthrough. The few times that Simon ventured to the seafloor, I felt completely abducted by its visual charms. In addition, the use of lighting made me feel hazy and weighed on my subconscious as I progressed.
As far as SOMA’s plot goes, it doesn’t begin to make much sense until about halfway through. For a few hours, players will be putting the pieces of Simon’s story and that of PATHOS-II together, piece by piece. However, when the plot eventually hits its high chord, players will already be deeply wrapped into its layers, suffocating in its terror.
Similar to Outlast, SOMA lacks any real combat in its gameplay. However, interaction in SOMA is relatively simple and will be familiar to players of the Amnesia franchise. Players are able to slide locks, twist door knobs and can grab and tug to enter doors or to power on machinery. This quality to its wanderlust is both wonderful and mildly underwhelming.
Simon does not attack or defend himself. He simply wanders PATHOS-II at the mercy of surrounding enemies. Although there is nothing wrong with this form of exploration, I never felt as though I was being hunted. I more-so ducked, tip-toed and hid. If I was caught, it was simply because by some unlucky chance, I was discovered randomly.
Unfortunately for SOMA, one important flaw would be in its voice acting for Simon. Mostly, all of the other character dialogue was voiced well but something about Simon’s tone felt flat and hollow. Aside from his mildly blase responses, Simon never seemed too affected by the surrounding threats on PATHOS-II. Don’t get me wrong, his voice is nowhere near as infuriating as Sebastian’s from The Evil Within, but there were still times where I had wished his reactions would come full circle and he would evolve into a completely mentally distraught, pain-stricken individual.
That being said, SOMA has incredible elements to its experience and there were very few things that call for criticism. The mentally paranormal themes and futuristic-yet-dated concept was extremely enjoyable and my time in PATHOS-II was an unforgettable one. Although terrifying, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy listening to the last haunting moments of someone’s death or reveling in the moral fractures between survival and the truth.
This review was based on a digital copy of SOMA for PlayStation 4 provided by Frictional Games.