SOMA is a recent sci-fi horror game by Frictional Games, whom you might know as the geniuses behind the terribly spooky Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its sequel, A Machine for Pigs. At first, I had heard that SOMA wasn’t scary and was more of a “creepy” atmospheric game, but I can confirm after completing it that this is not at all true!
After finishing the game over the weekend, here’s my SOMA review including some details about what the game’s about, initial thoughts, what it does well and what could be improved. As well as a final note on whether you should play it! (Hint: You probably should!)
What is SOMA?
You take on the role of Simon, a young man who was involved in a car accident that killed one of your friends, and has left you with severe brain damage and cranial bleeding. After a cutscene showing the car accident, the game opens with you exploring a relatively normal looking apartment, preparing for an appointment you’ve made for an experimental brain scan.
Upon arriving at the facility for your scan, you start to notice a few things are out of place. The facility doesn’t look all that professional, and the “doctor” reveals he’s not a doctor at all. But you settle down into the chair for your scan, and that’s when things start to go wrong.
You wake up somewhere else entirely, which you soon learn to be an underwater facility known as PATHOS-II, and spend the rest of the game trying to figure out how you got here, why its employees seem to be gone, and eventually escape to the other side of the facility.
This all sounds fine and dandy, except in your quest for the truth and during your attempts of escape, you start to encounter increasingly frightening and dangerous monsters. Much like Amnesia, you won’t be able to fight back against these creatures, and will have to try to sneak your way around them. Some of the creatures you encounter won’t be able to see you, they’ll only be able to hear you. Some will move slowly, others will run with terrifying speed. One resembles Slenderman, in that he will cause you great pain if you look directly at him. And there’s one particular creature who will for the most part leave you alone, but if you anger her, she will hunt you endlessly until she takes you out.
But there’s more to SOMA than just the horror aspect, and it’s one I will talk about in a little moment.
First of all, I wasn’t sure what to expect and went into these game completely blind. I had no idea what the game was about, or even that it took place underwater! I also was expecting something much less frightening based on what people had told me.
I can tell you right now, SOMA is scary. Having creatures that stalk you relentlessly, growling in distorted, computerised voices all while you try to solve somewhat simple puzzles makes the game feel tense, which is exactly what I enjoy in a horror game. When you encounter the creatures, they make your screen glitch, which is excellent for setting the mood when you think you’re doing fine only to have your screen start glitching out. Many a time during the game I let out a whimpered, “Oh no…” when my screen started freaking out, because I knew that could only mean one thing.
What SOMA does well
Without revealing too much, I mentioned earlier that SOMA is much, much more than “just a horror game.” Frictional Games has created an engaging but simultaneously deeply unsettling narrative. There were several moments in the story where I found myself thinking introspectively about what I would do in that situation, or more importantly how I would feel. I don’t want to reveal the story because I think it’s very important that you playthrough it with no expectations, and figure it out for yourself.
SOMA had an emotional impact on me, and it made me think. A lot of what frightened me about the game was deeper than anything a jumpscare or creepy stalking monster could provide. One particular facet of the game that got to me was what had happened to the crew of PATHOS-II. Each staff member reacted differently to what was going on there, and many times their reaction itself was disturbing. You learn new things constantly as you progress through the environment of PATHOS-II, and it’s worth your while to interact with everything you can and search through drawers and cabinets for recordings and notes to understand more of what happened here. Even looking at photos of the former crew gave me an emotional attachment to them; seeing their smiling faces with their families as I listened to a distressed recording.
While not everyone will agree, I do feel like aside from the psychological element, the monsters were suitably frightening, and were enough to make me feel tense and on edge — a feeling any good horror fan will recognise is necessary to set the mood. There were jumpscares, but not along the same vein as most horror games will do. For example, in Outlast I frequently found myself practically hopping out of my chair when an inmate poked his head around the corner — he may as well have yelled, “Boo!” theatrically in my face. But in SOMA, the jumpscares are more like the shock that comes with the enemy finally catching up with you.
What SOMA doesn’t do as well
My only real complaint about SOMA was that its monsters, while creepy and very effective, did amp up the difficulty in a way that felt somewhat artificial. They’d roam on fairly set paths, patrolling seemingly mindlessly, and your job became simply to avoid them. The game wasn’t super hard and I only failed to escape maybe three times in total, but it did get frustrating sitting around in a dark corner waiting for enemies to pass. That is probably a personal complaint, purely because I’ve never been a huge fan of stealth-based games.
One reason this complaint could become more problematic is if you find it quite difficult to evade these creatures, because you will find yourself repeating the same portion of the game over and over. It’s not quite as punishing as, say, Alien: Isolation (which I am still immensely frustrated over) but I could see there being a tendency for people getting bored due to having to repeat the same sequence until they finally get it right. Luckily, it’s not too hard to avoid the creatures, and you shouldn’t find yourself getting stuck in a loop often!
Should you play it?
Now that you’ve read my SOMA review, should you pick it up and play it?
If you’re interested in games that provide a deep story along with a creepy atmosphere, most definitely. The game is not completely set in horror, because it has a lot more to it than just attempting to scare the player. Most importantly, I think its story has a message, and a moral dilemma that I think anyone who plays should really think about after the game is over.
If you enjoy sci-fi, particularly psychological thrillers with a distinctly Event Horizon feel, you absolutely have to play this game. It gets inside your head, and it’ll make you ask yourself questions that may trouble you, and that’s why I absolutely loved it.
If you do decide to play SOMA, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments! If you want to discuss the themes in the game, I’d also absolutely love to hear from you, but since that would involve spoilers, maybe keep that to my email inbox!