We round out the end of the 2015 Video Game year with the newest release from Frictional Games, SOMA. Writing an extensive review on this game is going to be somewhat difficult. SOMA is one of those games where the central buying point is the mystery surrounding it. To spoil the overall plot of the game is removing some of the enjoyment of playing the game and figuring out the mystery at the end of the tunnel. So, unlike the past, I will be writing this review and trying my best to ensure that I do not give away any massive spoilers. But if you are able to glean the plot through my words, well that is your own damn fault for being so intuitive.
SOMA is an existential survival horror game that is a philosophers wet dream. It toys with some very basic philosophies such as: ‘What is human?’ and ‘What differs us from any other intelligence?’ You take on the role of Simon Jarrett, a young man who just recently went through a terrible car accident that resulted in the death of one of your co-workers. After getting an experimental brain scan to help alleviate some of your ‘movie brain damage’ where you are still completely functioning… But vaguely injured in some way. After your brain scan though, you wake up 100 years in the future in an undersea base. You quickly learn that you are not alone and are being stalked by horrific creatures. You have to navigate this base, not die, and discover where you are, how you got there, and what is happening inside this facility.
Frictional Games Style of Stealth and Puzzle Solving
Frictional games knows what it does well. While their continuation of the norm may or may not be a problem that we will discuss later, what I can say is that it does give a very strong gaming experience. The puzzles are challenging, the monsters are terrifying as always, and naturally all you can do against these monsters is cower in the corner and hope that it gets bored and runs away.
The game is a slow build. It gives the proper amount of challenge spaced out over a long period of time, making it an excellently paced video game as well. If you are a fan of Frictional Games previous video games Amnesia and Penumbra, then you will love SOMA.
Excellent Existential Story
Man, this is going to be hard without giving the whole thing up. But what I will say (without giving massive spoilers) is that SOMA is one of the best told games in quite some time. The game is a very existential experience and is one that will have you asking yourself just what it means to be human. Ultimately, this has always been Frictional Games bread and butter. They tend to take a very existential path towards all of their horror games and SOMA is no exception. The best I can say without giving anything away is to pick it up and give it a play to experience the story for yourself.
Both Pro and Con
Were Monsters Really Necessary?
While the strength of this game is in the philosophical story, it is a game created by Frictional Games… So needless to say you will spend your fair share of the game crouched in a corner and weeping silently until the big ugly thing goes away. Once the monsters go away, you are free to continue your fun little story. One could argue that this is Frictional Games unwillingness to leave their comfort zone. The story of Simon Jarrett, his exploration of Upsilon, and the philosophical overtones do not lend themselves to a game akin to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. So the question needs to be asked, were these monsters and enforced stealth really necessary? I would argue that it is a little yes and a little no.
All things considered, the monsters that stalk you throughout the game doe not feel tied to the plot. They feel secondary to the story of Simon Jarrett and only come across as pointless obstacles in this existential story. Most of the time, they are little more than an inconvenience and force you to waste ninety seconds to hide behind a crate. On the other hand, without these monsters there is very little challenge to the game. The puzzles are not very difficult to solve and without them, you basically just get an interactive story akin to David Cage. Also, without the monsters this game would more than likely fall to a very niche market and not be available for mass consumption.
Ultimately, this is Frictional Games falling back into a comfort zone and make something more marketable in exchange for making a game that could be truly memorable. While it isn’t a con that these monsters stalk you throughout the game, I am still left to wonder if there could have been a much better game without their inclusion.
A General One and Done Affair
Cursed just like those before it, SOMA’s strength and weakness lies within its central premise. When you first play SOMA one of the best parts about it is exploring this underwater facility and unraveling the mystery of what you are doing there and what is going on. After the surprise is revealed, there is very little reason to play the game again. Sure, you can go through a speed run and the puzzle solving/monster evasion can bring some joy to the game. But ultimately, you can get that experience from other games instead of SOMA. After you play SOMA the first time, it will be forever doomed to a life sequestered on your video game shelf. Only to be remembered as you move past it to find some of your other timeless classics. Being the video game equivalent of a tasty snack has its up and its down. Sure it will give you some moments of intense satisfaction… But once it is done, there is very little reason to reach for it again anytime soon.
SOMA is a great game. While the monsters may not be needed and the game is a one and done affair, the puzzles and story are enough to keep you invested and give you a satisfying gaming experience.
Final Score 4/5
Thank you for reading and please like and subscribe for more frome me.