”Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” – Dr. Seuss

SOMA takes everything you think you know about what “humanity” means and throws it into a blender. What is humanity? Are you human because you have the physical attributes we commonly associate with being a homo sapien? Are you a human because of higher-level thoughts and consciousness? If you remove one piece out of the complex grab bag of what we see humanity as, are we still actually human?

SOMA presents these questions, and more, as you play through the roughly seven hour-long story. The game is classified as a survival horror game but I found it to be far more sci-fi than horror. It was, at least in my opinion, not quite as scary as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Are there moments where it can be frightening? Absolutely. For me, however, the bulk of the horror came not from the diverse and chilling monsters or the deep-sea environment, but rather from how the game made me question a lot about life. Often it gave me pause as I tried to figure out whether or not the actions I took, or did not take, were the “right” choices to make. What if the “right” choice for one person was the wrong choice for another? The solutions are never truly black and white in SOMA.

This sort of moral grey area is what SOMA thrives on throughout the entirety of the story. Bits and pieces of the narrative are picked up here and there. There were only a handful of times where the story was explicitly explained to me. The rest came from computer terminals, audio logs, and through other characters encountered on your journey. Even then you are not always sure if the information you are being drip-fed is the truth or not. The basic premise behind SOMA is that you are Simon and Simon is having a really weird day. See, Simon goes from modern day Toronto to waking up in an underwater abandoned research facility. How did he get there from Toronto? Where is everyone? That is all up to you to find out. It won’t be an easy journey either.

I do not want to dive too deeply into the story of SOMA since the story is what makes this game truly unique. Without it, the core gameplay feels like a watered down (no pun intended) version of Amnesia. The mechanics are still roughly identical between the two. There are puzzles to solve and no means to defend yourself from the creatures of the deep. Of course, the enemies are not just limited to the native flora and fauna of the deep sea. Rather some foes include a handful of disfigured and often grotesque robots and creatures that were born from an A.I. that had humanity’s best interests and survival in mind, or so it believes. What isn’t present in SOMA, that there is in Amnesia, is an inventory. There will be no mixing of chemicals or sanity cocktails to consume. There are ways to heal yourself but they are located only within the environment. Those looking for something that is just “more Amnesia” but in a different environment may end up a bit disappointed.

Control-wise, fans of the developer will be intimately familiar with the idea that the mouse does “everything” in SOMA. Mouse movements manipulate all doors, drawers, and environmental objects. Even navigation through the in-game monitors is carried out through mouse movements. It is a very immersive control scheme that really helps to make you feel as though you are Simon. This sense of immersion is helped out by the fact that the game looks great. It also runs really well on the PC, though there were still a couple of areas where obvious framerate hitching occurred. Of course, the general aesthetic of SOMA is largely indistinguishable from other horror games. Much of it is dimly lit with blood streaked across floors or walls. What sets SOMA apart from the rest of the pack are the little details that make the undersea setting incredibly believable. As nature reclaims most of the abandoned buildings, the stark contrast between man-made environments and the natural growth is hauntingly beautiful.

The sound design is also incredible. Simon does indeed have a voice throughout SOMA. Though he can be a little whiny at times, I would be a liar if I called any of the voice acting bad. Hell, I’d probably be a bit whiny as well if I found myself in a similar situation and forced to make the choices he had to make throughout the game. There are other characters that you will come across during your time with SOMA, all of which have their own personalities and all of which are, I feel, wonderfully acted. All characters are believable in their own ways. Of course, I shall say no more about them so as not to ruin any of the well-written story.

SOMA is interesting in the fact that it manages to have a steady ramp up throughout the entire play through. Some games struggle after hitting their peak halfway into the game. SOMA gives you one of the major “twists” early on and almost immediately ensures that the rest of the game isn’t about building up to the big twist but rather spent on telling a fantastic story. This ramp up also goes hand in hand with the scares. As you progress, the game becomes more haunting as the story and the weight of Simon’s situation becomes more apparent. The situation feels more and more dire. The locations begin to play more and more on some of your deepest fears. Do you hate the deep sea? Who knows what lurks in those vast, open waters that stretch on for miles. Do you hate the dark and the unknown? Perhaps you hate the feeling of isolation or of hopelessness. If you have a fear of any of those, SOMA will affect you on a deep and personal level. Again, it’s less about the enemies that you will try to stay away from and more about the psychological impact this game will have on you throughout. I love when games do that instead of the tired jump scare approach to horror.

This game spent roughly five years in development and it shows. It is an incredibly polished look into the depths of what makes us us. The only real issue I have with the game is that I wish some enemies were encountered just a bit more frequently than they are. The diverse ensemble of deep sea monsters that would make Frankenstein proud needed just a bit more screen presence than what they were given. The puzzles felt like they were an appropriate difficulty and never became too overbearing. The visuals and audio worked hand in hand to make me believe I was several hundred meters under the surface. Without sounding too hyperbolic, SOMA is a better BioShock than BioShock managed to be. It nails the atmosphere and hits all of the notes that makes the story one of the best in the horror genre.

I fully concede that this game is closer in gameplay style to the non-Frictional developed Amnesia sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs than Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which Frictional did develop. I mean only to say that it’s more about the story and less about the “gameplay” mechanics. I also fully understand that many people may not appreciate this style of game as much as I do and that is perfectly fine. However, if you desire a game that has a great story, great atmosphere, and can provide some thrills and chills throughout one of the best-paced games in recent memory, then you should most certainly give SOMA more than just a passing glance.
+ The setting is second to none. Frictional Games nails the sense of isolation and hopelessness that comes from being several hundred meters under the sea in an abandoned research facility.
+ Without a fantastic sound design, horror games wouldn’t be nearly as frightening. Fortunately, SOMA’s audio direction is nearly perfect, from the voice acting to the ambient sounds to the shrieks and guttural yells of your pursuers.
+ The story will make you think in ways you don’t normally think in games, especially games in the horror genre.
+ There are some moments of intense scares though the scares are largely psychological. You will be tense from start to finish.
+ Great use of perspective.
+ Some of the best pacing in any game in recent memory.
- Limited gameplay mechanics may disappoint some fans of Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
- Having to wait until the next offering from Frictional Games.
Related Information
Title: SOMA
Platforms: Reviewed on PC (Windows). Also available on PlayStation 4, Linux, and OS X.
Website: http://somagame.com/
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ for violence, blood, nudity, and strong language.

(SOMA was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes. However, the review request was fulfilled after I had already played through the game to completion.

A full, unedited play through of my SOMA play through can be found here on YouTube.)
Attached Files