SOMA Review




The most effective and efficient horror comes not from what is shown, but from that which is implied. Similarly, in gaming, the most memorable implications are those we come across ourselves, through figuring things out on our own without much developer interference. SOMA is a game built upon these very premises. Developers have gone out of their way to build an experience that doesn’t require a special interface to lead the player through its corridors; one that replaces UI prompts with those found in the environments themselves. This was a task that made the development lengthier than was initially planned, yet the end result feels solid, coherent and, most importantly, enthralling. Indeed, Frictional Games hit the nail on the head once more… albeit in a different way than they have before.


Mechanical stuff will grow increasingly disturbing as you progress..

If I wanted to review SOMA on its own accord; without setting it aside something else of equal value to compare, I would have to spoil a rather significant amount of content before saying anything of importance. This is why I’m going to juxtapose SOMA to Amnesia: The Dark Descent; simply because these two are almost entirely different experiences, for all their apparent similarities.

Do not delve into SOMA expecting to play an underwater version of Amnesia. Whereas the former had struck a fair balance between gameplay mechanics, storytelling and player-to-environ interaction, Frictional’s latest offering went into a slightly different direction. Developers have chosen SOMA to be a more plot-focused endeavour, opting to forego minimalism for the sake of coherent rehearsal. For example, it took an average two minutes to kickstart Amnesia properly, while this game offers closer to fifteen minutes of exposition before letting the players explore the underwater base at their own pace. It’s a dramatic difference in approach to storytelling, and one that paints the situation fairly clearly from the get-go. This game won’t be popular with the Youtubers in its current iteration (mods notwithstanding) simply because it’s very robust in terms of plot disposition. And while that may well be bad for them, it’s good for us players, because it makes us think of the issues at hand. SOMA searches far deeper into the human psyche to find its most terrifying notions, often using the uncanny valley to bridge the gap between the game and players themselves. There’s no comparison between the two games in question in that regard, really, for SOMA is a far more intriguing and thought-provoking title, having allowed the developers to take a look at what truly terrifies us on a level that’s beyond mere monsters lurking in the dark. It’s implied, and it’s horrifying once you think about it.

And as far as your actions in-game, storyline, characters and disposition go, SOMA is a masterpiece. However, it falters when it comes to actual gameplay systems. Unmistakably, the lessons learned with Penumbra and Amnesia still ring true, and Frictional Games’ new engine is all about interactivity and physical reactivity. Opening doors, manipulating one’s surroundings and objects as well as the general ‘feel’ of movement remains very much similar to that of the developer’s previous offerings, albeit smoothed out and improved upon. Objects are now visibly hefty and, once manipulated, provoke an appropriate reaction in the given surroundings. While this may well have been present before, it’s much more nuanced this time around. I’ll also praise the usage of environments in providing hints on what to do and how, instead of UI prompts (as noted earlier). Immersion is extremely important in SOMA, and Frictional have capitalized upon that thought. Interacting with the enemies is, naturally, still virtually the same as it’s always been. Players have no means with which to defend themselves, aside from avoiding the enemies entirely. There’s an element of randomness present in the misshapen creatures’ actions, but the action never reaches the heights of what was possible in, say, Amnesia. When one enters the room he/she’s in, it’s all about focusing the thing’s attention to whatever place it’ll be least harmless in. Rarely do things get more complex than that, really.


Oh, look, it talks. I’ll be on my way now, thanks.

Which isn’t to say that SOMA isn’t scary – it still out-terrifies about 90% of “horror” games we have today, but the fright it induces is entirely different compared to its predecessors. Oh, yeah, sure, there are jump scares scattered about, and there will certainly be moments when you’ll want nothing more than to turn the PC/console off and go pet a puppy outside. But that’s not what this game is about at all. No, this is the kind of dread that seeps into your bones and makes you question your previous actions every step of the way, perhaps even making you hate yourself for what you’ve done in the given context. It’s incomparable, really, but I would say it’s somewhere in-between The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. And the plot twist? I thought I had it all figured out and wanted to write the story off as another one of those lame overused tropes with little meat around the bone, only to come out surprised with what I just witnessed. If you’ve started the game and it seems like you know everything about anything in SOMA, you’re dead wrong. In that regard I would compare the game to a snowball rolling down the hill – gaining speed as it picks up ever-more snow along the way. By the end, you’ll be flabbergasted by everything you’ve seen along the way.

The characters themselves are much more important and immediately present in SOMA than they were in either Penumbra or Amnesia, and I’d be willing to say that this is a much more social game than any of its predecessors. Hell, you even get to see a bustling city at one point early on. These characters aren’t as well-defined as I’d like them to be, but they get the job done. I blame their faults to the sometimes overly-chirpy voice-over that’s attributed to them, as it simply feels off at times. Either way, this isn’t a major fault nor will it take the game’s score down too much, but it’s there and it poked me in the eye (ear). Visually, SOMA isn’t a masterpiece but the atmosphere remains top-notch through the game. There are some seriously beautiful scenes to be gaped at, and the sparingly-used post-process effects enhance the image well. I’ve experienced some microstutter similar to the one present in Dead Island though, so hopefully that gets looked at in one of the upcoming patches.

In conclusion, I can only praise SOMA for what it is and what it attempts to do. As I said at the beginning, you’d be wrong to expect an underwater Amnesia, but if you’re looking for a game that will have you thinking about its content for weeks and months to come, this is the game you will want to go through.