The story here still carries traces of Frictional’s last series, with the protagonist suffering from a hazy memory. Unlike before you know exactly who you are, but not how you suddenly jumped from Toronto in 2015 to a decaying undersea base. The world has gone to hell in the meantime, and everyone left is suffering from a strange case of identity crisis…
The first thing which hits you from the very start is the visual and sound design of the research facility. Trading in the Lovecraftian thematic for Cronenbergian visuals sprinkled with the odd H.R. Giger inspired body horror, SOMA is extremely unsettling from the start. Even the grimy, decaying nature of the station, crawling with unknown life will keep you on edge long before any monsters appear. Many of the old mechanical tropes remain the same, but they have a new edge to them. Rather than reading your journal or stumbling upon old memories, you can see directly into the past, interacting with objects to understand how everything fell apart. However, many of the old tactics of hiding in cupboards or barricading areas won’t work, which helps keep players on their toes.
While the mechanical intensity and visual design will draw people in, what truly elevates SOMA is the substance behind it. Rather than an excuse to see horror set pieces, SOMA’s story is more in line with Ray Bradbury or Phillip K. Dick. Some have jokingly called this Bioshock as envisioned by Harlan Ellison, but that proves to be surprisingly on point. While it might be a game about being chased by monsters, that doesn’t detract from its more introspective moments.
If there is a flaw to be found, its ill-paced start and surprisingly linear nature make for a weaker opening than many might have expected. What’s more is that the monsters themselves too often seemed like harassing invaders than life threatening abominations, with visual trickery in particular proving more annoying than scary. However, this soon picks up and you gradually grow to appreciate the haunting depths of SOMA’s world.
At such high quality at such a cheap price, this is most definitely an essential purchase for this year.
SOMA / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: FRICTIONAL GAMES / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW