Genre:   Psychological horror adventure               

Developer & Publisher:     Frictional Games           

Released:  September 2015              

Requirements (minimum):

    • OS: 64-bit Windows Vista
    • Processor: Core i3 / AMD A6 2.4Ghz
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 / AMD Radeon HD 5750. OpenGL 3.3
    • Storage: 25 GB available space

Additional screenshots



By flotsam


Frictional Games

SOMA comes from the Amnesia stable and in my first look I commented “it looks and sounds great, and while it's early days, I don't expect those things to change”. They didn’t. Nor did the appeal, and the combination of fear factory and adventure made for a very excellent experience.

What starts in a mundane Toronto apartment, quickly ends up in some sort of underwater facility, somewhat worse for wear and littered with robots and machines in various states of repair. Clearly something is wrong. The odd corpse is another indication, and the deeper into the facility you go, the more blatant it gets. 

“They’re not us”

What has gone wrong you get to work out as you go. So too the detail about who you are and how you got here, and what you are ultimately trying to do. A revelation in the middle I didn’t see coming, although in retrospect I probably should have, and it was revealed in a particularly interesting yet obvious way. Not wanting to say too much, SOMA is ultimately an intelligent piece of science fiction that poses questions about what it is to be human, and provokes a bit of thinking about the component parts and motivations of what makes you you.

Despite its current state, the PATHOS II facility is a gorgeously detailed place. When inside, the locations tend to be starkly pragmatic in that classic sci-fi way – metal, mechanical, functional, and confining. Corridors, staircases and crawlspaces link jumbles of small rooms and occasional larger spaces. That everything is not as it is supposed to be is apparent throughout, be it the broken and blocked stairwells, flickering lights, seeping pipes or flooded buildings.

That is without mentioning the seemingly organic “growths” around the place, some with the curious ability to heal should you plunge your hand in. By the time you get to the mewling bodies stuck to the wall, you are well aware that things aren’t good.

The detritus of those who aren’t there is everywhere, and can be picked through to uncover their personalities and stories, as well as the bigger one. Make sure you do, as much of the backstory and the explanation for what has happened will be found there. I eventually found why I could read the thoughts of the dead, and it actually made sense. You will also meet Catherine via intercom, who will assist you to move through the facility, giving you information and objectives.

Some objectives will involve being outside on the ocean floor, and regardless of what might be out there, it’s a joy to behold. The diaspora of light and shadow, the fish flitting by, the fronds waving in the current, all make it a magical place. Until you come across something with a mind to kill you.

“Eternity among the stars”

SOMA isn’t unique, but it is different to many things. It is probably most like Amnesia, a pastiche of styles and constructs that sometimes feels like one thing, but then changes to another. There is quiet exploration, and furious running away. So very many things are able to be picked up and moved and pushed around, just like in the real world, but so little of it do you take with you. The things you do take you don’t examine, or combine, or try to use in places – if you have what you need, your character will automatically put it in his hand. There are things that can kill you, but they aren’t generally out to get you – stay out of their way and they will (not always) move on and (hopefully) leave you alone. When however that doesn’t work, get set to flee, because you have no weapons and are not there to defeat them. You just have to escape them, which can involve all manner of hiding and not looking at them.

The things which you must either avoid or flee generally shamble about the environments. Early on they are robots, later on not at all robots. You can hear them, and you can sense them, the environment starting to flicker and distort when they are nearby. They make some truly gruesome  noises, howling and chittering, and some have truly bizarre shapes. At least as far as I can tell, because not being seen involves a lot of not seeing them.

If they catch you, it isn’t automatically game over. You will be weakened, manifested by a distorting screen, and can push on, or not, but get caught too many times and you will “die”, being returned to the most recent save “checkpoint” (which are fairly generous).

Most of the time you can avoid them, playing essentially hide and seek (crouch down, stay in shadows, don’t make noise, turn off your flashlight) but sometimes a full on confrontation is a necessary part of the game. By full on, I of course mean an unavoidable mad flight to safety while being relentlessly pursued. Or a “charge of the light brigade” front on assault in the hope of surviving the initial hit, grabbing the objective, and hobbling away. Whatever works.

I confess I died more than once as I sped around some rather beautiful watery environments, had I had a mind to stop and appreciate the vista.

I never got tired of this part of the game. As I said, most of the beings can be avoided, and where they can’t, they can be out thought/run/manoeuvred, rather than having to engage in a fighting challenge which you may despair of winning. Knowing the things were about provided an underlying edginess, one which moved up the fright scale as I explored and came within distance of one of them. Every so often there was panic as I fled, or dread as I crouched in a corner facing the wall, not knowing whether the thing was in the room with me or the hall outside. My heart was thumping in the game, and perhaps a little in real life, and there is a palpable sense of relief when the flickering stops and the howls or mechanistic screeches start to diminish as the thing moves away.

This is made all the more impactful (is that a word?) by the very many long stretches where an almost peaceful mood descends. Sometimes that was on the ocean floor, the excellent lighting and other elements of a sea bed adding to the tranquillity, but there are stretches inside that feel just like a straight out adventure. Poke about, get things up and running, power up computers, fix broken relays – figure out what needs doing (often with Catherine’s help) then figure out how to do it, and move on.

“A terrarium waiting to die”

There is puzzling, consisting predominantly of manipulating things in the environment to achieve an objective, punctuated by some little self-contained puzzles. They were all well integrated into the environment, and I don’t recall any feeling stuck on. Navigating rooms at one point might seem a little mazelike, but there are maps, and getting lost or turned about is more likely to be the result of a monstrous encounter.

There isn’t a soundtrack as such but music heightens the intensity throughout. Ambient sound is excellent, from the mundane to the breathless panting following exertion. The voice acting leaves a little to be desired, but not to the extent of being an irritant.

The game is played in the first person using the WASD keys to move around, with the mouse interacting with the game world. Like Amnesia, the mouse doesn’t just click, rather it attempts to simulate the action itself. Need to open a draw? Grasp and pull back with the mouse. Need to turn a valve? Take hold and rotate. I confess to not being a fan of this style of interaction, up until now. For some reason, it seemed to work here, rather than being a gimmick. Probably says more about me really.

There is no distracting cursor as you move around, just a tiny dot, centre of screen. When you approach something you can pick up, or turn, or interact with in a more detailed way (a terminal for instance) an appropriately informative cursor will appear. You have complete freedom of movement, and 360 degree panning throughout. And even though PATHOS II is a big and detailed place, I don’t recall a load to start the game each time. Which is worth mentioning.

You can save at will, but have to exit to do so, and the game saves at regular points. The little throbbing cross sectioned brain in the bottom right corner is the giveaway. Tweak things in the menu should you want to, turn on subtitles should you want to, and choose 'continue' to pick up where you left off. Make sure to watch the credits, and then see what comes after.

SOMA turned out to be more than I expected, and a captivating horror/sci-fi/adventure. It struck the right balance between the styles, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Grade: A

I played on:

OS: Windows 7

Processor: Intel i7-3820 4GHz

RAM: 12GB Ripjaw DDR3 2133 Mhz

Video card: AMD Radeon HD 7800 2048MB



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