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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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
“Eternity among the stars”
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
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.
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
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.
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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