SOMA Review (PC)
Survival horror has changed, and it's starting to feel human. As the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises have started to fade away as the faces of survival horror, other styles of terror have begun to arise throughout the industry. The combat-less first-person format has been adopted in many recent survival horror titles, often resulting in firsthand accounts of fright mixed with little-to-no means of fighting back. Sweden-based Frictional Games saw some success in this format with Amnesia and Penumbra. Now, Frictional's SOMA utilizes the same style of gameplay set in the gorgeous, dangerous and terrifying setting of PATHOS-II. Fortunately, SOMA's path through darkness is a gorgeous and thought-provoking one, and it's in these thoughts where its true sense of horror resides.
Unlike The Dark Descent, SOMA's protagonist, Simon Jarret, has a backstory and a personality that responds to the horrific encounters he'll have throughout PATHOS-II. Likewise, his actions and decisions are oftentimes full of meaning. Surprisingly, PATHOS-II is an underwater station, which is a great contrast to the expected space location locale many thought this game would have, given its futuristic technology. This setting gives you a dreadful sense of isolation. Most of the personalities you'll encounter are from the various machines and robots aboard the PATHOS. Many of these robots act and sound human, often displaying emotion, pain and cognitive thought. I really started to feel for some of the backstories I was learning about throughout the station. Some kind of barnacle-like, techno-organic affliction is spreading throughout the station, affecting its machines and robotic staff members. You're going to have to escape the PATHOS before things get worse. This leads into many controversial decisions you'll have to make in trying to find a way out of the station. In one area, you need to channel power to a closed door to open it and proceed, but a broken robot is siphoning the room's energy source as life support, trying to stay alive. While you might think, "it's just a machine," you'll hear it beg for you not to disconnect it, which you'll inevitably have to do. Did you just kill this sentient being that went silent after being unplugged? That's a thought that echoed in my mind for minutes after I left the room. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are numerous moral choices you'll have to make, and I felt like I causing some major effects in what was going on at the station. SOMA's story and characters will leave you questioning what it means to be considered a person, but make no mistake, your encounters will feel quite real.
From the decrepit laboratories to navigating the ocean floor, SOMA looks and sounds amazing. SOMA's sense of atmosphere kept me on edge throughout my 11 hours of playtime experiencing its story. Despite how futuristic the technology seems, there were plenty of times where I felt like the pressure from the depths of ocean would just crash through the station's cracked windows and creaking metallic framework. Likewise, the robots you'll encounter look quite impressive. Many of the damaged machines' appendages twitch, signalling a similar kind of nerve damage you'd see in human beings. Many of these robots try talk to you as if you're both normal people. Some machines wince in pain and others beg for mercy — it's all very riveting and haunting stuff. The graphics are meticulously detailed and the audio effects are pristine, especially when using surround sound or some proper headphones. Unfortunately, the voice acting can be very hit or miss at times. Light sources will occasionally provide a visual feedback, which is a great touch and inspires further contemplation about your character. The sense of immersion provided by SOMA's stellar presentation, excellent atmosphere and unique story is simply unparalleled in the first-person horror genre.
As with most first-person horror titles, you don't have any real means of fighting the horrific things that stalk you aboard the PATHOS. Most of the time, SOMA's levels are fairly big and offer plenty of hallways and rooms to hide in. There are a few different enemy types, including a massive, Big Daddy-like monstrosity that'll chase you down if it sees you. Another enemy can kill you if you fully look at it, so you get a sense of dread when you see the visual distortions that suggest it is nearby. Did it leave the room? Is it right next to you, looking at the side of your head? The terror provided by SOMA is delicious. Fortunately, these monsters don't always kill you. Sometimes, the enemies will just knock you out and you can continue from where you were caught, which is a godsend compared to the previous horror games that would always make you reload your last save after being cornered by its monster. While stealth gameplay and navigating around these patrolling horrors are advised, SOMA doesn't fully punish you for being caught, which I appreciate.
Ultimately, SOMA provides a unique tale of sci-fi horror that is unlike any of its contemporaries. While it's fun to get the heart racing while being chased down by a huge robot set on dismantling you, it's the narrative parts of SOMA that left me thinking about it long after completion. These thoughts were about some of the terrifying things you, the player, had to do, especially during the game's final chapters. It's a sense of dread you don't just get from being chased by Slender Man or finding a zombie in the closet. This is horror, and it's a very powerful sense of fear that you'll feel while playing SOMA, human or not.
This review was completed based on a digital copy of SOMA provided by the publisher for PC.