Frictional Games has done it again. This studio has created an utterly creepy, first-person thriller. SOMA‘s atmosphere is perfect for a horror game as the constant reminder of being underwater makes the player feel helpless and alone. With minor frame rate drops, a few bugs and a bittersweet story, SOMA for the Xbox One is an eerie narrative that you won’t want to miss.
SOMA takes place in an underwater research facility known as Pathos II. The protagonist, Simon Jarrett, wakes up in one of the facility’s stations He doesn’t know how or why he got there. These questions are answered as he explores more of the facility. Most of the what happened to the people unfolds within the terminals and data buffers scattered about. Each piece of information fits in some way as the story of killer robots unfold. This type of storytelling is immersive, but it makes it difficult to piece them all together if you miss some.
Of course, most of the story takes place between the conversation of Simon and the first person he meets, Catherine Chun. As both characters reach certain areas, time is given for them to talk to each progressing the story while at the same time giving us a glimpse into what happened to the facility. Both character’s voice actors have done a wonderful job at portraying their emotions during tough scenes.
What the story really accumulates to is the future of humans which is a painstaking struggle. Simon’s mission typically consists of going to this place, solving a puzzle and then doing this thing while monsters of some kind roam the corridors. This gets old after a while as something always went wrong during a simple sequence of events. After a while, I found myself predicting when the problem would occur only to prove myself right every time. Other than this, the story was enjoyable until the end. It left me with bittersweet emotions that I am still trying to figure out.
A place where SOMA does diverge from its consistencies are the monsters. Each area houses a creepy biological and mechanical creature that will not hesitate to attack. With each creature, comes different tactics on getting around them. For example, a Proxy does not have eyes so they can be easily distracted by throwing objects while the Flesher is agitated by you being near it. These different types really make the game feel fresh, unlike the objectives.
A Horrific Atmosphere
If there is one thing SOMA does right, it’s that the atmosphere is perfect for a horror game. Long and dark corridors are a staple for the game as you make your way through each station. Stations are scattered about which you can typically explore freely with some limitations from malfunctioning or locked doors. Windows or a leaking room keep reminding you that you are not in space or on land, but at the bottom of the ocean.
With the story taking place in an underwater research facility, you can expect to explore more than just the facility itself. Players are able to explore the world outside of the stations which are mainly linear traverses, but allow for some deviation. Even though you are outside with no walls keeping you back, the limited sight keeps the player moving slowly as they never know what is lurking about.
What really brings out the atmosphere in SOMA is the sound design. I was constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure the sound that I heard behind me was not coming from a creature of some kind. Each door, terminal function, pressurized chamber, monster roar and flickering light have their own particular sound which only draws out the eerie vibe.
One big problem the environment features is the cause of frame rate drops. Many points within the game, for example when I entered new parts of the station and water needed to be expelled from the room, my screen would freeze for a second or two. It would then have low frame rates for a few seconds after, before returning to normal. Out of the entire game, I only encountered one bug where I crouched into a corner which caused me to fall through the map. I was then required to restart from the last checkpoint. Other than this single bug, I had no other problems.
SOMA is one of the best atmospheric horror games I have played. The sounds and environment really make it a creepy experience that all horror fans should experience. Simon and Catherine’s story is interesting to say the least, but with fractured points of interest, it leaves me asking questions on a few details.
- THE GOOD
- Sound Design
- Environment Design
- Bittersweet Ending
- Monster Tactics
- THE BAD
- Minor Bugs and Frame Rate Drops
- Consistent Objectives
- Bittersweet Ending
- Scattered Story Elements
SOMA really shines when it comes to its sounds and environment design. These aspects of the game give the player an eerie look into Pathos II. Sadly, a fragmented and tedious objective driven story weights down the game all while leaving me with bittersweet thoughts.