19 December 2017 (released)
19 December 2017
Now I've never been a fan of this style of horror games. You know the kind that strips everything away from you as a person and leaves you running scared from all manner of horrifying things. This is a genre that I personally feel is fading out due to the success of more structure horror games like Resident Evil 7. None the less I'll appreciate the impact games like Amnesia has had on the industry and I wanted to see these guys return with another game. Well after several years in the dark, we've finally got another horror title from the talented guys at Frictional Games. Time for me to turn off the lights and dive into Soma.
One of Soma's highest points is it's compelling narrative that explores a lot interesting themes and issues. The main plot is centered on a guy named Simon who goes in for an experimental procedure to rid him of a life threatening condition. What happens next is a bizarre twist of fate as Simon awakens 100 years into the future inside the body a mechanized humanoid. Simon is stuck within a laboratory complex at the bottom of the ocean which is home to various horrifying creatures. Players must explore the complex and discover the truth behind the jump in time and survive the nightmare Simon is in. There's plenty of interesting discoveries and encounters during the journey, along with some rather harsh choices which will test your morale. What was most fascinating is coming into contact with various robots that have a conscience of a human being. They feel pain, express anger and believe they're still human. From an early stage of the game you'll gain a companion named Catherine, an AI program that aids you on the journey but often question Simon's sense of humanity.
For those who’ve played Amnesia, you’ll easily have a full understanding of how Soma works. Gameplay is vastly similar with players remaining unarmed throughout the game while using simple survival tactics to bypass nightmarish creatures that lurk within the complex. Players will primarily used stealth to evade enemies while the ability to use various objects as makeshift tools for further interactions is present. There is no item management which heavily restricts any lateral elements in the game to basic puzzles. You'll come across the same type of puzzle a little too often and there’s little thought process as most solutions often rely on a code found nearby on a note or throwing an object through a window to reach the next room.
You get a device early in the game that allows you to unlock doors and interact with certain terminals, but this mechanic suffers the same problem of being vastly simple and bland in practice. Stealth mechanics are also bare bones, resorting in another simulator of run away, hide behind waist high boxes and wait for the coast to become clear.
What does stand out above all else is the terrifying sense of dread and the gut wrenching design of the complex you’re trapped in. Everything has this H.R Giger and Lovecraftian feel with a beautifully crafted world that’s genuinely unsettling. You’ll feel the claustrophobia and darkness engulf you as you venture deeper into the heart of the mystery.
There are five types of enemies in the game with each one having unique behaviors and methods of attack, yet the set ups and patrols often repeat to the same patterns. While enemies are utterly creepy and frightening in many regards, their impact as a threat is hit and miss. Often when the player is spotted it takes a few seconds for enemies to register and even when a chase is initiated, these can be over as quickly as they begin by breaking the enemies’ line of sign. I understand that relentless enemies are rather annoying, but it seems the behavior and events in Amnesia were far more compelling.
Soma as a spiritual sequel implements some interesting concept to create a grander world that’s deeper in lore and highly immersive. I like the relationship between Simon and his companion Catherine, who share constructed discussions on various topics, speaking of religion, choice and morale. Where Soma falls short is just the lack of advancement from Friction Game’s previous titles and how the framework is still largely the same. Other games such as Alien Isolation and Resident Evil 7 have the same effect but have more refined stealth mechanics and other components to make them more interesting than a ran away simulator.
Soma is unnerving, and its story is vastly compelling to observe. There’s even a safe mode which makes you invincible and means you can explore and discover the world to your own pacing. This is worth checking out for it’s visual style, narrative and some neat ideas but don’t expect a masterful return for the guys that refined the genre back in 2010.
++ Great atmosphere and visuals
+ Unnerving and creepy
+ Engrossing story
- Lacks new dynamics for the genre
- Enemies lack impact