By Brian M. Sammons
Welcome back, Cthulhu pals. We are continuing with the game coverage today with one of the most highly anticipated digital, downloadable horror games of 2015. It’s the follow-up to an incredibly well-liked horror game by a company known for delivering the frights time and time again. Since it’s been kept under wraps to ensure the story’s mystery, the only thing really known about it before its release was its break from the Gothic vibe of what came before and an embrace of sci-fi tropes. That left many horror game fans wondering if the new science-y take would still deliver the ghoulish goods. Well, only time would tell.
And, well, that time is now, as SOMA is now out and available of PC and PlayStation 4. Yeah it’s also for Mac, but really, who plays games on the Mac? And furthermore, this is just more proof of what I’ve been saying, that when it comes to the new generation of consoles, if you are a horror fan, then the PS4 is the one for you. But anyway, on with the SOMA talk.
This game was developed by independent game studio Frictional Games. Now if you have never heard of these guys, then you haven’t been paying attention, or you’re just not into horror games. If that’s the case, why are you even reading this? All that Frictional Games does is spooky goodness. Their first game was 2007’s Penumbra: Overture, and was one hell of a creepy game. While it was critically lauded (rightfully so and also by me) I never felt it got the attention that it truly deserved. After a sequel for Penumbra, the studio got some of the attention they so richly deserve in 2010 with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, one of the best and most truly frightening video games ever made. How big horror lovers are the folks over at Frictional Games? Well, their self-made engine that they used to power their games is called HPL. So, yeah, they’re legit.
That legitimacy is further proven with SOMA. Yes, it is more scifi this time than Amnesia, but don’t fret. There is still plenty of creepy to be had here. In this game, you play a young Canadian man who has a horrific accident that not only kills his girlfriend, but gives him incurable brain damage that is slowly killing him. Desperate for a second chance at life, our protagonist volunteers for some weird and mysterious new treatment involving brain scans and high-tech computers. And then, the very next thing you know, BAM, you wake up in a vastly different place. This new world is dark, dripping, rusted, claustrophobic, and with strange wires and cables spreading out, tentacle-like, all over the place. The good news is that you’re not all alone. The bad news is that you’re not all alone. It is now up to you to discover what happened to you, what happened to everyone else, and where you’re at, because you’re sure not in Canada anymore, Toto.
SOMA explores themes of the self, mind and consciousness, but don’t worry. It’s not too heady or artsy to not scare the crap out of you time and time again. It is a horror game with more to say than just BOO! Thankfully it also has more going for it than just BOO! Scares.
SOMA is another game that could be called a walking simulator. For a definition of what those are, please read my previous review on Among the Sleep. While there are horrific enemies in this game, there’s no way to traditionally fight them, so instead, you must outrun or avoid them. There are also puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress. One thing about SOMA is that the game designers tell you very little on how to play the game. They are fond of saying that they won’t hold your hand while you play this and that’s fine, as there are enough in game elements to get the various points across and have you going in the right direction. Most of the time. Fans of having a game map with a flashing arrow telling you exactly where to go might be a bit frustrated by this.
Final Verdict: SOMA is not overly Lovecraftian, although it does have some elements and, at times, feelings that would be right at home in any tale penned by HPL. It is creepy, atmospheric, smart, and fun to play. It asks some big questions, but it never gets too navel-gazing over it. The puzzles can be, if anything, a little too easy, but the rest of the game, and the story that holds it all together, is good and strong enough to keep you playing and wanting to unravel more of this creepy mystery. Give it a play and lose your mind for a while.