Back in 2015, Frictional Games initially released a game for PC and PlayStation 4. Now over two years later Xbox owners get their chance to experience the existential nightmare awaiting them in SOMA. Heavily inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick, SOMA blends Sci-Fi and Horrors elements to create a gaming experience, not for the faint of heart. You play as Simon Jarrett who, after going in for a harmless brain scan, finds himself in a bizarre underwater research facility, and must find out how he got there and if he has any chance of getting out.
It’s very rare that a game creeps me out so much that I have to actually limit my play time. Only three games have achieved this in my entire gaming life; Bioshock, Alien Isolation, and now I can add SOMA to that list. SOMA is a chill down your spine that rarely goes away. Your character not having any way really to protect themselves adds even more to the creep factor of the game. The monsters that chase you have great and unique designs. They’re not just your run-of-the-mill horror monsters found in a lot of video games like zombies or straight up monsters for example. They’re more humanoid in design with disgusting severely disfigured elements and I think this design works great for the setting and narrative of the story.
The addition of the console exclusive ‘Safe Mode’ is a great addition. While playing in Safe Mode, players will not get straight up murdered by the monsters but the monsters will act more aggressive in order to successfully make the player crap their pants. Safe Mode in no way takes away from the overall horror and difficulty of the game which I’m sure Frictional Games wanted to keep intact.
The story is great. Definitely the main focal point of the game. Its unique blend of sci-fi and horror gives us a chilling narrative that is especially scary because it feels like something that’s quite possible given the advancements in AI and technology these days. The amazing story is of course complimented by solid voice acting. Most of the voice actors on the cast list have short credits to their name but they do a fantastic job in SOMA. Jared Zeus did great as Simon Jarret showing a large range of emotion and Nell Mooney gives a good performance as your AI companion Catherine Chun.
One of my biggest gripes with the game is kind of a silly one but it bugged me nonetheless. As a born and raised Torontonian I was delighted when I found out that the beginning of the game was set in my Canadian hometown. When I got into the game I was hearing references to all these places I knew like McCaul Street and Spadina Avenue. All that excitement was soon extinguished when I hopped on the subway and realized it looks nothing like it does here. Another instance is when you’re at the doctor’s office you can look out the window. You see the CN Tower and…that’s about it. Nothing else to signify that you’re actually in Toronto. I’m not asking for incredible detail but they could have spent a little more time and research making things look proper. Took me out of the immersion a little bit.
One thing that personally made the game hard to play for me was the lack of HUD/Map/or Objective tracking. There is nothing more frustrating than hiding and sneaking around or by a monster, for you to keep going in circles due to the fact that you don’t really know where you’re going. A map or HUD would have helped so much and it’s definitely one of the game’s weak points.
I had a lot of technical and graphical issues during my playthrough. One of the most apparent and rather inconvenient ones was the load times. Often times it took up to 2 minutes for a load screen to finish its business and for the game to start. Don’t know if this is intentional, giving the player time to properly psych them out or what. Regardless it was annoying. There were a lot of framerate stutters, really bad ones. The game would get choppy and drop to 5 fps or less! When this results in a death it makes for an unhappy gamer. If you approach an object too fast, more times than not the textures will take a while to load in or maybe not load in at all. I experienced this far too much during the game. I’m hoping these are singular instances because I would hate for this game to suffer from minuscule issues.
All in all, SOMA was quite the experience. I would say I had fun but I really didn’t and I don’t think I was supposed to. The game wasn’t a fun romp through a park, it was a gritty, existential nightmare that had some brutally honest messages and morals. The narrative grabbed me immediately and didn’t let me go until it was done with me. I went to bed thinking about this game and I even thought about it at throughout the day. SOMA is definitely an experience that can’t be conveyed properly unless you play it yourself; it’s nightmare fuel for the soul.
[The game was reviewed based off the Xbox One version with a code provided by the developer]