By – Jordan Kamm

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SOMA is a game about asking questions while having hypothetical discussions with the player. It follows the events of Simon Jarrett, after he mysteriously awakens in an run-down abandoned research facility. The goal is to escape this expansive underwater facility called Pathos-II. To do this you must first sneak past bizarre monsters, and murderous Robots. For the most part, the story and gameplay meld together to create an amazing experience.

However, there are sections of the game where gameplay isn’t as strong in order to focus more on the story. There are parts of the game that felt like you entered a gameplay designated area. It was a way to break up the narrative, with something else to do, but during those sections the game felt more tedious than it did compelling. Not to say that the game needed to be anything more than it did mechanically, it was a competent survival horror game, and carried the story.

The main focus of SOMA was the questions it posed. Like many other science fiction stories before it, SOMA uses narrative as a jumping off point for a deeper discussions about these ideas. It asks questions like “What is the Self?”, and “Does the self exist separate from the physical being?” It also uses the medium of video games to add an interactive element to further contextualize these thoughts. The game does a beautiful job of not answering anything.

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It merely presents different sides in the discussion for you to think about. Of course, this being a horror game, the story is told in a way that induces an existential fear, and presents these questions in a much more cynical light. That, however, is part of the experience . On top of the existential horror the game presents, you also must run from monsters and the creations of an insane AI that has taken over the research facility. The mechanics and pathing of the monsters was sporadic, and difficult to predict. This led to some truly frightening moments when creatures emerged from places I wasn’t expecting.

The overall design is stunning. The facility you explore is filled with giant black masses of fleshy material lined with electrical cable. This blend of mechanical and organic brings to mind the artwork of H.R. Geiger. Flesh and wire combined to mutate the crew and robot staff of the research facility into Lovecraftian monstrosities. Like with their previous title, Amnesia, Frictional Games have been known to use many Lovecraftian elements in their games, and while there is nothing truly eldrich in SOMA, the look is clearly inspired. There is also an important use of the outside environment to induce fear as well.

Not many stories use the deep sea as a main setting, we’ve seen it with other games, but not to invoke the true horror the sea can have. SOMA does a great job of making you feel cold and alone deep below the surface of the ocean. There is truly a sense of isolation. At one particular moment, you travel to the depths of the abyss. Looking around, there is nothing but darkness.. You hear the sound of distant machines churning, and unknown monsters groaning and screeching.

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There are several moments that do end up being more frustrating than fun. Most of them involve dealing with the various monster, and trying to figure out their erratic pattern so that you can get by them. When you get caught by a monster, you don’t immediately die. You just get hurt, which makes you move slower, and adds a weird filter over the screen. Sometimes it’s better to get caught again, so that you can start that section over without the penalties.

There are plenty of healing stations all over the place, so if you do get caught it’s not the biggest deal, and starting over is a rare occurrence. There is also another section where you must walk through an underwater storm. The dirt, and debris are constantly flying around your face, so it’s hard to see, on top of the already dark atmosphere. Several monsters also attack while you are trying to figure out where to go. The whole thing ended up being more of an annoyance than anything tense or terrifying.

SOMA can be played on either a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad. I chose the later, purely because it let me stretch away from the computer for a bit. Either option is perfectly acceptable, as the game really doesn’t have a need for either precision or stability. For SOMA, I decided the gamepad was a touch more comfortable, which was odd since I prefer the mouse and keyboard in first-person experiences.

The graphical options are a bit lacking. The only real graphics option I found was the depth of view could be changed to low, medium, or high. There was a solid FOV slider (which I had set at around 90), v-sync option, and several different forms of anti-aliasing you could choose from. I played at the highest settings and maintained a constant 60fps. I did, however, experience a few crashes over the course of gameplay. I was never really able to figure out what caused these, and they happened after changing around the settings. I was always able to get right back to where I left off, but it was still quite frustrating.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

The $29.99 might be a steep price to pay for a 10 hour experience, but the content is definitely worth it if you enjoy narrative driven games. The story was brilliantly written, and the mechanics were solid enough for me to have a truly thought-provoking, and incredible experience. This is a game where concepts will linger in your mind long after it’s finished. SOMA is one of the best sci-fi horror games I’ve played.

SOMA Technical Summary:

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  • Time played – 10 Hours
  • Widescreen support – Yes
  • Resolution played – 1920×1080
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes – A  few crashes
  • Control scheme – Keyboard, Gamepad
  • DRM – Steam, None if purchased via GOG.
  • system specs- 3.5 GHz AMD FX 6300,  GeForce GTX 750 Ti, 8GB RAM
  • Game Acquisition- Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GOG
  • Demo- No
  • Saved game location- C:\Users\Documents\My Games\Soma\Main\

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  • Valjan

    I found this to be a very good review of the game, emphasizing its strong points while pointing out some of the noticeable flaws. Thank you.

    • Jordan Kamm

      Thanks so much. That’s really encouraging to hear.