Billed as a survival horror game, SOMA consists mostly of sneaking around one-hit-kill monsters in dark environs, solving puzzles to progress. Sounds a lot like Amnesia, which is no surprise (it’s developed by the same folks), and to its credit it does have the same vibe of being mostly-defenseless against monsters that can mess you up faster than sugar in a gas tank.
Unfortunately, the creeping dread of The Dark Descent simply isn’t there. Yes, that bad guy makes spooky noises. But, sit still for a minute and you’ll notice that he goes from there, to there, to over there in circles, which means you can just strut this direction and you’ll be on your way. Such routes are never particularly challenging to figure out, which more or less leaves you playing an elaborate game of Dora the Explorer. “Where’s the monster?” “There he is!”
Perhaps that’s the game being guilty of lack of immersion, and to its credit, that’s not for lack of trying. The game takes the Mirror’s Edge approach to UI, which is to say, it doesn’t have one – no health bars obstructing your getting into the game. The sound design also excels: lots of creaking steam pipes, scampering footsteps and something-heard-but-not-seens all come together to form a very scary soundscape.
However, we hear a bit too much of some other things. The plot is particularly guilty. Sometimes, you’d swear SOMA doesn’t even know what exposition is, as every single detail thereof is told to us via dialogue. As far as story arc goes, the game riffs on a few Matrix-esque philosophical conundrums, and it won’t let you forget the fact. The main concept of the game is revealed fairly early, and more or less revolves around the question of what does or doesn’t constitute a human, as opposed to a simulation or robot.
The main concept of the game is revealed fairly early, and more or less revolves around the question of what does or doesn’t constitute a human.
Fair enough, but there are a few problems with this: firstly, you have to give the player a bit of time to think about that, as opposed to assaulting them with “Oh gee whiz, isn’t this philosophical conundrum a morally-ambiguous rabbit hole?” every ten seconds, of which SOMA is terribly guilty. It’s also worth noting that if you already have a thought-out opinion on this issue, then the game is slightly ruined for you, as the game keeps inviting (or demanding) you to think over the problem, and you’re stuck replying with the same answer you already have.
In summary, then, SOMA is mostly just one big concept stamped all over Amnesia, which the latter did better anyway. Though it has a few interesting touches, with various neat notes to read off the beaten track, they’re not enough to save the fact that you could be getting the same thing, but better, from somewhere else that’s been around longer. Want ultra-scares? Back to Amnesia. Cool sci-fi underwater storytelling? Check out the older BioShock games. The rest of the ride, you can find in some stuffy book on philosophy, and really, who doesn’t have to spend enough time in the library as it is?
SOMA was released on PS4, PC, Mac and Linux on the 22nd September.