Swedish developer Frictional Games is well known for their focus on adventure-based games that rely heavily on elements of survival and horror. Their latest release, SOMA, follows this trend but also transitions to a setting that is more science fiction based than their previous titles. Set on the underwater research facility of PATHOS-2, players are confronted with an array of mysteries to solve such as why are machines acting as human beings. While all the gameplay elements ranging from puzzles to hide and seek survival sections are great to play, the stronger aspect of SOMA is the questions that confront players throughout their journey. Players must confront some moral questions that are far from a simple black and white answer, but also explore meaningful topics even to the extent of what it actually means to be considered human.
While it's impossible to provide much context about the game's beginning without spoiling some large chunks of storytelling, it can be said the the overall premise and arc of the narrative are masterful creations that showcases the best work of Frictional Games. Also impressive is how well the two primary protagonists interact with each other and continually compel the journey forward. Science fiction storytelling can often suffer from issues ranging from vague explanations or over reliance on abstract concepts, but SOMA avoids those by providing a narrative that all players should be able to relate to even if they're not immersed in an underwater research facility. While the game's marketing might not indicate it, but SOMA has a stronger focus on providing a mysterious science fiction adventure and not a continual onslaught of jump scares.
In relation to those jump scares and the horror aspect of the game, it follows a similar model of their past games such as Amnesia. There were some truly frightening sections of the game in which the game's form of enemies would be watching and listening for any movement. It was welcoming to see that even after a failed first attempt at one of these hide and seek sections that the game allows players another chance before finally restarting from a checkpoint. Clever use of blurring light sources and increased heartbeat sounds when enemies get closer further heighten the impact of these encounters.
While the game does incorporate elements such as being able to toss objects to distract enemies in these encounters, for the most part they can be completed by simply crouching and moving slowly past them. Once this strategy is exploited, many of the game's supposed suspenseful encounters are lessened in their impact. It's now impossible not to compare horror games to last year's Alien: Isolation that brought many new elements to the genre in regards to enemy AI and tactics on surviving them. There's no denying that the game will frighten players, but the impact could have been greater if stronger gameplay mechanics followed as well.
That isn't to say that the entire focus of the game is to scare the players, but a large majority of the gameplay also employs puzzle sections. Most refreshing in relation to the puzzle sections is that each one is unique in design with none of them repeated in later game sections. Many of the puzzles involve hacking interfaces on computers that may range from unlocking a security grid to reactivating station power. Pacing of the game has to praised as the puzzles are introduced at points in which a break from tense sneaking around is welcome to relief the nerves.
Aside from the actual gameplay mechanics, the primary aspect that works the best is with the atmosphere of the game's world. Not since playing the original BioShock has an underwater setting been done so well with SOMA. The developers deserve high praise as every element ranging from the visual design to the sound effects produce a truly immersive world for players. The level sections in particular when players actually get to walk the ocean floor are some of the more memorable gaming experiences of this year. The voice acting also plays an important role in adding to that atmosphere with great delivery by the primary protagonists as well as other characters encountered during the narrative.
In regards to the game's length, a playthrough clocked in just under eight hours while that easily could jump up to ten or more for those players that stop to read and listen to everything they find in-game. SOMA works well for both players that simply wish to run their way through the game and those that explore every corridor and audio diary. While those players that do read computer terminals and listen to audio journals will discover more of the story, it's optional as the majority of the narrative is provided through the game's normal course.
When the credits do roll the journey feels complete and well worth the adventure. More importantly, it leaves players questioning their motivations and choices during their playthrough. While it might not be the scariest game, SOMA succeeds with its science fiction setting and compelling narrative. Fans of Frictional Games and their work as well as those who've missed out are strongly recommended to venture forth into the mysterious and engrossing underwater research facility of PATHOS-2.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2011 and focus primarily on PC games and hardware. I'm a strong advocate of independent developers and am always seeking the next genre-breaking and unique game release. My favorite game genres are strategy, role-playing, and massively multiplayer online, or any games that feature open worlds and survival elements. View Profile