Expectation and reality have a way of crashing together and leaving you disappointed. It’s my experience with SOMA and the way it differed so greatly from what I expected that’s made this a tough review to write. All it takes is one look at Frictional Games’ track record (Penumbra and Amnesia) to begin forming expectations for what SOMA might deliver in the horror department. So it surprised me that I felt relatively calm throughout most of my experience with SOMA. It also surprised me that, what you might think to be the big story twist, is revealed nonchalantly within the first hour. Instead of replicating past success SOMA forms its own path and presents a truly interesting story that I’ve been constantly thinking about over the past week.
It seems to me that we often go into a story wondering what the big reveal is going to be. (You’re the killer all along, the Easter Bunny actually is real, SpongeBob’s shirt was on backwards the whole time.) There’s a twist or crazy reveal that stories tend to work up to that might turn the whole thing on its head. These reveals create a new reality that has its own implications and these implications are things that we’re left to wander about after the story is over. What I love about SOMA is that it takes an almost polar opposite approach. Without getting into specifics the game essentially hands you the ‘big twist’ very early on and doesn’t really treat it as anything special. Instead the rest of the game’s story explores the implications of this new reality. It’s cool to see a story take that kind of approach and deal with questions that don’t have easy answers. I think the horror in SOMA’s case resonates more in how unsettling these questions are and not so much in the game itself.
SOMA is split up into exploration and survival sections. Much of the game you’re free to explore the area, solve simple puzzles, and interact with just about everything in the environment. The interaction specifically is a major plus to me and demonstrates why it was something that I didn’t like in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Being able to pick up and throw objects, read journals, and open lockers among other things really brings this place to life. It feels lived in. On top of that SOMA features some impressive atmosphere and sound design. The sections where you’re walking along the ocean floor specifically are fantastic. (There’s a part near the end of the game that would be phenomenal with VR.)
In certain instances you’ll find yourself dealing with one of the game’s handful of enemies. In each case there’s just one of them and they’re most likely standing in the way of where you’re headed. One of the major reasons why I don’t think SOMA is scary is because I never really felt in danger around these creatures. They can certainly kill you, but it’s so easy to avoid them and mess with their AI that they just never felt like a threat. (A lot of the time you can simply look away, crouch, and walk right by them.) Their designs are genuinely creepy it’s just that I know how to deal with them.
With my review code came some information regarding performance on the PS4. Essentially it stated that the PS4 version of the game had some frame rate issues that would be addressed in a day one patch. Most of my time with the game included the new patch and I still experienced frequent issues. When entering a new area my game typically froze for a moment/stuttered until the new area fully loaded in. This probably happened somewhere between 5-10 times throughout my play-through. It didn’t really ruin my experience, but it is unfortunate.
I’m not rushing back to replay SOMA anytime soon, but I have found myself thinking about it a lot. There’s so many interesting themes and questions explored within the story that are really fun and kind of scary to think about. It’s a story that’s very much worth experiencing for yourself. I just wish playing the game was just as interesting.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Interesting Story
- Great atmosphere
- Sound design
- Some pretty cool/logical puzzles
- The ability to interact with almost anything in the environment
What I Dislike:
- Enemies didn't feel threatening
- Technical issues