It's unfortunate timing on my part that I didn't discover Destructoid until I was 3/4 through my Game Studies class, but I figured I might as well share this anyways. I'm doing an essay comparing Amnesia: the Dark Descent and SOMA, so I wrote an initial review of SOMA immediately after I finished playing it. I know SOMA came out two months ago, but I still agree with all the points I made. Unfortunately, I love Frictional Games to the extent that I tend to overlook their flaws, so please feel free to argue against anything I've said.
" I finished playing SOMA yesterday at about 3 in the morning, and figured I’d let the game settle in my mind before writing anything about it. It was a horror-filled yet emotional ride that took me 14 hours to beat. The game is about half that long if you don’t take your sweet time getting around the monsters in the game, but after dying once you really don’t want to do it again, so I was very careful and meticulous as I went.
My expectations for SOMA were relatively high, as Frictional Games’ second most recent game is my favourite of the horror genre, Amnesia: the Dark Descent. Though, now it’s only second favourite as it’s been replaced by SOMA. Amnesia was released in 2010, so SOMA has been in the works for a good 5 years. I pre-purchased the game on Steam a week before its release and read the spoiler-free reviews of people who were given pre-release access. All were generally beyond positive, with a couple denoting the lack of horror, or the overdose of horror, though all agreed on the rest of the game being a success. With that in mind, I let SOMA show me what it had in store.
On release day, after installing an update, I played the game for 10 hours straight until decidedly calling it a night. I was emotionally drained, and obviously exhausted from staring at a screen for so long. The beginning of the game is very innocent, giving a bit of backstory on the protagonist, Simon (who is a bookkeeper in Toronto, recently got into a car accident, and has a scheduled brain scan that day), before immediately thrusting the player into a new and unknown environment. Unlike Daniel in Amnesia, Simon talks and comments on his environment fairly frequently, and confirms with the player that this place is definitely unknown to him, and he is as confused as you are. Though it is made clear very shortly that Simon is now in an underwater building called Pathos-II, which he gradually learns more about.
With the knowledge that SOMA is a horror game and that there are monsters in it, I proceeded very cautiously. More so than was necessary, looking back. Though the game gradually gives you a few stealth hints that are usually queued when you first sight a monster, you don’t see one for 5 or 10 minutes into the game, so I was kept unnecessarily paranoid and jumpy for that time. The monsters themselves are vastly different than the grunts of Amnesia, aside from being humanoid and grotesque. The monsters give off unearthly sounds and lurch around, searching for the player. As well, instead of a sanity gauge like in Amnesia, video distortion is used to tell the player that they are close to or looking at a monster.
A similarity to Amnesia, though slightly altered, is this robotic yet organic junk bursting through the walls of the environment, often with what appears to be oil dripping from it. Reminiscent of the Shadow that hunted Daniel, yet nearly completely harmless. However, Simon eventually interacts with several talking robots that are intricately connected to this thing covering the environment, and after speaking with them, seeing the monster(s), and witnessing several dead bodies, it becomes quickly apparent that something went very wrong here.
As Simon continues through this series of underwater buildings, having to walk along the ocean floor to reach them in some cases, he is able to read notes and audio recordings left behind that illuminate what happened. He also meets a… partner, who also gradually clues him in on what’s been going on. As soon as Simon reaches full understanding, he agrees to the same goal as his partner, and they journey together to the deepest of these underwater buildings. As they progress, the scale of the calamity becomes more and more apparent, even to the extent that Simon’s new-found partner didn’t know about.
The visuals, soundscape, and storytelling in this game are phenomenal. I don't want to give anything else away about SOMA, but I will say this: there are a couple instances in which the player/Simon must make a decision that really makes you sit back and think. After the game ended, I turned off my computer and sat there for a good half hour. Mulling things over, and digesting the events that had unfolded in the game. Even now, I'm still in shock as to what happened. It may be "just a game", but it definitely hit me hard."