This month’s Band of Bloggers is all about naughtiness and niceness so of course a part of me wanted to write about DID Napper; an RPG-maker game about a guild of kidnappers. DID Napper is headed by a deviantart person and it looks like it's relatively far in development at this point. I realized however, that this month’s theme is about the naughty and niceness that’s associated with Santa Clause rather than the naughty and niceness associated with Betty Page. So I had a nice cold shower and thought about the big decisions presented to me in games this year. I wondered which games would have the best chance of getting me in Santa’s good graces. Luckily, I just played a game that hit me with number of heavy decisions. The down side however: I’m pretty sure I’m on the naughty list.
Every month, Playstation Plus subscribers are given some free software to download and for December, I was excited to see that Soma was on offer. Soma, by Frictional games, begins in Toronto in the year 2015. You play as Simon; a survivor of a car crash who has agreed to have his brain scanned hoping that doing so could lead to his brain damage being treated, if not completely cured. Unfortunately, during the brain scan, Simon finds himself in a very different environment and must find out what exactly is going on. The main gameplay of Soma revolves around Simon sneaking around disfigured creatures and solving environmental and item-based puzzles. There aren’t very many enemy encounters but the atmosphere of the game is very thick. Every sound I heard while playing Soma could have easily been the shuffling of a creature and there were a couple of times when I had to put the game down and step away for awhile just to calm myself down and collect myself. Despite the game being a hide-and-seek, puzzle-horror game with a nice physics engine, I’m going to go ahead and warn you that spoilers are ahead. I’ll try to be vague but some things will be impossible to talk about without spoiling some aspects of the narrative.
(It only LOOKS like it's going to be System Shock-ish)
When you gain control of Simon after the brain scan, you learn that you’ve arrived in a research facility called Pathos-II...also it’s the year 2104. As you explore Pathos-II, you quickly notice that there are no other people around. The first people who you speak to are robots who don’t seem to realize that they’re robots. If you’ve played Soma then you probably already know where I’m going with this. There’s one instance where I need to get through a locked door: to unlock this door, I need to re-route power from a console. By re-routing this power, one of the robot-people experiences pain. The voice acting in this section was excellent in that I felt like an utter asshole when I first flipped the switch and heard the pained screams of the mechano-man. The worst part was when I turned off the power and its dialog changed. It was panting, it was still clearly in pain and it was begging for medical attention. I felt like a bastard about that and I still do. What's worse is, I couldn't find an alternate path and thus, had to run electricity through the poor guy a second time.
As you progress throughout the game, there are a few instances where you’re given the option to literally ‘unplug’ the robotic denizen of Pathos-II, effectively killing them. The thing is, as you progress through Pathos-II and learn more about technology in the late 21st and early 22nd Centuries, you learn that decommissioning these individuals may not be the worst thing you can do to them. There’s a throughline of logic that would imply that if you, a nerd named Simon, can have your brain scanned in the year 2015 than all of these robots must have also been real humans at some point and their brains are likely saved and stored somewhere for safe keeping. After all, they all seem to think they're human anyway! It was this line of thought that kept me from feeling guilty when the choices I came across were to either unplug a bot or leave it all alone in a crumbling facility to mutter incoherently to itself. This line of thought, as I said, kept me resolute as I unplugged the automatons where that was an option. There was one instance however, where my resolve was tested.
In order to progress with your overall quest of...finding a specific item and verbing it, you need to journey to a deep-sea facility so far beneath the surface that you require a specialty diving suit. Without the suit, Simon will succumb to the atmospheric pressure of the deep sea but as soon as you obtain the suit a thing happens. Essentially, the choice presented to you is the same: You can either unplug the newcomer or you can leave the newcomer alone. Since they’re quickly put into a sleep-like state, it won’t know if you deactivate it. Despite the fact that this part of the game is populated by creatures that attack if you get too close to them, I still had trouble pulling the plug this time. I did end up doing it and by the end of the game, I felt absolutely justified. At the time I felt a stronger sense of emotional resonance than any other game had been able to inspire in me this year. It's really hard to convey without spoilers why this was such a difficult choice: Since there are murderous monsters on the other side of a door and a hallway, the choice should have been much more obvious without additional context. The people who played through Soma absolutely know what I mean though and I'm curious how much they ummed and errred during this point of the game.
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Soma. There’s a lot to talk about where its narrative is concerned and since I’ve only played it now rather than when it was new, I feel like this is another game where a bulk of what could have been said and discussed already has been. This was a year where I played three David Cage games and yet it was the studio that brought us Amnesia that really brought out some emotions in me. What probably can’t be overstated where Soma is concerned though, is that it’s an absolute must-play game. I can’t guarantee you’ll feel like a bastard as you progress through it but it left a huge impression on me and more than likely got me a spot on The Naughty List. Of course if it wasn’t this game that naughty-listed me, it was all of those times I went Bomb Fishing in Breath of the Wild...