Frictional Games’ SOMA brings true horror to PS4

Releasing September 22 for PC and PS4

Even though it doesn’t seem that long ago, it’s been five years since a group of indie developers struck it big with the release of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The game became a hit with players looking for a scare, and it soon became a popular pastime to watch other people freak out in real time on livestreams. You could say it kicked off the whole indie horror push we’ve seen in recent years, and many still regard it as the ultimate ‘NOPE!’ game. But instead of working on the sequel, Frictional Games decided to strike out onto something new.

SOMA has been in development for about five years, and while it’s been shown off since 2013, this year will finally see its release. As Frictional readies for launch in September, the developers were on hand at Sony’s E3 station. During my hands-on time, I got to see what they have in mind for their latest foray into survival horror.

In an underwater research station, you play as an engineer, Simon, who must uncover the mysteries behind the disappearances and deaths of the crew. After finding himself alone in an unknown part of the station, he discovers that things have taken a turn for the worse as machines begin inhabiting human characteristics. Some robots have even gone rogue after merging with the biology of the deep, and will hunt down anything they find. Using his own resourcefulness and whatever gadgets he can find, Simon will have to evade these horrors to reach safety.

Following the school of design found in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the player will not have any weapons at their disposal to take on whatever creatures they encounter. And gadgets and other support tools to help evade the creatures will only do just that. The name of the game is evasion, and hiding behind crates or other furniture scattered around is usually your best bet. Much like studio’s previous title, this can make encounters incredibly nerve-wracking. Though my session only had one real encounter with one of the deep-sea abominations, I got pretty tense during it. That sure made solving the puzzle to escape more challenging.

The environment is an interesting setting as well. The underwater research facility is dank and in disrepair, and with the horrors of the deep seeping into the facility, it feels like an industrialized take on the Lovecraftian aesthetic. While venturing through the halls of the station, you’ll come across the bodies of workers that still possess clues and other secrets. As each member has in internal black-box installed, you can experience their last moments in audio-log form. It’s a clever take on the mechanic, and it does a lot to flesh out the story as well.

Though I only had a brief session with SOMA, I found the developers made something that felt like a more natural evolution of Amnesia — a continuation of the same hide-and-seek-style horror that many fans loved. And in such a rich setting, surprises are in store. Without saying too much, there’s a lot more going on with the character’s journey and his surroundings than you might think.

Alessandro Fillari