SOMA PS4 Review
Publisher: Frictional Games Developer: Frictional Games Genre: Survival Horror Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
What do you get when you combine a cup of The Matrix, half a cup of Alien: Isolation, a tbsp of BioShock and half a tsp of Dead Space? You get SOMA, a sci-fi horror of epic proportions that takes inspiration from almost anything and everything sci-fi -related and makes you question reality and what it means to be human. Coming from the creators of Amnesia and Penumbra, will Frictional Games score a hat trick with their third game?
SOMA starts out innocently enough, following Simon, the lead protagonist who, after surviving a car crash, which has resulted in him suffering from permanent brain damage and cranial haemorrhaging, heads out to a partially set-up hospital to receive an experimental brain scan treatment. The treatment, however, has unexpected effects which results in Simon waking up in the year 2104, where the earth has been devastated by a comet. He finds himself in a deserted underwater facility now under the control of rogue robots, a high-tech facility used by scientists who were working on finding a method for humankind to continue living on after the destruction. That is the gist of the story, though it delves much deeper than that, asking philosophical questions that will keep you compelled to continue playing just to find out how it will all end.
There are barely any cutscenes, if any, with the story being played out through finding letters, tape recordings, and unlocking more secrets as your Omnitool assistant, Catherine, aids you in your quest to escape the facility as it slowly trembles apart around you. SOMA truly has a clever and intriguing story, and despite some gameplay elements that are slight flaws to the game, the story is the shining star and one that will have you coming back to play more.
As mentioned, some aspects of the gameplay do spoil the flow at times, with areas that have no distinct destination which results in a lot of aimless wandering around. The game could have done with a map that you can carry or a marker as finding your way around can prove to be very difficult and frustrating. There are placards of maps located around some places and you can use them to find where you need to get to, but for the majority of the time you will be left in lurch.
SOMA’s universe has an excellent and foreboding atmosphere, with shadows and light being used to great effect and helping to build up a sense of isolation and claustrophobia. The sounds used in the game are some of the best and almost every item found in the world can be interacted with. The attention to the sound effects is brilliant, from bubbles rumbling out of crevices underwater to a glass clinking against a sink, to a binder rattling against a wall. These sounds that are familiar to you in the real world help you to connect to the games world, all helping to build up the environment and the tension as you constantly find yourself listening out for any noises that seem out of the ordinary.
SOMA has a lot of interactivity, though it is a shame that it is not put to better use. The sound of different objects would have been sacrificed had this interactivity been waived, though the fact that it is not often used can make it feel rather superfluous. Searching draws, cupboards, lockers etc can feel rather unrewarding; sometimes you’ll come across essential information, though it is a shame that more important objects were not hidden in places you wouldn’t expect, making the interactivity all the more necessary. Finding items is usually quite linear and obvious, and so it is unfortunate that the interactivity is not put to better use.
Despite there being many items in the world, there is not much that you collect throughout the game. There are no health kits; you need to insert your fist into a WAU connection, a robotic pod that will help restore your health. There are also no weapons or ammo. You will find objects needed to complete a puzzle from time to time, though the only item you will carry for any long length of time is the Omnitool, a useful computer that helps to unlock doors and computers, and comes with an assistant called Catherine, who helps to guide you in your mission and tells you what you need to do next. However, despite Catherine’s help, these objectives aren’t always clear and sometimes you’ll find yourself heading to random places and doing random things and hoping that what you are doing is right.
Enemies are also rather underwhelming, with no particular kill moves or anything of note to make them specifically memorable. The designs are not anything spectacular, and enemies you encounter can be very frustrating to manoeuvre around, with them mercilessly trailing you wherever you go and with no way for you to hide should they be dangerously close; some sort of locker or chest would have been very welcome in helping to avoid enemies and hiding from them. The areas that you explore that have these enemies roaming around are very reminiscent of Alien: Isolation, though with no way to attack enemies, or even deter them, these sections can feel very tedious to slog through and you may end up shouting at the TV screen for the enemy to pee-off to give you even just a second to explore properly. The enemies are relentless and it is when these encounters occur that also slow down the flow of the game; one minute you’ll be exploring a vast open area free of any obtrusion, the next you’ll be confined to a smaller place with an enemy lurking that you have to avoid at all costs. Should you also get attacked by an enemy, there are no real consequences as you’ll only wake up where you had previously died. However, the game can be commended for not resorting to jump-scares, instead allowing the dreary environments and story to slowly build apprehension and making you wonder how the story will end.
The graphics in the game are not ground-breaking but for an indie game, they are certainly impressive, and the underwater setting makes for some beautiful yet equally creepy environments; the hardened, cold metal of the facility cast against the gentle open waters certainly makes for an intriguing contrast of what is happening inside the facility to the outside, wherein one is aggressive, the other placid. There are puzzles in the game, some that won’t be able to be completed without watching a walkthrough, but most that are somewhat simple to solve, encouraging exploration to find item A and item B in order to complete the puzzle and progress. The puzzles, whilst seemingly generic, are still cleverly put together, with a good mix of difficulty.
SOMA is a compelling game with a lot to offer, one that is excellent at building tension and a sense of menace and uses sound and lighting to great effect. Paired with a gripping story, one with an ending that makes you question whether you should feel happy or sad, this is a game that will certainly leave an impression with its intelligent ideas.