I’m not really sure how to start off this review. SOMA is the first game in a long time that left me with a lot of thoughts and observations. As a result of that, this review will be fairly long. Seeing as how I really enjoyed the story, I’m going to just openly discuss certain aspects of it so specific areas will be marked with *SPOILER WARNING*.
As ridiculous as it may sound, I almost gave up on SOMA after playing it for a few minutes. Something about the graphics seemed off and it just didn’t feel right to me. I thought of returning it seeing as how I played it less than two hours, but since it’s an almost universally praised game, I figured I’d give it a try.
SOMA is a game that combines many different elements/genres, but it can be summed up as a sci-fi/horror walking simulator. I almost feel bad for referring to it as a walking simulator because I usually end up hating walking simulators (Gone Home) and I truly enjoyed this game. Though a great deal of walking/exploring takes place in this game, SOMA keeps things interesting by offering puzzles and enemies to hide from.
I mentioned Gone Home because for quite some time it was/may be still viewed as the best walking simulator game. After having played SOMA, I can confidently say that SOMA is a much better walking simulator and is overall a way better game than Gone Home. Back then that game was insanely hyped so I figured I had to give it a try. After having played through it I felt ripped off. Based on how it was discussed/showcased at the time, I figured that it’d be a well told frightening game, but that was wrong. It may seem silly to discuss another game in SOMA’s review, but I do this because I feel that SOMA is the game I thought Gone Home was going to be and they share a similar game mechanic.
Maybe it’s because I’m a PC gamer and I’m used to playing great looking games at ultra-settings, but in that department SOMA didn’t really wow me. It wasn’t awful, but I expected it to look much better than it did. There were instances where it took a while for textures to fully load and it reminded me of the original Half-Life, not in a good way. Even with my decent build I encountered instances of FPS dips and freezing that forced me to close the game and restart it.
In SOMA you mainly play as a man named Simon who’s completely out of his element, in more ways than one. Your main goal in this game is to traverse the environment you’re in and discover what’s really going on in this hellish place.
Though it can be seen as a simplistic comparison, SOMA really reminded me of the first two Bioshock games and The Talos Principle. I was reminded of Bioshock not only because it *SPOILER WARNING* takes place at the bottom of the sea, but because of its overall feel. You’re a lone survivor trying to escape from a place where something has really gone wrong. SOMA is not as action filled as the Bioshock games, but through its dreary atmosphere you are filled with fear and something as simple as going around a dark corner can be a daunting task.
The enemies in SOMA are mainly the occasional robot and a weird sort of leech monster similar to what is found in many Resident Evil games. When I played this game and encountered this enemy I immediately thought that this game probably had a part in influencing the latest Resident Evil. By the time these weird creatures appear, you more or less have the idea that you know what this game is about (walking simulator) and know what to expect, but these enemies add a stealth aspect to the core gameplay. Much like I did, you could run away from these enemies, but the most efficient way to get past them is by sneakily crouching through the darkness.
I was reminded of The Talos Principle because the stories in both games are quite similar. For the most part, you are a *SPOILER WARNING* sort of robot trying to figure out what’s going on, where you are, and how to get out of here. Though The Talos Principle is a much more colorful puzzle game, I feel as if the stories have a similar feeling, one of unknown dread as to just what’s going on in this world/game. Both games also deal with philosophical elements of *SPOILER WARNING* what it means to be human, consciousness, and the comparison/weighing of life in multiple beings.
Before discussing those previously mentioned themes, I must say that I highly enjoyed SOMA’s dialogue. It wasn’t the only way that the game’s story/lore was revealed (
There were certain moments in SOMA that immediately made those philosophical themes just stick out. Despite having taken a few philosophy courses in high school/college, I am not well versed in the subject and I won’t attempt to come off as an expert in that field, I’d probably just come off as a typical freshman douche that just finished Phil. 101. Just a warning, the following two sections will be very *SPOILER* heavy, so you might as well skip it if you don’t wish to be spoiled. *SPOILER WARNING*
*SPOILER WARNING* I won’t lie and say I completely understand this game so I’m just going off of what I learned/experienced through the game itself. After writing this review I will watch/read analyses to gain a better understanding of this game. The philosophical elements found in this game come up directly through the main character’s experiences. Despite initially being a human at the beginning of the game, something happens to Simon and he’s more or less transported 100 years into the future. The problem is that he himself does not time travel, it’s something similar to Days of Future Past where Wolverine’s consciousness is time travelling and not his actual body. What’s very particular about SOMA is that it involves the copying of your consciousness and not the transfer of it. I don’t really understand why that happened, but Simon’s consciousness awakens in what is eventually *SPOILER WARNING* revealed to be a sort of robotic body. Upon this discovery Simon begins to question his own humanity and doesn’t really understand what’s going on or who he is now. In his mind he feels like his “normal” self, but it really isn’t, seeing as how he’s no longer in his original body.
*SPOILER WARNING* As the game/story continues you regularly stumble upon robots that need to be unplugged so that you can advance. For the first few times that you do this there’s nothing strange about it and it’s as automatic as unplugging any old electronic device. What makes this interesting is that these *SPOILER WARNING* robots eventually start to cry out for fear of being disconnected. At first you have no idea what’s going on, but as you go through the game you eventually learn just what’s really happening, *SPOILER WARNING* you’re essentially pulling the plug on a human conscious trapped in a robot. This is a huge revelation in the game and you start to question just about everything at this point.
One question that enters your mind in game is whether or not you’re actually killing people, but even that question just makes you question whether or not those robots are really people. In an even more disturbing twist you pretty much have to do the same with yourself as the game goes on. *SPOILER WARNING* It’s eventually revealed in game that you are able to transfer your consciousness to suitable hosts, but it’s not an entirely perfect method, it’s more of an imperfect copy. *SPOILER WARNING* It’s only after the switch has occurred that you learn that your original consciousness/host exists at the same time as this new one and you must choose what to do. Do you leave this previous host alive in a sort of twisted existence or do you pull the plug on it and spare it from knowing the truth. In one way, SOMA interestingly “discusses”/pushes the boundaries on what it means to be human. Through Simon’s experiences/dialogue you feel human, but at the same time you’re pulling the plug on others in a similar situation because they’re in your way of advancing. Why is it that it’s an almost automatic response for Simon to do this to others, but when he’s doing it to himself it feels so wrong/difficult to do? I’m fairly sure SOMA has its influences and previous sci-fi tales have touched upon all of this subject matter, but I’m discussing it as I observed it through the playing of SOMA.
For the most part, I found all of that subject matter to be quite disturbing. There were instances of violence in this game, but I’ve always felt that the most effective ways of scaring/disturbing someone are not with just scenes of explicit gore, but through psychological horror.
To sum up on SOMA’s story/gameplay, I feel as if it’s a great mix in this game. One problem many games have suffered for years has been how to properly balance story/gameplay. Not all games are meant to have deep stories and some that do may have poor gameplay, but that isn’t a problem at all in SOMA. I’m sure there’s probably people out there that are unhappy at the lack of action in this game, but I didn’t mind that at all. One thing I will say is what’s the point of being able to manipulate various items if all you could do is move them in the air and drop them. If what I can do with these items is so limited I’d rather not have the option of being able to grab/move them around.
Seeing as how I’ve discussed so much of SOMA’s story, I feel it’s appropriate to discuss the ending. *SPOILER WARNING* From what I’ve seen/know about SOMA, I think the ending was perfect. I guess you could say that there’s two endings and you’re not really sure what happened or what was real, much like Simon’s experience throughout the game. The first ending left me thinking of The Mist. The endings are similar because they involve a main character left in awful states of despair despite the fact that they’ve done the best they could to safely escape from their situation. Following the credits you’re then left with some more gameplay, but you’re not really sure what to make of it. It’s eventually revealed that you’re playing as the Simon that escaped, but in the end you’re unsure if you really are Simon or are just another copy of Simon. You’re pretty much left to wonder the difference between these copies of Simon and whether or not it matters just how real they are.
To conclude, these are my overall thoughts from what I experienced/understood while playing SOMA. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed out on, but for the most part I feel as if I get what the game was trying to convey. As if it’s not crystal clear already, I definitely recommend this game, especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi/horror. I give this game a 4.5/5.
Review by – Alejandro