BY JOE EDWARDS
Horror is something I grew up with and with its creative use of multiple elements within multiple forms of media, it seems to keep bringing me back for the next creative and shocking entry within the genre.
No studio within recent memory has been able to capture some of the best elements of horror more than Frictional Games.
Frictional Games, creators of the Penumbra series and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, are a Swedish studio who over the last console generation have been proving to be a reputable source of scares and innovation within a genre that has been stagnating video game wise.
With their latest game, Soma, many wondered if they would be able to pull in the same reception they received with their landmark success Amnesia: The Dark Descent. While not as initially successful as that game was, Soma is no slouch and gives exactly what someone would expect from a Frictional Games horror game, and then some.
Soma’s story involves an average everyday person, named Simon Jarrett living in modern day Toronto going in for a brain scan after a near fatal car crash causes him to receive permanent brain damage. While receiving the scan he is suddenly teleported to an abandoned research facility for no rhyme nor reason in the year 2103. This initial set up seems to be weak, but eventually pays off later in the storyline as more is explained onto why he is suddenly transported to this research facility.
While Soma’s story can leave a lot to be desired at times, it is Soma’s cast of characters that really shine through here.
Alive or dead, each character has something interesting left behind or to be said about the events that caused this research facility to be abandoned. It should be said that the main two characters, Catherine and Simon, both deliver a fantastic and believable performance given the situation they are both placed in. The story does an amazing job at making the player care about the main characters and genuinely making them relatable characters.
Atmosphere is something that horror games need to get 100 percent correct if it wants to succeed at immersing the player in its story and universe. Soma makes this look easy, especially with how little it does to immerse the player and create an atmosphere.
Soma takes place on an abandoned deep sea research facility and the lighting this setting has to offer is taken full advantage of by Frictional. When inside the facility, areas are dark, ominous and industrial looking with steam pipes leaking and lights flickering constantly.
When outside though, the games atmosphere drastically changes to something that horror games have not really touched on. If you have never looked into the horrors of open water or the deep sea, Soma will make you genuinely scared about what could be lurking under the water.
This atmosphere helps build on one of Soma’s greatest tool for horror: tension. The game is not full of obstacles or monsters, but due to the games tension heavy atmosphere, it can feel like there is always something lurking around every corner.
This is also largely in part to the game’s fantastic use of sound design. As cliché as it sounds, Soma probably has some of the best sound design ever experienced in a video game. Each object has a different weight and sound to it; each operates to create a different sound depending on the object you might run it across. Soma is a game that is a genuine joy to play with headphones on.
Gameplay wise, Soma plays a lot like its predecessors. You are placed into an area and are asked to solve a multitude of smaller puzzles that will lead to clues as to how to solve a larger puzzle to escape the area. Along the way you are forced to go up against a variety of horrifying enemies. Mind your character cannot fight back so a lot of the gameplay relies around avoiding enemies and running
If Soma gets one thing right when it comes to its gameplay over its predecessors, it is variety.
Soma has five main enemies that all react differently to the player. One enemy you cannot look at or you will be knocked unconscious. Another enemy reacts harshly to sound so you have to move slowly and avoid objects you might run into. This causes every encounter to feel fresh and dynamic as you might have to deal with multiple enemies within the same area.
However, something Soma does worse with in comparison to its predecessors is a lack of survival horror elements. Health and item management have been mostly removed from the equation and the inventory system is mostly just to remind you of what you are holding, rather than be something you could use to solve puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, they are very simple. Nothing in Soma asks much of the player to the extent that Amnesia or Penumbra does. Sometimes you find yourself looking around trying to find a piece of a puzzle only to ultimately realize you already have the components needed to solve it.
It is a lack of direction or clear indication of what you need that makes some of these puzzles hard.
This also stems to the biggest complaint: that Soma has no replay value. Frictional Games is a studio that has never really gotten that right, but with puzzles being ultimately simplistic and the survival aspects removed, it makes Soma seem a bit ridiculously priced.
At $30, they are asking a lot of the average consumer and while an enjoyable eight-hour adventure, you could still pick up and play Penumbra or Amnesia for cheaper, and enjoy them more than Soma.
Despite ending off here on a bit of a negative, Soma is an amazing game with some of the best horror in recent years; mostly in part to its atmosphere, sound design and enemy variety.
If you are looking for a good horror game and you are willing to spend a little bit more cash than usual on an indie game, Soma is a fantastic choice. Be sure to wear headphones though because it really is an experience.
The Flyer gives “Soma” a 7/10.