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Review

SOMA Review

What will you do to survive?

SOMA is the latest title from Frictional Games, creators of the Amnesia and Penumbra series, so expectations are high for their first game on PlayStation 4. Admittedly, the first impressions aren’t all that great as your character wakes up in a modern day apartment and heads off to the doctors for a brain scan, with its simplistic graphics and poor facial animations.

That all changes as, one brain scan later, Simon is transported hundreds of years in to the future to a research base deep under the sea. With some superb lighting and particle effects, any graphical rough edges are hidden and some of the underwater sections are particularly stunning and atmospheric to explore.

However, to explain any more of the story would spoil the game and you are best off going in knowing nothing, suffice to say something terrible has happened and you are seemingly the last human alive. What I can explain is how the game makes you feel, and boy does it make you feel an awful lot. Sorrow, anguish, horror, and terror are all in the mix as the story makes you question just what it means to be alive.

I must admit that what I read what Frictional games’ “complex philosophical conundrums” in a post on the PlayStation Blog I dismissed them out of hand. Surely a game couldn’t make me contemplate these things, but it does. Artificial intelligence, cloning, and assisted suicide are all covered within the narrative, along with with broader question of what defines life.

There are a few horrific moments, though nothing as gory as Until Dawn, but there is terror. The creatures that stalk the station are few and far between, but they make their presence known with constant screaming and the screen glitches and distorts like a digital TV as they get closer to you. You will also have to make some very hard decisions about who and what lives or dies and I do suggest that if you have lost a loved one in the recent past then give SOMA a miss, one scene near the end is particularly heartbreaking.

SOMA-IL

From glooping black puddles and distant creaks, to chirping computer terminals and an abundance of audio logs to access, the sound design is superb. In other games I would normally skip these additional stories, but I found myself drawn into listening to them all, so I could learn more about the strange new world Simon was trapped in. You can also eavesdrop on the final moments of any dead bodies you find, all of which have full voice acting, as does Catherine, your one companion on your journey to the bottom of the sea.

There are puzzles to be solved, but they’re all fairly simple, even if the solution may not be as obvious as you first think. For example, I was stuck in the very first room for half and hour as the door was locked and the computer terminal and door lock had no power. I searched lockers, picked up every object, looked under tables, but nothing could help. It was only in my frustration that I picked up a heavy metal grill and threw it at a window. It smashed and I could then climb out.

Everything within the world that you can interact with, be it computer terminals, switched or even toilet seats, is manipulated by holding the right trigger and moving the right stick. It’s utterly ingenious and becomes second nature within seconds, making even complex operations easy. One set of doors requires you to push and pull the lock, twist it back and forth and press buttons, and where other games might prompt you for a series of button presses, here it’s a series of natural flicks on the right stick.

Apart from the slightly off putting graphics at the very start of the game there is very little to fault, although the game could do with some optimisation. It takes ages to load and occasionally stops to load mid-game, during which the screen freezes and you lose the tense atmosphere. The frame rate also has the odd hiccup and slows to a crawl, but thankfully this doesn’t happen very often.

What’s Good:

  • Engrossing story.
  • Deeply affecting, terrifying, and intelligent.
  • Can look and sound spectacular.
  • Will really make you think.

What’s Bad:

  • Occasional loading breaks the atmosphere.
  • Frame rate judders now and then.

I’ve never played a game that’s affected me as much as SOMA, and to be honest I’m not sure I want to ever again, although I’m very glad I did. It has the DNA of movies like Alien, 2001, Sunlight, and Event Horizon, with a splash of the original Dead Space and Bioshock, but brings plenty of new ideas to the table. It makes you think about what it means to be alive, and indeed how you classify life, and is a brilliant example of just how far video games have evolved.

Score: 9/10

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23 Comments
  1. Liam
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    After the disappointment that was Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs from the Chinese Room taking the reigns from Frictional, it’s great to hear they’ve returned themselves after 5 years and produced yet another defining horror game. Will definitely check this out on PC.

    On another note, I didn’t know you were a horror fan TC?

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 14:55.
    • Youles
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      I didn’t realise either, although makes sense now since TC did The Evil Within and Until Dawn reviews too.

      Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:19.
      • Tuffcub
        On the naughty step.
        Since: Dec 2008

        I like proper horror movies, and schlocky horror movies (Nightmare on Elm Street etc). I can’t stand torture porn tho.

        Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:34.
      • Youles
        Member
        Since: Feb 2011

        I’m with you on that!

        Good review btw, I’m very tempted now. Just bought so many games recently!!

        Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 16:00.
      • wonkey-willy
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        perhaps give midget porn a go?

        Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 09:22.
      • bunimomike
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        I don’t even know who you’re replying to and I still approve of your comment. :D

        Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 09:33.
  2. matthangzhou
    Member
    Since: Sep 2010

    Sounds amazing. Will look up pick this up at some point. Is it a full price game?

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 14:57.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      No, somewhere round the £20-£30 mark I think, the Steam price is 28 euros.

      Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:37.
  3. double-o-dave
    Member
    Since: Nov 2008

    I wasn’t too interested in this, but after reading the review I’m tempted to give it a go.

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:11.
  4. MOVE
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    Damn! All these heartbreaking stories and sadness in abundance. I’ve already played two wonderful indie download games this summer, which contained those elements. Not to forget Two Brothers, Papo and Yo, Valiant Hearts.

    But still, the whole existentialism approach and the emotionel experience this game seem to contain – I suppose I just need it.

    Great job with the review and not spoiling anything. :o)

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:15.
  5. Dave Irwin
    Member
    Since: Jun 2015

    Fantastic review. Will be sure to give it a shot at some point.

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 15:54.
  6. MrJimmy
    Member
    Since: Forever

    Also on the tempted list, nice one Tuffcub

    Comment posted on 21/09/2015 at 22:14.
  7. Andrewww
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    If I remember your judgement of Alien:Isolation correctly, you cannot appreciate a masterpiece in horror gaming, if you have one in front of your eyes. Still, this review sounds interesting, to say the least. Might be just the game for me.

    Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 01:04.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      Thank god you didn’t set out to offend with the first sentence of your comment. :-\

      Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 09:09.
      • Andrewww
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        I did not ‘set out to offend’, but thanks for pointing out my comment could be misunderstood that way.

        Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 17:04.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      My hatred for Alien Isolation stems from the fact that a fully grown woman cannot jump over a knee high barrier. This is stupid, and completely pulls you out of the immersion.

      You can jump in SOMA. As far as I recall there is never any need to, there are no platforming bits, but you can still jump, so when a grubbly monster is chasing you and there is a chair in the way, you can leap over it, LIKE A NORMAL PERSON, rather than have to run around it, like a badly designed computer game character.

      Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 09:59.
      • Andrewww
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        Oops, the comment below was meant as a reply to you…

        Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 21:29.
  8. Andrewww
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Hope you were not offended, wasn’t my intention, sorry for my harsh comment late last night.
    However, I still find it a completely absurd requirement that a game character would have to offer all sorts of specific activities, which are not needed in a game.
    You cannot drive a car in Mirror’s Edge. Would that be reason enough to judge it badly?
    Alien:Isolation is a stealth horror game. If you can appreciate the atmosphere and immerse yourself in it, which is entirely subjective, you don’t jump around and party, but sneak, hide and try not to die.

    Comment posted on 22/09/2015 at 21:27.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      No not offended at all matey.

      My point is, if this (Alien Isolation) was real life, you would do everything you could to escape from a Xenomorph who is about to suck your brains out. You wouldn’t stop because there is a traffic cone in the way, you would jump over it. The fact I can’t pulls me right out of the game and ruins any immersion the first person view gives me.

      BTW, I remember that to escape a gribbly thing In soma, I ran in to an office, stood behind and L Shaped desk, and then as it came round the side of the desk, I jumped on the desk and then straight out the door. I escaped because I did the natural, human thing to do. Ripley would have been dead because she can’t get her feet off the floor, because she is a computer game character.

      Comment posted on 23/09/2015 at 11:27.
      • Andrewww
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        Good you were not offended. :o)
        But, I fully disagree with you.
        Simply because Alien:Isolation is just much more realistic than that. Jumping over a table and running away?
        From an alien?
        The moment you run, jump or do similar noisy things, you are dead. That is realism.

        Comment posted on 23/09/2015 at 15:54.
  9. matthangzhou
    Member
    Since: Sep 2010

    I picked this up on release after TCs recommendation and cannot rate it highly enough.

    It has the most engrossing story I’ve ever come across in a game. The questions it poses I find myself explaining and debating with my wife.

    As mentioned in the review the loading and optimisation is a bit pants but other than that it is a perfect slice of gaming and terrifying at points when played in the dark with headphones on.

    I just wish they’d made an easier or monster free version as its a story that should reach as many people as possible but the horror genre will limit its appeal.

    This has turned into a bit of a weview – but if anyone is reading this review after release please do buy it!

    Comment posted on 28/09/2015 at 08:55.
    • Tuffcub
      On the naughty step.
      Since: Dec 2008

      This makes me happy. More people need to play it just so I can talk to someone about THAT ending!

      Comment posted on 02/10/2015 at 10:31.
      • matthangzhou
        Member
        Since: Sep 2010

        Exactly! And now we’re talking about the game it’s got me thinking about the questions it posed again.

        Comment posted on 02/10/2015 at 14:16.
SOMA
  • Developer:Frictional Games
  • Publisher:Frictional Games
  • Platforms:PS4,PC
  • Release Date:22/09/15
11 hours ago
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