Soma is a survival horror title developed by Frictional Games that submerges you inside of a devastated underwater research facility called PATHOS-2. The facility and your reason for being there are shrouded in a mystery that unravels with your progression. PATHOS-2 is an anomaly of sorts as you begin the game in an apartment located in Toronto, Canada in the year 2015.
This apartment belongs to protagonist Simon Jarrett, an individual who has suffered an unfortunate car accident that has caused bleeding in his brain. Simon’s predicament leads him to meet with a doctor who has offered to test a new form of medical treatment designed to scan Simon’s brain and determine the most appropriate course of action to cure his affliction. It is upon having his brain scanned that Simon finds himself pulled out of his familiar home of Toronto and placed inside of the foreign zone of PATHOS-2. The facility is not exactly welcoming, as it is possessed by mechanical aberrations that haunt the facility’s seemingly lifeless halls. Simon must make use of his environment as well as the tools at his disposal in order to escape this haunted facility.
Soma: PS4 [Reviewed] PC
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release Date: 22 September 2015
Price: £23.99 [Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Developer/Publisher]
PATHOS-2 is beautifully designed as you transition from the dark, bloody halls of the facility to the deep, dark ocean floor. It’s as if the organic nature of the ocean is slowly chipping away at the mechanical structure of PATHOS-2. Each station within the facility tells its own tale as you can interact with certain objects that offer glimpses into the past. These intractable objects are brilliantly used as they keep you guessing about Simon’s predicament while also helping you to grasp the direction the game is steering in.
Atmosphere is never sacrificed at any point in the game, as every part of the facility feels like a piece to a bigger puzzle as you travel from one part of the facility to the next. The environment isn’t just a showpiece though. It is something you have to interact with in order to progress at times such as when you find yourself using a chair to break a window in order to escape a room. The game has you solving puzzles to progress from location to location as well as avoiding hostile machines that hunt you down upon visual contact.
The hostile machines found throughout PATHOS-2 are a part of the mystery as you encounter these bizarre mechanical beasts patrolling the station. You’ll never spend very long glaring at them, which creates a kind of mystique around these hostiles and leaves their design somewhat up to imagination. The only issue with these machines is their lackluster AI design. They are less daunting than the game’s puzzles as they simply patrol areas with a set direction and even if they do manage to spot you, evading them is as simple as sprinting in the opposite direction or even right past them. There was no sense of challenge or dread when I faced them, which was somewhat disappointing as their designs were quite creative in most instances.
SOMA does not deliver a very satisfying horror experience, as there is no real sense of tension. Even so, SOMA shines with its beautifully crafted story that keeps you invested from start to finish. There was never a moment where the story felt like it was slowing to a halt. The various mysteries and revelations occur as you venture through PATHOS-2 until you reach the very satisfying conclusion to the game. Simon’s voice acting was the only issue with the story, not in the sense of being poorly done, but rather in the sense that it didn’t mesh well with his situation. He always sounded very upbeat even in the direst of circumstances. However, this issue is resolved through the introduction of his companion Catherine who keeps with the game’s atmosphere while also being able to play off of Simon’s character. Exploring PATHOS-2 became all the more interesting because of the banter between these two characters as their relationship quickly became a core element to the success of SOMA’s story.
SOMA is not a horror game even if it was intended to be one. This doesn’t mean SOMA isn’t one of the best gaming experiences of this year. You’ll find yourself trying to solve the mystery of PATHOS-2 and once you reach the game’s conclusion you’ll find yourself tackling some very existential questions. The dialogue between Simon and Catherine will give a sort of a life to the dead atmosphere of PATHOS-2. The dull enemy AI may slightly ruin your experience as well as frame rate issues that are persistent during the ocean portions of the game, but do not allow these issues to stop you from exploring a rich world and experiencing its even richer story.