Frictional Games may not be a household name within the gaming community, but if you’re a fan of horror, then you’ll certainly know who they are, or at the very least what they are known for.
After joining forces and setting up shop in 2007, Frictional Games have given us multiple tales from the Penumbra universe, delivered the frightening spectacle that was Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and in more recent times they have taken players to the depths of the ocean floor with SOMA.
Until now though each of these games have found themselves in a state of exclusivity away from Xbox. But now that’s changed, and SOMA has joined us here on Xbox One.
The story of SOMA puts players into the eyes and ears of recent car crash victim Simon Jarett, a man whose injuries have left him with severe and life-threatening brain damage. With nothing to lose, and only limited time left to live, Simon agrees to undergo an experimental brain scan under the control of university graduate student David Munshi, who hopes to use the scan to help in his work as he tries to find a way to reverse and cure the brain damage. But after Simon experiences a blackout during the scan, he finds himself waking onboard the abandoned deep-sea research facility of PATHOS-II in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The year is 2104 and you’re now in the only place yet to be wiped off the face of the earth after a comet impact… and it doesn’t take long to realise this is no standard research facility.
For many of us, the thought of being entirely alone in the world, in a time we don’t know and away from everything we’ve ever known is one that would probably be up there with the scariest things imaginable. In SOMA however, this is presented as just another issue along the way in this dark and dreary showpiece, with the more pressing issue proving to be finding out how you got here in the first place. You will also need to provide aid to Catherine, a deep-sea drone who you meet along the way, as you hopefully save the last remnants of humanity and ensure you can finally get away from the cold, dark confines of the ocean floor.
SOMA is indeed a horror game, but it isn’t exactly the type of horror we’ve gotten used to over the years.
For those who haven’t yet heard much about the latest horror adventure, it would be easy to think of it as just another predictable addition to the genre, especially if you were to take in the fact that a vast part of the game contains weird mutated monsters that players must avoid if they hope to make it to the end of the game alive. To do so you’ll need to navigate many tight and darkened corridors whilst feeling the general essence of impending doom around each corner. Without looking any further than that, you may well write off SOMA as just another typical cheap thrill, but even with the many grotesque looking abominations that are manifested throughout PATHOS-II, SOMA is much more than just the monsters and the atmosphere. Sure, they certainly add an element of fear to the game, but it’s not the monsters that bring the fear factor that makes this game special – in fact, I’d go as far as to say that even with the enemies taken out entirely, SOMA would still have all the right ingredients to be a frightening experience.
And the reason it is a great horror experience is entirely down to the clever plot line and the believable and realistic effect it has on our protagonist. Simon is actually a rather dull choice of character, especially if you like them to have charm, belief and a sense of greatness about them, but even with such a boring facade, at no point in the story is he really someone you’ll grow tired of.
The story on offer however is one that manages to make even Simon’s serious condition feel like something minor compared to the real issue at hand. Whilst there are some parts of the game in which he will be found chatting away about the events that have occurred, the importance of the end goal and the slim chance that is portrayed of actually achieving it, when mixed with the constant drivels of information that can be found throughout each of the abandoned areas of PATHOS-II, do a great job of creating a story that is entirely unique and enjoyable to play through. It actually made me have a little hope that at least something would go well for our protagonist.
What I’m trying to say, is that for anyone who wants to jump into a horror game without the usual mumbo jumbo jump scares that have been repeated all too many times, SOMA has just the right blend of unnerving atmosphere and intrigue to keep you playing on, bringing together a rather unique story, which is certainly one of the better horror tales I’ve played in some time.
Away from the story and as previously mentioned SOMA is a game that takes place at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and my god does it look good. With fantastic visuals on show from start to finish, magnificent lighting that provides an extra sense of dread to each area and some well-crafted enemies, there is very little to complain about in this adventure. If I had to be harsh and mention one thing that niggled away at me after going back to spend a little more time with it, then that would be the new mode that has been introduced to SOMA for its arrival on Xbox One – Safe Mode.
As I mentioned earlier, SOMA is a game that would still give off an equally frightening adventure even without the monsters that are scattered throughout the game, and in a way Safe Mode does a great job of proving this.
You see, here we find the enemies within the game are still present, however rather than being dealt a killing blow after a couple of hits, players are now invincible to all – literally unable to die from any attack. Of course, out loud this sounds like an odd idea for a horror game, and, after spending some time with it, I realised it really is just as odd as it sounds.
In my opinion a Safe Mode makes sense if you’re just here for the adventure, and there are many people who will now be able to jump in because of its introduction, but leaving the enemies in the game for this mode is a serious mistake on the part of the developers. With a setting that builds the perfect tension, and a story that holds its own importance and fear factor without enemies, it makes no sense to leave them in. If the only real addition they bring to the game – which is to damage the player – is taken away, it leaves something that left me scratching my head at, as enemies ran towards me before running off after realising they had no effect on my protagonist.
Overall though and if you haven’t figured it out by now, SOMA is a great game that brings a perfect blend of survival horror, an intriguing story, believable characters, and the constant dread of failure – things that are all too rare these days. Whilst I don’t want to give any more away about the story, this is certainly a unique adventure that you should jump into if you’re a fan of horror and exploration.