Impressions matter when you’re engrossed with elements and themes of something to stir you up. Frictional Games, the acclaimed developers behind Amnesia and Penumbra, have exactly adapted their newest release SOMA to illuminating such features. Horror itself has seen a resurgence in the gaming community over the past few years, largely from the streamers and partly because of its expanding reach in being accessible to audiences. It could be well argued Amnesia The Dark Descent’s (2010) notorious scares lead the hide-and-run movement to where it stands now. Five years from then to now presently, Frictional Games have definitely changed their gears in approaching SOMA with what it means to being disturbed.
Labeled simply as a Sci-Fi horror tale taking place below the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, the actual story deals with emotions going above and below than just being frightened. It’s hard to think how horror can be so subjectively complex. For instance, usually when I relate horror with anything I believe it’s supposed to scare me. That’s not the case with SOMA and it is its broadly defining nature of horror that leaves lasting impressions. To be precise, the actual game covers parts which would leave me restless or agitated. However, there were situations where a sense of dread came into thinking and inadvertent questioning followed through. It exists within the subjects, characters and most importantly its intertwined themes. It is brilliantly thought-provoking in carrying such a dark narrative.
Aside from the technical issues in the occasional framerate stutters (which is reportedly fixed), Frictional Games have brought up a really memorable atmospheric setting. The underwater levels in particular are a wonderment to exploring everything around. Although there is some undeniable wandering here and there, it continually gets better as with a lot of other things, which is a striking feature the developers absolutely nailed on. I cannot stress enough how everything goes from surprisingly good to wildly great as you move forward. Plenty of moments make up the story-driven aspects of the game more impactful. It certainly would have been far more admirable to have more of those periods spread out all over but the plot makes it worthwhile even so.
While SOMA builds up slowly in the first few hours it manages to deliver serious apprehension throughout. The pacing gradually peaks as you go forward and when the story gets rolling, especially after second half, it’s insanely amazing. It does takes its time but that’s okay since the scope brings out the tension as you start zooming in. I think the sound design is better produced here, but personally didn’t feel as engaging in places as Amnesia did in its terrifying parts. Voice acting fulfils the chunk of the progression and its role is vivid in creating the characters. I wished the protagonist’s dialogue was done better to some extent but it’s a decent wrap up overall. Bits of music are scattered around in many of the parts and while it’s nothing overly outstanding it manages to complement satisfyingly to the set up of the atmosphere.
Some of the enemy variants were disappointing one way or another, though I definitely had encounters where I needed to give up on my headphones. In SOMA you will also learn to experiment and adapt to these variants of enemies. For some sight is a crucial factor and for others the sound makes all the difference. It is worth appreciating that these encounters have been designed to have you speculating the trick in avoiding these monsters in the best way possible. However as the problem was with Amnesia, a few tries ceased some of the trepidation and had me working out the solutions unfazed.
Puzzles are more or less structured consistently. Borrowing a lot from their previous works they tend to do the job in enabling you to tinker with the enviroment. There were levels where I was frustrated with figuring out some simple tasks but nothing inexcusable to stop me from continuing. At the same time, the environment was thoroughly absorbing, each site having its own particular feature that sticks out in my mind. It’s especially in the later parts where these segments are utterly gripping and make you realise what you have come to.
All things considered, the genius of the game lies with the narrative and your actions leading up to it are very well written. If you’re wondering whether you’ll be scared from playing this, ask yourself if you’re up to understand what’s meant to scare you? It’s a very different kind of appeal that doesn’t rely on shock value of the fundamentals but instead focuses on its core story to bring out the disgust and dismay inside. It’s a welcomed brand in the circles of science fiction and weird-wonderment. The underlying themes of SOMA are genuinely fearsome and its unnerving framework is a testament in making you afraid of the unknown.