SOMA, the new horror game from Amnesia and Penumbra developer Frictional Games. This time though, it’s got a science-fiction bent instead of the all-out creepy asylum vibe of previous games. It’s chilling horror done right; the sort of lingering, psychological stuff that sits in your brain, wriggling in your subconscious for ages afterwards, not the cheap-thrills jump scare horror that’s become so popular. And it’s good. Really, really good.
So say critics, who’re calling it one of the best stories in games this year.
I came in expecting something similar to Amnesia, just in a terrifying new location, but what I found is an intelligent game that forced me to think and contemplate ideas as only the best sci-fi is capable of doing. It may not stir the hordes of wailing YouTubers looking for the next best haunted house, but SOMA succeeds at crafting something much more meaningful in a genre that’s deserving of more than just simple jump scares.
This is not just another horror game. It’s a science fiction story with horrific shades, a game that ponders the human condition in an industry where “the human condition” has become an awkward dead horse of a phrase. A horror game that, curiously, would have benefited from a little less horror.
Simply put – there needs to be more games like this in the world.
That Frictional has been able to take such an over-used concept as exploring an abandoned research base, populated by bloody corpses and monsters, and turn it into a sombre philosophical adventure that is also exciting and even funny, is quite the achievement. It may not move the genre forwards much in terms of mechanics, but it spins a story you’ll be glad to have experienced.
Though jump scares are fun in the moment, they don’t last. The best horror sticks with you long after the credits roll, an uneasy feeling that lingers uncomfortably in the moments before you fall asleep. I’ve been thinking about what happened in SOMA for days now, especially the game’s closing minutes, and can’t let it go. Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. If that’s not a sign of success, I’m not sure what is.
SOMA gets everything right about the survival horror genre. It’s like someone created the perfect video game mixtape — a little bit of abandoned underwater atmosphere from BioShock, detailed environments a la Gone Home, and (of course) the frenzied monster mechanics from Amnesia. Even if you dislike non-combat-oriented games, I dare you to give it a try.
SOMA is a sustained exploration of an original and thought-provoking idea. The concept of artificial intelligence has been explored by lots of science fiction, so it isn’t unique in that regard, but it makes particularly intelligent use of video game conventions to present those familiar ideas in new and surprising ways. At 12 hours long, the story feels a little stretched, especially when so much of its gameplay feels less original than its ideas. That’s not to say it’s scares aren’t effective or intense but I found myself drawn to its quiet moments in which its philosophical yet unpretentious storytelling is allowed to breathe without interference from unintuitive puzzles and monsters that can’t be manipulated.
It’s a good time to be a gamer if you like Sci-Fi horror. This, along with the recently released Stasis means gamers who love Sci-fi settings and regular changes of underwear are well served. SOMA is out now on PC and PS4.
Last Updated: September 22, 2015