Content of the article: "SOMA – The most immersive walking simulator if you ignore the stealth elements, with a bonus of a thought provoking story"
Controller Type: KB+Trackpad
Hours Played: 7.0 hrs
Completion Status: All achievements unlocked / Main Story Completed
The creator of Amnesia: the Dark Descent (which I haven't played yet) Frictional Games arrives with another horror game Soma. I got this game around last year, played for an hour and got bored. Of course, I picked the game up again last week and played through the whole thing. Here's a review of the game.
First, gameplay. In the title, I said "immersive" and "walking simulator". Well these phrases are partially correct. SOMA offers two modes: the normal play mode, or a safe play mode. In safe, monsters won't attack you and so SOMA becomes an actual walking simulator. In normal, monsters will attack and you can die, which makes it a more stealthy game. I played normal of course, to retain the vision the devs want us to play in. I very appreciate the devs for adding in safe mode, there are alternative ways to make the game easier without boring difficulty settings.
As I mentioned above, I played with a KB+Trackpad on my macbook pro. That's because the game has incredibly simplistic controls. You won't need to press the right and left mouse at the same time. One thing that stood out to me is that in a normal game, let's say if you want to open a door or push a lever, a click of the button will do the job for you. In SOMA, you would need to hold down the left mouse, and manually drag your mouse (or trackpad in my case) so it acts like an actual human hand. I thought this was a clever move: it wasn't annoying to do at all, and overall makes the game a lot more immersive. This is emphasised through the simplistic UI. Ok that's a lie, the UI is non-existent. Your health is depicted through glitchy screen effects. (Warning: I think the game will cause some epileptic issues, not sure though) This overall makes the game a lot more immersive too.
Like other Frictional Games' games, Soma is a horror game. I thought the sound effects and the overall atmosphere is done exceptionally well. Like Alien Isolation, I found myself constantly listening to the sounds, estimating where each monster will be and try dodging them.
The game is set inside an underwater facility called Pathos II. First off, the setting reminded me so much of BioShock's Rapture. Still needa scratch that underwater city itch after leaving Rapture in Burial at Sea, and Soma filled in that void for me. The setting is amazing, a lot of the times you get to wander in the actual ocean. There's dust all around, underwater sandstorms. Overall, although the setting is sci-fi, it's realistic enough to make us believe there's such a place and let us fully immerse into it.
Now finally, to the most important part of SOMA, the story. I rarely find video game stories amazing, a lot of them are cliched, boring and lifeless. The last games in my "amazing story game list" are BioShock 1 (+Infinite), Undertale, and maybe add Mass Effect 2. Luckily, Soma is one of these games. While the story is good, the themes presented in the game is even better. The game is philosophical and makes you question: what is the meaning to be human?" The game gives you a lot of choices that will repeatedly make you question this.
Time for some spoiler talk. The first time I found myself questioning that, is when I met Catherine. Turns out she was a robot after all, a human mind trapped inside a robot. This makes me question whether a human trapped inside a robot, is a human at all. Sure, you can think and talk, but you're not really human? You only got robot limbs and arms. We can see this again when I met the final human alive. All she can do was sit there with life support, her final speech before her death (I decided to kill her) really touched me and hit me hard. (Paraphrased) "At least I wouldn't have to experience my 30th birthday, hooray!" This touched me a little because it's a little personal. My grandma has Alzheimer's disease. Since it's too hard to take care of her alone, our family had to send her to an elderly care center. I sometimes visit her with my mum, but I never liked going there. The whole place are just filled with old people, lying on their beds, eating liquid food and needing ventilation to survive. My dad always said, "Always invest on health before anything else. If I were to live to 100 years old, but for my last 40 years if I would need to be lying on a bed doing nothing, I rather go see god (he's Christian)." I personally think of this as well. What does it mean to be human? Is being human just lying down on a bed for the rest of your lives? This is something the game makes you think and question.
I can also tell the game draws a lot of influence from The Matrix (1999). At the end of the game, Simon and Catherine decided to launch the ARK. In the ARK, just like the Matrix, they can live in a fake world but continue living their normal lives. I know The Matrix is often a pretty heat debate, the argument of the debate is "whether you'll go to live in a fictional world, or carry on living in the real but dystopian world?" If I were to answer this question, I'd live in the fictional world. Sure I know it is fake, but sometimes the imaginary world is better than the harsh reality. I do love to hear other opinions on this topic.
Despite Soma giving you a lot of choices in the game, the game does not have multiple endings and only has one. It kinda reminded me of BioShock Infinite, you were given a lot of choices, but at the end it doesn't matter. Soma applies kinda the same theme of BioShock Infinite. Simon carrying his mind over to the ARK is a coin toss, yet the game always make it so Simon doesn't carry his mind. I think the game is trying to tell the players, no matter what you do you still can't avoid the harsh reality. Even IF Simon could enter the ARK, the last shot of the game with the spaceship fading into space containing the ARK connotes that Simon is still in the real world, his mind is just manipulated with something "beautiful". Anyways I'm still a little unclear about this, so feel free to correct me or if you have other thoughts.
In conclusion, Soma is an amazing game. With its simplistic gameplay and a story filled with twist and turns, Soma ultimately makes you question, "What is it like to be human?"
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