Happy Halloween everyone! As we approach this holiday, it seems appropriate to look for scarier games to play, and this is one I've been waiting years for. Ever since it was announced, I was looking forward to something that would redeem the name Frictional Games from what they let the Chinese Room do to it,I and with them working alone again, I had high hopes for this title. Suffice it to say, I was not disappointed. Please step inside.
Story: You are Simon, and you are going to die. I don't mean that in the "game things will kill you" (but they probably will) or in the "everyone does eventually" way. Before the game begins, you were in a car accident and the brain damage that this included was a hemorrhage that to this day has not fully stopped bleeding. As a result, you have months to live.
But all hope is not lost, for Dr. Munshi has a new experimental form of prescribing treatments by experimental brain scan. The idea is simple. With a full and in-depth scan of a patient's brain, he can use a computer to simulate all the possible treatments and use that to find the best one. Then he can give that treatment to you as one of the first to take this option! So come on in, and hopefully this man will save your life...
Unfortunately for you, what follows is much more disorientating. Upon scan completion, the lights go out and there is no one in the room... for that matter the room is no longer the one you were in prior! What has happened and where the hell are you? These will be the first of many questions Soma will ask of you and force you to figure out. With each answer comes new and more thought provoking (if in this scinario downright disturbing) questions... but as you go further down this rabbit hole, you will find the theme of the game in all it's rather grotesque beauty.
Much like the last game this studio developed on it's own, explaining more in the review would be a disservice to the game, as discovering the plot is a big part of what makes this game's magic work. Suffice it to say, this game was masterfully written, and you will find yourself marveling at the tale Frictional Games weaved when the end credits role.
Graphics: There is seriously a part of me that wants to just say "gorgeous" and as a one-word description and leave it at that, but I just do not think that would be fair to anyone. Despite being a game made by a team of five people, SOMA manages to be one of the few games I have played so far to actually feel like it's "next generation" for the most part graphically. (If you must know the other was Halo 2 on the Master Chief Collection.) You play the game from a first person perspective with the kind of detail we honestly couldn't get before now lovingly laid over an incredibly varied world from the apartment you wake up in at the beginning to the complex you spend most of the game in (and around). And everything exudes the oppressive feel of the story and mood to the degree only the likes of Frictional Games seems capable in a horror game.
And that's before we get to the others who exist in this world with you. If you've seen the trailers, you already know you are about to enter metal mazes with robotic monstrocities that want you dead, but between the detail given them (or in some cases due to lighting, lack their of) gives them an incredibly creepy feel that most horror games can only dream of having.
And as if that wasn't amazing enough, they managed to do this recommending graphical hardware little better then what I had on this machine when I built it 5 years ago! We actually have a game here that pushed the hardware it says it needs!
But that is not to say the game looks perfect. On the contrary, it has one very critical issue... people. When you see actual people (or your own hands) those immediately date the look of the game. They fit the world well enough, but it's pretty blatant they were not done in the same level of realism the rest (and far more interesting) parts of the game were. It's also worth noting that despite a there being several monitors that are either used for communication or to display a video left behind by someone, NONE of them are actually animated. Any time you have this, its a painted image of whoever (or whatever) is supposed to be there. The result does look nice, but it also shows probably the one obvious cut-corner in developing it.
Sound: Frictional Games has always shown they know how to do atmosphere well, and to do that well at any tech level requires a serious understanding of how audio works. Their work with SOMA is no exception. Forgoing music for most of the game, you will be left to the clanking of random things out of your sight that you hope are nothing or at the very least won't come near you mixed with the gurgles, yelps, roars of pure rage and other noises that signify just how much danger you is waiting nearby. But worse yet, this game also knows how to use quiet to the same effect, often leaving you with nothing but the immediate relief that you might just be safe for a moment, even as you know it's only a matter of time till something new starts to make itself known and you will have to make yourself scarce.
Of course once you step in it the music starts to come in, cresendoing in time to how badly you are about to get thrashed by whatever it is you just pissed off and is now barreling down the corridor at you... these will be one of the two types of times you get music. The other is just to encapsulate the awe of scale when reaching a new part of the game. In both cases, the music is not much to write home about, but it's played perfectly to the tone of what's going on.
But some of the best moments to hit you in this game involve voice acting over all else. You are not alone in this world, but not everything is going to be happy to put it mildly, even when it sounds like it is (which is rare). If you are the kind of player who gets into the roll of your character, you can expect a lot of gut-punches to varying degrees, and if not, expect to feel a few tugs to heartstrings before this is done. I wouldn't call any of these characters the best acted I have ever heard, but they are expertly used.
Gameplay: If you have played Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you pretty much know what to expect for gameplay. But for those who haven't Soma is a First Person game in which you will explore various locations in various state of ill-repair. You will have no weapons of any kind, forcing you to rely on your nerve and your wits to survive and progress as you explore, solve puzzles, and outmaneuver the monstrous creatures you will encounter. Unlike their previous game, however, sanity is not a huge thing to SOMA, as it takes a much more philosophical route, using distortions in vision only to signal something harmful (or disturbing) is nearby and as an integrated health-measure (the less you are able to focus, the worse you are doing).
But that is not to say the game is going to let you off easy. While enemies do have a pre-programmed set of behaviors, they are used in a way to let them act fairly intelligent and prove a challenge, and death is not something you will forget here anytime soon. But you will still find the game fair as death will not set you too far back thanks to well-placed auto-saves throughout the game.
Bugs: While it has to be clear by now that I absolutely loved this game, to call it perfect would be a flat-out lie. There are a few issues with this game that need to be addressed and I can only hope get fixed via patches as time goes on.
- Stability Issues - I'm going to have to say it... if you decide to play this game, you will likely see it freeze a handful of times, forcing you to close it and start again. This issue would be far worse if the game was not good with auto-saves and allowing you to save every time you quit normally, creating little space for these crashes to make you replay much. Add to this that they do not seem to happen in the same place twice and this is a more of a nuisance then a deal-breaker.
- Loading times - This is a rather wierd issue, but unless you are playing off a Solid State hard drive, you are going to run into it. When you first open the game and start playing, you are in for a LONG waiting time before you can play, upwards of 2 minutes sometimes. What makes this not quite so bad and odd is that it's not every time. Not only does the game only take forever to load the first time you load your game, but the faster loading times remain when you leave the game (exiting or forcing a frozen session to close) and start it again, loading lightning fast from this point onward. That's right, as long as you do not reboot or restart your PC itself, the ONLY load time you will see slow loading is the first time you turn the game on at all and load your game. I've never seen a game do this, but seeing as that first loading time is long enough to go get a drink bring it back, and chug it, I need to note that load itself as a technical issue even as you won't see it again.
Overall: Despite the bugs in this game, I really can not sing it's praises enough. Rarely do I find a horror game that genuinely feels creepy and yet has enough there to warrant buying and playing the game for yourself at any price. Instead you usually get something more horror-themed then actually scary or something with so little you can do, you might as well youtube someone else playing it. SOMA manages to escape both fates being constantly creepy and giving you enough to do while playing that you know most are going to either see something you missed or miss something you found.
If you are a fan of true horror-survival who wants the game to actually be threatening, you are in for a treat. This game will haunt you, make you dread going forward, and yet at the same time leave you eager for more every time you leave.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2.4 Ghz processor
- 4GB RAM
- NVIDIA Geforce GTX 260/AMD Radeon HD 5750 (Must support OpenGL 3.3 or higher)
- Windows 7
- 25GB hard drive space
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- and Windows 7