Time played: 4 hours
Sponsored By: Mr. Rojan
Isn't that just typical? You go in for an experimental brain scan and you wake up in Rapture, being chased by a walking disco ball.
Oh well, at least the scan was free.
One thing you can say for the folks at Frictional Games: They don't let go of an idea in a hurry. Seriously, they're like a bulldog with a skateboard when it comes to stealth-horror games with disturbing audio logs. I doubt even Cesar Millan could get them to let go of it.
Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily. Some developers do very well for themselves releasing the same game every year or two. I mean, look at Ubisoft: seven Far Cry games and fourteen Assassins Creed games and they're still coining money. Why shouldn't smaller developers get some of that iterative action?
Or should I say “SOMA that Iterative Action?”
The story of SOMA involves a young man who's been in a terrible accident and suffered severe brain damage. You can tell it's severe by the subtle signals. For example, memory loss must be why he forgets to change out of his clothes before going to bed. Or the terrible life decisions, like when he takes medication prescribed by grad students in abandoned office parks. There's also the headaches, which combined with the previous symptoms suggest he just drank a lot of vodka but missed all of the fun parts.
Anyway, our hero, who is definitely sick and not simply hungover, begins the game by trying an experimental brain scan that looks suspiciously like an Oculus Rift. As you probably guessed, this goes badly. After the scan he finds himself stranded in an underwater fallout shelter full of psychotic robots who think they’re human.
Poor bastards. Sure am glad I’m not one of them.
Before long, you find yourself talking to people over the radio, collecting audio logs and, most importantly, evading capture by some sort of monster that looks like it was built out of spare parts from the clearance bin at Spencers. Looking at Mr. Disco Head is a big no-no, according to your radio buddy. Probably because if you look at it for too long it will realize you’re laughing at it and will come over to kill you.
Not that it won’t kill you if you don’t look at it. Basically the thing kills you no matter what you do, and it’s very hard to avoid. Frustratingly hard, you might say.
Which is a real shame, because the world building is superb. I haven’t been this interested in a ruined underwater city since Rapture, and on balance I like this one better. Everything makes more sense, for one thing, and I’m finding the side stories to be compelling enough on their own merits. What happened to the maintenance people? Why do the robots think they’re human? How did all this happen? Why disco balls?
Seriously, why disco balls?
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming
Whether I continue is, ultimately, not up to me on this one. I started playing it and got the obligatory hour in before my daughter asked me to start over so we could play some it. She’s been on a horror-game kick, you see, and between this, Amnesia and Layers of Fear, I’m being kept pretty busy with existential, sanity-bending nightmares.
If it were up to me, however, I’d have to think hard about whether to apply the mod to disable Undersea Tony Manero. (On the ocean floor, all cuts are deep cuts.) I’m deep into the story, but I’m not finding the running and hiding to be very compelling or interesting. Mostly I just feel like I’m getting cornered and can’t explore or solve puzzles properly. It’s similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, except that the grotesqueries in that game would eventually leave if you hid in a closet long enough. Here the monster just keeps pacing until you get impatient and it finds you.
On the other hand, if my daughter wants to find out what happens in the end, she likely won’t take kindly to removing the game part, since the jump-scares are what captured her interest in the first place. So I’ll either finish it unchanged, or not at all, depending on whether anyone else wants to see me play it.
That’s a long way of saying “maybe,” by the way.
Is it Dark Souls under the Sea?
I very much want to say “yes,” but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m just playing the game wrong.
So I guess that means the answer is, in fact, “yes.”
Seriously, though, SOMA is much more difficult than it needs to be. The monster is hard to avoid, can open doors, and can do the Hustle or the Bus Stop at a moment’s notice, before doing the Bump on your skull.
So, again, the answer to the question of whether SOMA is the Dark Souls of horrifying walking simulators is a simple yes.