SOMA Review: A Truly Scary Horror Game or Just Hype?

Is Soma Scary?, Soma Review, Survival Horror Game, Best Survival Horror Game, Soma by Frictional Games
Keep an eye on Catherine’s face in the title screen as you continue through the game.

What Horrors Lie Beneath The Dark Depths of the Atlantic Ocean?

Developed by the team that brought us horror hits like Penumbra and Amnesia is the 2015 PC horror survival game Soma.

Given the reputation of Frictional Games, Soma received an incredible amount of hype when it was announced. The anticipation only rose with the release of the first teaser trailers which promised us a science fiction themed horror experience in the spirit of Frictional Games’ previous titles.

Without a doubt, as PC gamers go into Amnesia withdrawal and seek out their next horror fix, Soma has some big shoes to fill. Only ten days after its release, Soma surpassed its predecessor Amnesia in copies sold more than three times over. The early success of the game is impressive, but is Soma truly the high quality horror experience we expected, or is it simply benefiting from the reputation of the studio? 

The preview trailer for Frictional Games’ new horror survival game Soma.

The Plot

Welcome to PATHOS-II Station. The last stop at the end of the world.

In the year 2015 car crash survivor Simon Jerrett is living in Toronto, Canada. Still suffering from permanent brain damage from his accident, Simon selected for an experimental brain scan. It appears as though Simon falls asleep during the procedure, only to wake up inside the PATHOS-II research station an unknown amount of time later.

It is later revealed that PATHOS-II was at one point the last remaining human outpost. Located deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean, the research facility and its staff survived a comet which wiped out all life on the surface. The research station itself has fallen into severe disrepair, and the staff seems to have disappeared.  The only thing resembling life on the station are oddly human voices coming from the computers.

While exploring the station, Simon remotely contacts a woman named Catherine. When he finally finds Catherine, Simon discovers that she is an artificial copy of one of the staff. In fact, Simon is also just a repurposed corpse with a computer attached. The real Simon died in Toronto shortly after the initial brain scan was taken.

The only hope that some part of humanity might survive is a capsule called the ARK. It is a satellite containing brain scans of all the research staff on the station. Loading onto the ARK is a virtual paradise where all the brain scans can reside as they float through space for thousands of years. All Simon has to do to gain a spot on the ARK is find a way to launch it into space. Unfortunately he must also constantly dodge a rogue AI which trying to keep humanity alive, and in the flesh, by whatever gruesome means necessary. 

Welcome to PATHOS-II. The last hope for humanity at the end of the world. 

The Atmosphere

PATHOS-II is currently functioning off the AI’s twisted life-support system.

Soma does an excellent job creating an atmosphere of utter hopelessness and isolation. The beginning of Soma takes us from present day Toronto and quickly transitions to the dark abandoned PATHOS-II station within the first few minutes of the game. Simon goes from the doctor’s office and is thrust into a hopeless future with no explanation or context.

The station seems to be slowly overtaken by a glowing undersea parasite. It quickly becomes obvious that the station staff is either missing, or having their life artificially extended by an organic machine. Even the fish swimming around outside the facility look as though they have been infected with the rogue AI. There are voices coming from the computers which sound strangely … human. Some of them even seem to be in pain. The player is left wondering if it would be a mercy to simply pull the plug.

Everything about the PATHOS-II station from its introduction to the end of the game reinforces the fact that this is the end of the world. Every single human is dead. The end.

A Virtual Purgatory

Is leaving him alive a blessing or a curse?

Soma shines brightest when the player takes the time to explore and uncover the notes and audio logs hidden throughout the environment. After the comet wiped out all life on the surface, the staff of the research station was confined to their labs knowing that humanity was ultimately doomed. With such a small population there was no hope that humanity could bounce back. The only hope for some small piece of humanity to survive the end of the world was to build a virtual world and launch it into space.

Eventually, a new cult emerges among the members of the staff. Each member volunteered to be scanned for the ARK project so that a copy of their minds would exist in virtual reality. Each member would then commit suicide immediately after the scan was complete. That way their true ‘soul’ could live on for thousands of years of space.

As a memory scan, Simon struggles to come to terms with the fact that the “real Simon” died decades before. Is he still human even though he no longer possesses a proper body? Is he truly alive if he is uploaded onto the ARK with the PATHOS-II staff?

About half way through the game Simon is faced with yet another dilemma. When he requires a new body in order to survive the immense water pressure outside of the station Simon must transfer his consciousness through a computer. As it turns out, when switching bodies Simon is copied rather than transferred. A fully functional version of Simon still resides in the old body. The player must then choose to either leave the other Simon behind to be trapped inside the station, or mercy kill him. That is about the point when the player truly understands exactly how dark and hopeless their situation is in the world of Soma.

Once Human, These Creatures Have Been Transformed Into Mechanical Monsters

The AI will keep its crew alive by any means necessary.

The AI aboard the PATHOS-II station has only one mission, to keep the station and the crew running. The methods by which it achieves these goals are not what the designers had in mind. When the station is thrown into chaos the AI begins to replicate itself and grow. Much of the station is being held together by a the AI’s glowing sea monster-like body.

What remains of the crew have been twisted by the AI. Clearly using undersea life as reference, the computer decided the humans would be better off with a few improvements. Some of them have been changed so much that they barely even look human. The creepy part is they still sound somewhat human, and they still believe that they are human. They can’t seem to understand why everyone is so afraid of them. Poor things. There is no way to kill them. Simon is a lover, not a fighter. The only thing Simon can do is avoid them. 

Technically speaking, Simon is also in the same boat. Only his consciousness survived to see the end of the world. His body died in Toronto a long time ago. The body he occupies for the entirety of the game is the corpse of one of the staff which has been stuffed in a diving suit. So, when you think about it, Simon is just like them.

Conclusion

With humanity dead, their legacy lies at the bottom of the ocean.

If you pick up Soma looking for in-your-face scares then you will be disappointed. While there are some truly terrifying moments, Soma is a slow burn and begins to feel repetitive around the midway point in the game. It gets to the point where there are long spans of time where the player does not encounter enemies, or any new plot devices. Soma is not the type of game that will get extreme reactions of fear at every turn like Amnesia or Outlast. This game will simply fill you with a sense of dread and loneliness from beginning to end.

That being said, the game is excellent overall. The story is intriguing and explores some deep philosophical topics without being overly dry. The encounters with the AI and its half-human creations will have your heart beating out of your chest. Even the quiet moments keep players on the edge of their seat wondering when the next monster will appear around a corner.  

The atmosphere is unsettling, and progressing through the plot will suck the joy right out of you. This is the particularly true for the ending, which is bittersweet at best. I won’t spoil it here for those of you who have not played, but let’s just say it will make you want to put down the controller and go hug a few puppies. 

The Final Verdict

What are our final thoughts on Soma? On a scale of 1 to 10, I would have to give it an 8. Frictional Games delivered exactly what they promised. They gave us a chilling atmosphere and that sense of loneliness and dread we remember from playing Amnesia.

The only aspect of the game that keeps it from getting a higher score is the fact that the story slows to a crawl around the midway point. The second act is a real chore to get through because it mainly consists of fetch quests and few new discoveries. Thankfully, the game’s ending makes it worth soldiering through Soma’s slower moments.

What were your thoughts on Soma? Did you find it frightening? Did it even come close to reaching the high bar set by Amnesia: The Dark Decent? Let us know!

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