Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
There is nothing wrong with similarity in video games. An argument can even be mean it is a good thing. SOMA liberally cribs from other games. Playing through the nine hours it takes to complete the survival horror from Frictional Games is a who’s who of great video games. The problem is the aesthetic becomes less reminiscent and more about reliance.
Initially, SOMA gets off to an interesting start. The game is about Simon Jarrett. A vague backstory explains Simon was in a car accident that left him with a brain condition. He suffers from headaches and needs to take medication and see doctors in order to live his life with some semblance of normalcy. A game about someone with amnesia who is trying to put together the pieces of their life is the foundation of many strong JRPG‘s. Unfortunately, the premise does not work here.
It is when SOMA forgoes this set up that the game loses interest. Initially, its seems as if the game will be about trying to solve what has happened. The first mission of the game is about taking medicine and making it to a doctor’s appointment. It is a mundane set up, but it is a way to get familiar with the game’s mechanics. The first problem immediately jumps out at the player.
One of the biggest complaints about “walking simulators” is how little there is to do. SOMA decides to go in the opposite direction. Almost everything can be interacted with. Much like a role playing game, SOMA invites players to investigate every nook and cranny. The difference is most of the time, very little is added to the game. It very quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.
The downside is once the game gets into the meat of the story, the player is already tired of clicking on every interactive item. There are computer terminals that provide backstory and emails that give insight into what people were thinking, but it is between all the things that do not matter. It becomes more of a chore to learn about what has happened than anything else.
The story itself becomes bogged down and convoluted. After getting to his appointment, Simon mysteriously ends up on PATHOS-II, an underwater research facility. The game immediately takes on Bioshock feel. Since this feeling never leaves, it is hard to not constantly compare SOMA to the far superior game. There is less to do, less creativity, and a weaker story that is more reliant on being confusing than entertaining.
The gameplay is incredibly repetitive. Walk down a dark corridor, listen to a robot or read a journal, and check email, is occasionally broken up by hide from enemy. This actually works for the first hour or two, but it wears out its welcome shortly after. The game is filled with simple puzzles (some of which I completed without knowing how). As is the case with many of the games of this genre, there is lots of backtracking. It is not so much that the game does a lot wrong, it just keeps doing the same thing over and over.
The voice acting is great in SOMA. Simon spends a lot of time talking to himself. He is scared, confused, and desperate. He never comes across as someone just hurriedly talking and players will feel the emotion in each sentence. There are a few voiced robots that are encountered along the journey. They even sound better than Simon. Some of them will even cause players to laugh.
SOMA has a strong pedigree that it is unable to live up to. A self indulgent story and repetitive gameplay takes almost all of the fun out of this horror game. The voice acting is easily the highlight of an otherwise average game. While it is never actively bad, the player will find they are doing things just because they are supposed to. Kinda like in Bioshock.