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Nothing gets better, down where it’s wetter. Get ready to scream.
Unlike other titles developed by Frictional Games like the Amnesia series, SOMA does not rely heavily on supernatural elements. There are many ways a sense of terror can be felt when playing a first-person horror game, and this is one of the rare examples of a game that accomplishing this without the use of guns, the undead, and demonic rituals. Although my time with the game was limited, SOMA left a mark because of how well it integrates subplots into the main narrative of the game and adds a fresh take on the mystery horror genre.
The level I was able to play though at E3 last week showcased how choice can factor into your survival as you travel through the underwater research facilities located on the ocean floor. You are a scientist who has woken up with no memory of what’s happened to you or any of your colleagues. While you know who you are and where you are, there are still things that are a mystery. This is a significant difference from Amnesia where you don’t know anything from the start and must uncover it while also slowly going insane. In SOMA sanity in-game is not the issue; how you feel when you put down the controller, well, that’s a completely different story.
I found myself particular stirred by what I was able to play. The level began with a woman speaking to my character via coms instructing me on where to go next as I navigated my way through an oddly underpopulated research base. Isolation is the basis for all of the tension; the atmosphere created by the level design does a good job of layering it on thick with suspense. While the section I played takes place indoors, you will also have to travel outside of the underwater stations at times and explore the exterior areas of the research bases.
After going through some passageways I discovered a series of locked doors which required me to turn off other systems in order to unlock the door I needed and proceed further. It's not an uncommon tactic; Alien: Isolation had a system that required you to turn the power on and off in certain areas too. SOMA found a way to make this task creepy as hell.
In order to login to the computer controlling the power distribution I had to search the level until i found a key card still attached to a dead body of a man named Carl. Since the researches in the science facilities have small neural implants in the base of their neck called Blackbox’s they are able to interact with dead bodies, hearing the last moments before someone has died. I listened to the last ten seconds of Carl’s death and chills came over me. It’s clear from what you hear that there is definitely something going on that is responsible for the missing researchers and the monsters roaming the halls. These instances act as a substitute for the more commonly used audio logs that would normally be used in a horror mystery game such as this.
Another interesting aspect of SOMA is the implementation of choice into the main story. While Amnesia: The Dark Descent may have had a variation of endings based on your actions during a specific event at the end of the game SOMA will have many choices throughout every scenario you encounter that can end up affecting how things play out. One significant event I encountered while trying to restore power to a door required me to choose which section of the base to shut down in order to have enough power. the first option was turning of a switch in an abandoned corridor where I had found the body of Carl earlier. The second option presented itself after I encountered a robot half crushed, trapped on a conveyor belt, also named Carl.
Not only were these options a means of my moving forward they also made the story far more interesting by adding a subplot. who the hell is Carl? Is he really dead? Why the hell does this robot think he’s a person? When talking to the robot you comment on his appearance which he jokes off with sincerity. depending on when you discover the dead body this makes the encounter even more fascinating with a little hint of morbidity. There’s a switch nearby that shuts down the power in the room the Carl robot was in but in doing so an electrical surge begins to fry the robot and you hear it screaming in agony as if it can feel everything.
This is the simplest solution, since you can go ahead and restore power easily and enter the next area. However, you can also choose to restore power to the room and find another section to cut power from to avoid leaving the robot in agony. These choices may not have a direct impact on the level you’re in but could come back to haunt you later on once you learn more of the story behind Carl and the other researchers. I decided to leave the power on which resulted in the robot asking me to go find a doctor... awkward.
After turning the power off in another section, I returned to the room where the computer controlling the door was, only to find a monster that looked like a hulking slab of electrical wires and human flesh coming down the stairs I was supposed to exit the room through. Your only option when encountering these monsters is to hide or distract them with objects you can pick up and throw. So in this instance I chose to ignore the easiest way forward to spare the seemingly unreal pain of a robot... only to find myself cornered by a monster that can kill me in one go. Situations like this seems to be the norm for what we can expect from SOMA.
You can unravel the mystery of SOMA for yourself on September 22, 2015, it will be available for PC and PS4. If you want more info about SOMA, I highly recommend heading over to the Frictional Games YouTube channel and checking out some of the live action videos they’ve made hinting at clues associated with the games' story.