Monday, September 28, 2015

SOMA: Horror Done Right

Minor story spoilers ahead, be wary, traveler.

     Frictional Games - the creators of the Amnesia and Penumbra series - released their newest horror game SOMA this week, and it is damn good. Though it doesn't follow the market by filling their game with jump scares and gore or terrifying pursuers to try and scare you, SOMA uses psychological horror and the game tackles some hard-to-portray topics very well. From a traditional "scary" sense, this game is good, but from a truly unsettling and frightening point-of-view, SOMA stands out above the others in this genre, though the game does have a few cliché horror tropes.

     Conveying a truly unsettling feeling is something a lot of horror games do wrong, but SOMA does so, so right; the setting in this game is really great. Going under a brain scan helmet in a present day "doctor's" office and waking up in a broken down, submerged lab sometime in the future is only the beginning of the creepiness. You soon learn that you wake up 100 years in the future, where humanity is all but wiped out and whatever people had remained after the disaster had their consciousness transferred into robots. What remains of this facility, though, are decrepit hallways, sinister AIs, and delusional robots - in one case, you meet a robot that actually thinks it is still human. As you go from sector to sector with your AI friend Catherine, avoiding the creatures that are out to get you, you learn more and more about what happened, why everything went haywire, and your fate as one of the last parts of humanity.

     The story of this game isn't something to be taken lightly, it some big issues that can be hard to portray, self-identity and humanity being the ones that stand out. The game has multiple situations in which you have to make big decisions that, at least in my case, you will question whether or not you did the right thing. Without spoilers, I made a choice that I seriously felt bad about, but couldn't take it back or reverse it. You often question "Is being a sentient robot that was a human actual humanity?" "Am I human?" The setting helps convey a story as well as the dialog and random notes/pictures you can inspect. Broken, rusted hallways, decrepit rooms that have been deserted for who knows how long, broken down, and moss covered AI just wondering the depths of the ocean show that, at one point, there was a thriving research community in this once great facility.

     SOMA is at it's best when you are not being actively pursued by some grotesque monster or a shambling robot though the scary parts are truly unnerving, exploring the dilapidated lab is where SOMA shines. Finding out more and more about the story and the fate of humanity and what will become of you. Some of the tropes take away from the experience to me. Oh, you're gonna get on this elevator? Well, I hope you know something will go wrong. Just completed an objective despite being tailed by an enemy? What a great time for a power outage. Those are minor complaints, though.

     Overall, SOMA is by far my favorite horror game, reasonable scares, a great story, and an amazing atmosphere make this game stand out. It stands out not when you aren't being pursued by a crazy robot, but when you are just exploring the history of the facility and what went wrong.

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