SOMA is Something Unique in Gaming - Reveal Driven Drama

Shamus Young

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SOMA is Something Unique in Gaming - Reveal Driven Drama

You expect a fright fest like Amnesia, but if you judge the game on that, it's a dud. In actuality, it's wonderful. SOMA is a game interested in asking philosophical questions.

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Errickfoxy

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I was on the fence with SOMA, I'd heard it was good and I liked Amnesia, but I was wary it was another "scary" game that didn't have anything to say. But it sounds like SOMA has plenty to say and doesn't rely on the tired "monster jumps out at you" thing to get its point across.
 

IamLEAM1983

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Errickfoxy said:
I was on the fence with SOMA, I'd heard it was good and I liked Amnesia, but I was wary it was another "scary" game that didn't have anything to say. But it sounds like SOMA has plenty to say and doesn't rely on the tired "monster jumps out at you" thing to get its point across.
Which is exactly what I experienced. I started the game thinking that Frictional had themselves another hot contender for shallow YouTube fodder, but there's enough smarts packed in there, enough of a desire to explore difficult questions and play around with what they suggest, to make the experience worthwhile.

I more or less demoed the game to a cousin of mine who kept expecting jumpscares or the need to sprint back down a dark corridor to get away from various nasties, and he came out of his experience feeling relieved. The terror we experienced is more related to the concepts that are being discussed than, you know, the usual Slavering Horror That Wants to Eat Your Face.
 

DrunkOnEstus

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Errickfoxy said:
I was on the fence with SOMA, I'd heard it was good and I liked Amnesia, but I was wary it was another "scary" game that didn't have anything to say. But it sounds like SOMA has plenty to say and doesn't rely on the tired "monster jumps out at you" thing to get its point across.
Fear not, Frictional definitely took the "high road" here. If it was all about money they could have made what is known as "Pewdiebait" where boogie-boogie's pop up and you have to run and hide in a locker so that streamers can over-exaggerate and scream about it. Rather, you can tell that this is the game that they wanted to make, taking and learning from their resume to craft a dark sci-fi experience that starts slow and has real story pacing. There's times where it's "scary", but not because you turned around and a thing jumped in your face and someone startled a whole orchestra. It's all in the details, and although I'm a big fan of "traditional" horror experiences I respect that this is what they wanted to do and it really is a better decision than adding on a refinement of all the imitators of the very genre they pioneered.

The only thing is, $30 for it kinda stings. It has $60 game quality but is indie so it makes sense, and it really isn't ridiculous of them to ask as it is about 10-12 hours or so, so Ground Zeroes this is not. If you liked Amnesia, and dig sci-fi and thoughtful puzzles it's definitely worth it (and so is The Talos Principle).
 

ShenCS

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IamLEAM1983 said:
Errickfoxy said:
I was on the fence with SOMA, I'd heard it was good and I liked Amnesia, but I was wary it was another "scary" game that didn't have anything to say. But it sounds like SOMA has plenty to say and doesn't rely on the tired "monster jumps out at you" thing to get its point across.
Which is exactly what I experienced. I started the game thinking that Frictional had themselves another hot contender for shallow YouTube fodder, but there's enough smarts packed in there, enough of a desire to explore difficult questions and play around with what they suggest, to make the experience worthwhile.

I more or less demoed the game to a cousin of mine who kept expecting jumpscares or the need to sprint back down a dark corridor to get away from various nasties, and he came out of his experience feeling relieved. The terror we experienced is more related to the concepts that are being discussed than, you know, the usual Slavering Horror That Wants to Eat Your Face.
Watching it on Youtube was actually a whole lot of fun. They all go in expecting to scream for patreon money and end up in existential nightmares and quiet, solemn contemplation.
 

Dalisclock

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I'm still working through it(I'm at Theta right now) so I'm trying to avoid too many spoilers, but I really enjoyed it. I'm glad they didn't go with my intial guess what the twist was gonna be(He's dreaming the whole thing up).

One thing I really like though, besides all the existentialism, is the fact that the Pathos facility is what I wanted Rapture in Bioshock to look like AKA actually at the bottom of the ocean. Rapture tried a couple times(when the plane crashes into one of the glass tunnels at the beginning) but for much of Bioshock, it felt like I was in a dark, spooky complex with a bunch of Aquariums for windows. Pathos, OTOH, actually does feel like it's underwater, though this leads to me having some issues with the idea that they use touchscreen monitors that function perfectly exposed to water at the bottom of the ocean. Future computers are apparently a lot more robust then the ones we have now(even if they tend to look the same).
 

Blood Brain Barrier

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IamLEAM1983 said:
I more or less demoed the game to a cousin of mine who kept expecting jumpscares or the need to sprint back down a dark corridor to get away from various nasties, and he came out of his experience feeling relieved. The terror we experienced is more related to the concepts that are being discussed than, you know, the usual Slavering Horror That Wants to Eat Your Face.
But are there any of those Horrors in the game? Amnesia was too scary for me and I won't touch SOMA if there are moments like that in it. Which would be a shame because it sounds a worthwhile game even without jump scares.
 

IamLEAM1983

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Blood Brain Barrier said:
But are there any of those Horrors in the game? Amnesia was too scary for me and I won't touch SOMA if there are moments like that in it. Which would be a shame because it sounds a worthwhile game even without jump scares.
There's a few, but they're fairly sparse. I don't want to spoil the game or the plot, but they serve a clearer purpose than those in Amnesia - without mentioning the fact that they're loads more lenient. If a monster gets to you in SOMA, you black out. You wake up a little ways away from where the encounter happened and are left injured, but there's plenty of "healing spots" strewn around the maps. You only die and are forced to reload if the same monster gets to you twice. As sparse as they are, there's only two encounters in the entire game that I'd consider to be stressful. Seeing as the whole thing is about six hours long, maybe ten, I'd say you get a ridiculously generous amount of breathing room. You're meant to soak in the atmosphere, I'd say, and not spend your entire playthrough looking over your shoulder. Alien Isolation, this ain't.

Honestly, I got creeped out more by the game's non-violent encounters than anything else.
 

Saetha

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I kinda... I have to disagree with this. I found SOMA utterly boring, a disappointment with a dumb-ass protagonist on a pointless quest that'll achieve nothing.

Seriously, the ARK is entirely pointless. It'll be thirty or so people floating around in space until the equipment fails or they go mad and murder each other over and over because they're the same thirty people doomed to living for millenia in a hamster cage of a simulation. Even when we initially set out on the quest, I wondered why they'd even bother, but I guess they had nothing better to do... the fact that the futile mission to "save" humanity with the ARK continued, even as it became clear that the Wau was a far better bet (And just more interesting in general) was incredibly frustrating. Like - fuck Catherine's dumb simulation, the The Wau brought Simon back to life. It could revive humanity. It could restore the world. But the game never confronts this - the writer even admitted that he didn't think anyone would see the Wau as the good guy - so I have to say that the game completely wastes it's one chance on interesting discussion so it can piss around on Cath's pointless pet project.

The fact that the game never bothers to answer anything surrounding Ross (And that he was, indeed, so unceremoniously chucked from the story) is just a slap in the face from a game that didn't seem to know what it was doing.
 

loa

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Which choices? What consequences?
It's a railroad. Why waste time with implied consequences if your medium is a game?

I was expecting for this to be a deconstruction of system shock after seeing that "actually YOU are a robot!" is not the "twist" you are being left with but instead a foundation to build upon. You are a robot, now what actually is to a SHODAN once we got over the "us vs them, hurah" part and humanity has actually been transformed into cybernetic monstrosities?
Wouldn't The Many (here: the WAU) be your only actual escape on an uninhabitable planet if you finally manage to get over the body horror aspect that has lost all of its impact since you lost your body anyway?

There was a scene where the protagonist was having a dream of his past life after being knocked out and connected to the WAU and there was also the robot at the start of the game who was hooked up to the WAU and apparently we're meant to ask ourselves if unplugging it is the right choice or something.

However, none of that gets explored any further. After a glimpse of things that could've been, the WAU gets set back to the system shock level of spoopyscarymonsters with the depth of going "oogabooga" and then you need to hide. Then comes the ending in which the protagonist is surprised that something he literally did moments before had the exact same outcome. We don't get the option to kill ourselves, permanently hook up to the WAU, try and go to the surface in our immortal robotic body or anything and it's all kind of disappointing and shallow.
 

Biran53

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slo said:
You didn't.
Implying that apparent consequences are necessary in making choices meaningful. Sometimes the act of choosing (however illusionary) is all that is needed to get an emotional response.

And many choices never have consequences. Or, consequences that make a meaningful difference.
 

Saetha

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loa said:
Seriously! The Wau raised so many fascinating questions - is the life it creates as valid as humanity? Could it become as valid as humanity? Does the fact that they seem so horrific and monstrous to us really preclude them from being sentient life that's worth preserving? Does it even really matter what our opinion of them is, given that humanity's gone and they're probably the last chance of complex life on earth? And the Wau's seeming ability to create a virtual reality - an ARK except it actually works because you're making the original happy, not creating a copy and telling the original "Well, at least they have it good!" Frankly, given everything, I can't see how you couldn't consider the Wau to be the good guy. Sure, it's done some terrible stuff, but it's lost it's capacity to inflict anymore damage (Now that it's lacking victims) but retains it's capacity to restore sentient life.

That is what SOMA should've been about. The Wau and it's potential. I mean, I keep seeing this idea that SOMA's supposed to be subverting the idea of twist endings in horror games - but to me that sounds like trying to subvert the idea of interesting characters, or a satisfying climax. Twists show up so much in horror games because it makes the story interesting. As it is, SOMA's boring. They didn't want a twist, so they completely wasted what potential the story had. Everything's exactly as you think it is. Everything plays out exactly as you think it will. Any interesting twist or discussion is tossed aside for idiotic protagonist on a pointless quest. It's just... hollow.
 

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slo said:
And now here's a question for all you SOMA lovers. What did you feel when you actually faced the consequences of your actions?
You didn't.
And that's the problem I have with the game.
Could you be more specific? Simon does angst a lot over killing some of the robots(with peoples scans inside of them). If you wanted some kind of different ending ala Bioshock/Metro 2033(though Metros was pretty obnoxious) where certain actions were taken into account, I can see why you'd be disappointed.
 

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loa said:
Which choices? What consequences?
It's a railroad. Why waste time with implied consequences if your medium is a game?

I was expecting for this to be a deconstruction of system shock after seeing that "actually YOU are a robot!" is not the "twist" you are being left with but instead a foundation to build upon. You are a robot, now what actually is to a SHODAN once we got over the "us vs them, hurah" part and humanity has actually been transformed into cybernetic monstrosities?
Wouldn't The Many (here: the WAU) be your only actual escape on an uninhabitable planet if you finally manage to get over the body horror aspect that has lost all of its impact since you lost your body anyway?

Then comes the ending in which the protagonist is surprised that something he literally did moments before had the exact same outcome. We don't get the option to kill ourselves, permanently hook up to the WAU, try and go to the surface in our immortal robotic body or anything and it's all kind of disappointing and shallow.
There are choices, you make them throughout the game. The bigger issue that you are stuck in a collapsing base at the bottom of the ocean
on a world that implied to be uninhabitable because of the comet impact
, arguably not much you do is going to matter in the long term

It would have been interesting if WAU had been a method rebuilding the world, though as we saw, WAU seems to be able to create zombies and put human brain scans into robots, which doesn't work very well(it worked better with Simon because his body was closer to human then the others,and it was also like a day for him).

As far as the ending, notice even Catherine calls him out on the same thing. I don't think it was so much "I can't believe this happened" but "I was really, really hoping it wouldn't happen" and then despair hit him full force(especially since now he truly was out of options, other then waiting to die). Interestingly, if you stick around past the credits, you see the flip side.
 

StoleitfromKilgore

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@Dalisclock:

Somebody tried to explain Simon's reaction on the frictionalgames-forums. Basically, Simon was always the copy. He was the one who carried over the two times before. He simply couldn't imagine that it could happen the other way around.
 

Xerosch

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I finished the game yesterday and wasn't impressed at all - and I was prepared to not look at Soma as a horror game. I found little to none of the challenging thoughts most spoiler-free reviews I've read advertised.

None of the themes discussed are new, the conclusion completely anticlimactic. The second things get interesting it ends. Just imagine where this could have gone if the two pairs had met...
Underwater-Simon meeting Arc-Simon, Catherine realising the limits of her Omnitool existence versus her Arc copy, how people with eternal life spend their time, the influence of a perfect world (where nothing changes), the grudge of the people who got copied but wanted to stop the ARK...
 

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Saetha said:
loa said:
Seriously! The Wau raised so many fascinating questions - is the life it creates as valid as humanity? Could it become as valid as humanity? Does the fact that they seem so horrific and monstrous to us really preclude them from being sentient life that's worth preserving? Does it even really matter what our opinion of them is, given that humanity's gone and they're probably the last chance of complex life on earth? And the Wau's seeming ability to create a virtual reality - an ARK except it actually works because you're making the original happy, not creating a copy and telling the original "Well, at least they have it good!" Frankly, given everything, I can't see how you couldn't consider the Wau to be the good guy. Sure, it's done some terrible stuff, but it's lost it's capacity to inflict anymore damage (Now that it's lacking victims) but retains it's capacity to restore sentient life.
The Ark was pretty much "We're all screwed anyway, might as well finish what we started", as well as the vain hope they could get some kind heaven on the Ark instead of hanging out in the hell that is Pathos 2. Even simon is initially skeptical and eventually decides "Well, it's not like I have anywhere else to go or anything else to do", it's mostly Cathrine pushing him that gets him to come around. What it might do is preserve a few human minds for a couple thousand years, which if not great, it certainly the best the last of humanity could hope for at that point(unless the surface isn't as uninhabitable as it looked from space).

WAU, on the other hand, has a lot of potential, but isn't really able to create anything useful. Like Catherine says, it's like Cancer, albeit with some kind of bizarre intelligence. However, all of it's attempts to preserve humans resulted in zombies, robots that think they're human(despite all evidence to the contrary) and Simon(who is basically a wired up corpse in a diving suit held together by structure gel). Despite simon being the most sucessful so far, it's questionable how viable he would have been long term. Very little that appears "sentient", not the mention a lot of the ones left alive sure as hell didn't look like they weren't enjoying being kept alive(The one woman who was wired up and kept alive through an artificial set of lungs(outside of her body) sure as hell didn't look happy).
 

Saetha

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Dalisclock said:
The Ark was pretty much "We're all screwed anyway, might as well finish what we started", as well as the vain hope they could get some kind heaven on the Ark instead of hanging out in the hell that is Pathos 2. Even simon is initially skeptical and eventually decides "Well, it's not like I have anywhere else to go or anything else to do", it's mostly Cathrine pushing him that gets him to come around. What it might do is preserve a few human minds for a couple thousand years, which if not great, it certainly the best the last of humanity could hope for at that point(unless the surface isn't as uninhabitable as it looked from space).
That's what I figured. It's why I went along with it at first. But then we learned more about the Wau, and it seems so odd that the story's gives it such awful treatment. The Wau and it's potential is never brought up by any character, it's diminished and ignored by quite a few - It's hardly afforded any resolution, much less a resolution befitting one of the most fascinating and philosophical points in the game.

Dalisclock said:
WAU, on the other hand, has a lot of potential, but isn't really able to create anything useful. Like Catherine says, it's like Cancer, albeit with some kind of bizarre intelligence. However, all of it's attempts to preserve humans resulted in zombies, robots that think they're human(despite all evidence to the contrary) and Simon(who is basically a wired up corpse in a diving suit held together by structure gel). Despite simon being the most sucessful so far, it's questionable how viable he would have been long term. Very little that appears "sentient", not the mention a lot of the ones left alive sure as hell didn't look like they weren't enjoying being kept alive(The one woman who was wired up and kept alive through an artificial set of lungs(outside of her body) sure as hell didn't look happy).
By what definition of sentient? By what definition of human? By ours? Does our definition matter anymore, given that humanity's wiped out and won't be coming back? We never see anything from the perspective of the Wau's minions, and yes, trying to murder us the whole game is kind of a dick move. (Although given the Proxy in Theta shoves you into the Wau's growths, which give you the hallucinations to begin, it seems like it's trying to preserve people) But on the other hand - can we really call them zombies, just because we don't understand them, their motivations, any possible sentience or intelligence they might have? "Being human" isn't an arbitrary gold standard of existence now, it certainly wouldn't be in a theoretical future where humanity's gone.

And besides, the Wau's improving. It's only been off the rails for a few months, and in that time it's progressed from from just shoving people into robot bodies without reason, to making things like Simon and Catherine. After all, Simon is one of the latest to be created, and one of the most human as well. Given time, the Wau could improve further. It could find a perfect solution, where they retain their humanity and are viable long-term. It could bring back all the scans it has, and maybe even figure out to replicate new ones. As for the people in the structure gel - we never really speak to them. We only speak to Anne, who doesn't seem to have been complete consumed yet (Or, for whatever reason, the Wau refuses to completely consume despite taking in healthy individuals in Theta. Maybe the gel's different there because of what Akers did.) All those others we find trapped in it? They're probably happily hallucinating of a perfect world, just as Simon was for the brief moments he was in there.

And just... why not let the Wau inherit the Earth? What's there to lose? Anything worth preserving's gone. But with the Wau, there's a chance of getting it all back - or at least, creating something of equal value, if you can accept the idea that inhuman does not mean invalid.

It's such a fascinating question, and the game completely wastes the chance to ask it.