SOMA is a horror game on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. While I normally avoid horror games, SOMA’s addition of a “safe mode” makes this game one that everyone should experience. Normally, the monsters in SOMA will attempt to chase you down; in the “safe mode,” they are simply eerie residents of the broken world you explore.
And what a world it is. SOMA’s world feels truly lived in, with the environments feeling real and telling just as much of a story as the rest of the game. It is this story, the one told both passively through the environment and told directly through dialogue, that makes SOMA stand out among games.
Without spoiling anything, SOMA tells the story of a derelict research station named PATHOS-II on the sea floor. A unique setting, SOMA takes full advantage of the claustrophobic atmosphere of its dark, wet and enclosed spaces. Although “safe mode” takes the fear away from the monsters, there is an ever-present feeling of dread.
Alongside the enclosed spaces inside the station, walks along the ocean floor provide a change of scenery and help to reinforce just how isolated you are. These stations, although crumbling when you encounter them, feel as though they were once living places. Opening lockers and reading computer files reveals the day-to-day life on board the station, adding to the sense of decay. Interacting with the corpses that litter the stations gives you a glimpse into the last moments of their lives. These moments allow you to slowly piece together the tragic story of PATHOS-II.
Both the backstory of this world and the story that you experience while playing are among the best I have ever experienced — not just in games, but across media. The questions it poses are thought-provoking and often have implications more horrifying than the monsters scattered throughout PATHOS-II. Delving into topics such as the definition of life and humanity’s legacy, SOMA is not afraid to explore topics usually ignored by games.
The only area where SOMA did not shine was the gameplay. While “safe mode” made the game less scary, I still did my best to avoid the monsters, in order to keep a level of dread. If you do not play along, though, a significant aspect of the atmosphere is lost when the monsters cease to be threatening. Even with “safe mode” off, however, the gameplay consists mainly of running away and hiding from the monsters.
This is particularly infuriating when a monster stops you from interacting with the environment to learn more about the world. In cases such as this, “safe mode” is the better option, even for a horror fan, as the story is where SOMA shines, rather than the gameplay.
In spite of SOMA’s lackluster gameplay, its story is so incredible that it deserves a place in any game library.