GSY REVIEW | PC, PS4 Monday, September 21, 2015 | 3:00 PM

Gamersyde Review: SOMA

Gamersyde Review: SOMA

After a pretty optimistic preview, we were really looking forward to playing the final version of SOMA, the new adventure/horror game by Frictional Games. After completing it last week, we can now explain why this story-driven title which hasn't forgotten that it's also a game is worth checking out. The full review, the gameplay videos and a nice little "you know" bonus await you inside, and everything we have for you is 100% spoiler free.




Just Wau

SOMA is about many things, mankind, isolation, life and death, but it's also about our past, present and future. Strong themes which will make you think hard all along the 12 hours or so it will take you to complete it. What we can say for sure is that the game has definitely left a mark on us until its very end. The underwater facility in which the story is set and where you'll be looking for answers is incredibly immersive and more and more overwhelming as you progress into it. Before we continue, we should warn you right now that we have no intention to tell you much about the plot and how it unfolds as it would be criminal to do so. The little we know when beginning the adventure should be more than enough, as after all you'll be just like Simon Jarrett, the main character. Indeed, just like you, he has no idea how he's gotten in this forsaken place. He knows who he is, where he was before, but that's about it. Now he's in this crazy situation where some hideous creatures seem to hunt him down somehow and he just wants to understand what's going on. With him, you'll slowly uncover the truth behind all this, you'll hear about men and women, about the Wau, but also about machines and the link between them and us humans in this isolated place. There will be encounters, sometimes friendly, sometimes not, but none of them should leave you indifferent.

For those who believed that there wouldn't be much variety in terms of enemies, it's not true. Frictional Games' new title is mainly focused on exploration, so you obviously shouldn't expect dozens of monsters in Pathos II, but the more you'll make your way through the station, the more horrible your enemies will get. The Swedish developers managed to find the perfect balance between exploration and necessary stealth to avoid those creatures, which means every single one of their appearance is well thought of. By the way, if you haven't watched the Creature Trailer they released last week, do stay away from it as it would spoil too many things in our opinion. You don't want to know beforehand what kind of horrors you'll have to face, at least that's how we approached the game when we reviewed it. Contrary to what we supposed in our video preview of the game, death is clearly around every corner in SOMA. The first hit will simply knock you down, leaving you with just a headache, but get attacked once more and you're down for good - and back to the previous checkpoint. Thankfully, Simon quickly finds a way to gain his health back when he sticks his finger (or more - nothing naughty there) inside a very strange looking creature which is both organic and robotic. Now that being said, as opposed to the relief you get in other games in such circumstances, this will make you feel very uneasy.



The SOMA all fears

When talking about SOMA, the first word that comes to mind is tension. Walking around what looks more like an anteroom of hell than an underwater facility is quite a nerve-racking experience. One of the game's strongest suit is that the enemies you encounter in Pathos II are mostly unpredictable. Contrary to other stealth oriented titles where enemies all have a predefined round and can rarely take you by surprise, you'll never feel safe here, as if the monster is always on your toes somehow. Even closing doors behind you won't guarantee that they won't open it to enter the room, which means you can't lock them somewhere and hope to be free to explore the area. To add to the overall tension, you have no radar to rely on, you can't see through walls either, which forces you to move very cautiously, leaning around corners (with the combination of RB/R1 and the right analog stick) to make sure the coast is free. If the awful sounds the monsters make aren't enough for you to locate them, you can also use the interferences which appear on screen when they get close - pretty much like the radio in the Silent Hill series. Because you'll never be able to defend yourself against them, exploring an area while a deadly creature is lurking around is quite something. When spotted, running away is a good solution - in the beginning at least -, but once you get to the second part of the game, the enemies are so fast that fleeing can be tricky when you don't know exactly where you're going - or how long it's going to take to open a door.

Fear is not just about the menacing monsters though, there's also the fear you are bound to feel when discovering the story of Pathos II and its implications. Some exploration sequences may be free of any direct threat, but it doesn't mean they are not memorable in their own way. The atmosphere is so incredibly immersive that you'll never feel relieved or happy to have left a hostile area. Whether you are in the dark corridors of the facility or under the pressure of the ocean in all the underwater passages, the sound design, the lighting effects and the narration itself truly are amazing. The documents you'll find (written or audio) add more depth (no pun intended) to the world imagined by Frictional Games. A world that is in perfect keeping with the dark tone of the best sci-fi novels or movies. You'll remember with a chill all those moments when you had to do something for your own sake, or when you had to make a decision even if that meant questioning your morals. It is then not fear you'll feel, but inescapable unease. As we said, free will has a bit of a place in SOMA, and that's when you can't help but take a few long minutes of reflection before you can decide what to do. We're not talking about decisions which will affect the story really, only moral implications which will be personal to you as a human being. SOMA isn't the kind of game to go easy on you, it will grab you by the throat and only let go off you when you reach the ending credits (and what follows).




Come and get SOMA

Because SOMA is also an adventure game, you'll be required to do a good variety of tasks to progress through the different stations of Pathos II. You'll have to unlock doors of course, activate different mechanisms or interact with computerized interfaces - to give you a more specific example, you'll have to superimpose two sine waves so they match perfectly by changing several parameters. Nothing too complicated as the game remains pretty linear, but some locations can be a bit bigger to explore, forcing you to thoroughly fumble through the environment in order to move on to the next area. In a way, those sequences offer a welcome relief after an encounter with an enemy, but then again, Simon never really feels safe so you should always be on your guard, no matter what. Again, the balance between every layer of gameplay means the mechanisms never get old, and there is no sense of repetitiveness as there sometimes is in the genre. As we mentioned before, the headaches you'll suffer from won't all be because of the pseudo-puzzles ((it's all very logical and realistic)) you'll have to tackle. The questions raised by SOMA regarding mankind will also join the aquatic ballet, and though not all completely fresh in the sci-fi genre, they are still interesting subjects to think about. The notes you'll find and the audio logs you'll listen to all participate to the building up of tension. More than that, they manage to bring a whole world to life, to make it believable and immersive. The conversations between Simon and Catherine feel very natural, and the relationship between the two takes SOMA close to the likes of BioShock in terms of storytelling.

As immersive as SOMA's plot is (again, no pun intended here), it wouldn't have been made possible without the excellent sound design and some solid visuals. Sounds effects are indeed very well crafted, giving each area an unsettling atmosphere, especially if you play with headphones on. Every single moan or creaky sound is like a reminder of the permanent threat that lies in the dark and it's all very effective. While we first had a few concerns about the voice acting, we were more than pleasantly surprised by the cast Frictional Games been cast hired. Apart from a few lines every now and then, it all sounds really convincing and it obviously adds to the overall atmosphere. Whether it's a monologue or a conversation (recorded or live), you'll never to skip anything. What we particularly appreciated were the added dialogs between Simon and Catherine which depend on your previous choices. Visually, SOMA may not be a stunner, but it's still a huge improvement over Amnesia. The lighting effects, the depth of field, it's all very coherent and it gives the game a unique character. The review build had some minor stuttering issues that will hopefully be sorted out with Nvidia by tomorrow, but other than that, our experience with the game was smooth. In case the problem isn't fixed for release, just try deactivating the threaded optimization in the Nvidia panel and it will reduce the stuttering a lot. All technical considerations aside, SOMA is undoubtedly one of the best surprises we've had in the past few months.



Verdict


After Amensia: The Dark Descent, Frictional Games are back with some serious arguments which will automatically appeal to science-fiction and horror fans alike. Thanks to a good sense of storytelling and a very atmospheric world, the Swedish developers have bested their previous game with quite a memorable title. By putting the player under constant pressure instead of conveying visceral fear (though the more sensitive ones should be terrified alright), SOMA may interest a wider audience than Amnesia, but it still remains a game for the brave. Although the emphasis on story is important, it doesn't mean gameplay mechanics are reduced to their minimum, quite the contrary. Those not particularly receptive to the "walking simulator genre" can rest assured that SOMA is not one of those games. In the end, we can vouch for Frictional Games' new creation and strongly advise you to give it a go as soon as tomorrow.


On the plus side


+ Fantastic atmosphere
+ Interesting and disturbing themes
+ Cold sweat guaranteed when tracked down
+ Solid voice acting
+ Great sound design
+ Pretty good length for the genre
+ Never boring
+ The need to learn/see more
+ The ending
+ It's cheap ($30/€30)


On the down side


- Could be a tad scarier
- Some stuttering issues in the review build
- That about wraps up the negative aspects

Commented Gameplay (audio/FR)
Stream available soon
Download: MP3
Commented gameplay (audio/EN)
Stream available soon
Download: MP3
Gameplay #1
Gameplay #2
Gameplay #3
Commented gameplay (video review)
Commented gameplay (EN)

All comments

Page 1 2 >>
Commented on 2015-09-21 15:21:39
This is looking really nice. Good review.
Commented on 2015-09-21 17:42:18
Any idea how the PS4 version stacks up? I hope it's well optimised.
Commented on 2015-09-21 18:06:05 In reply to AndreasZ1994
No idea, we're trying to get a copy but it will probably be after release I'm afraid.
Commented on 2015-09-21 19:34:46
Great review. Im looking forward this one for some time.
Commented on 2015-09-21 20:46:07
oh...again this chromatic aberration....I can understand it makes the whole scenery a bit more 'sci-fi'. It was ok in Alien because it reminded a bit of the old movie releases but it honestly is very uncomfortable to have in any game....
Commented on 2015-09-21 20:55:31 In reply to rogermorse
Play the game first, that's all I can say. :)
Commented on 2015-09-21 21:13:09 In reply to AndreasZ1994
Posted by AndreasZ1994
Any idea how the PS4 version stacks up? I hope it's well optimised.
Downloading the PS4 version now, will put up videos asap.
Commented on 2015-09-21 21:26:06
Ok, thanks. Hopefully it will be a good port. This their first game on console, right?
Commented on 2015-09-21 21:30:07 In reply to AndreasZ1994
As far as I know yes.
Commented on 2015-09-21 21:40:32
Interesting. But, the mention of it "needing to be scarier", and the videos, makes me worry it might still be a walking/lever-throwing bore like Alien was.
Commented on 2015-09-21 21:43:43 In reply to crookedmind
I'm not saying it needs to be, just that it could be for some players. I haven't played Alien much but story-wise I doubt it can compete with SOMA.
Commented on 2015-09-21 22:35:30
So the story is the main driving force in this game, that may be good if the story is good. How long would you say the game is?
Commented on 2015-09-21 22:43:57
Not that i know what Soma is like but all of their previous games have had plenty of puzzles to keep you busy.
Commented on 2015-09-21 23:12:09 In reply to crookedmind
Posted by crookedmind
So the story is the main driving force in this game, that may be good if the story is good. How long would you say the game is?
I think I've written a full English review. :D

Could be a little shorter if you're not as slow as I am though.

Medigo: There aren't that many puzzles in SOMA, and they're really not difficult.
Commented on 2015-09-21 23:20:02
I didn't want it to be spoiled (regardless of your disclaimer :)), so I only read up until the first video and your summary.
Commented on 2015-09-21 23:47:42 In reply to crookedmind
No spoilers at all in the article. As for the commented gameplay video, try the mp3, I don't reveal anything (but you'll have to listen to me say "you know" a thousand times :/).

PS : avoid the ign review at all costs.
Commented on 2015-09-22 04:00:01
I wonder...with several of these horror games, why no Xbox One version? Same as Ethan Carter.
Commented on 2015-09-22 10:13:09 In reply to Moonwalker
Posted by Moonwalker
I wonder...with several of these horror games, why no Xbox One version? Same as Ethan Carter.
it'll happen i'm sure. just going to have to wait a little while.
Commented on 2015-09-22 13:50:27 In reply to KORNdog
Posted by KORNdog
it'll happen i'm sure. just going to have to wait a little while.
You think so? Both of these?
Commented on 2015-09-22 14:00:44 In reply to Moonwalker
Posted by Moonwalker
You think so? Both of these?
i'd imagine so. they're indie games, unless MS have really offended them (and with their parity policies and stuff they might have), they'll want as much cash as they can get a hold of. it'll be like tomb raider. it'll be on xbone in a year, if not less.
Commented on 2015-09-22 16:42:06
Hmm. Not sure what to think of this yet. I mean i've only played for about an hour and a half, but the puzzles seem to be really lacking/simple and the robots are quite goofy. Not very scary yet, even though some aspects of it are a bit disturbing. Going to be interesting to see where the story goes though. Seems like the game really hinges on that.
Commented on 2015-09-25 18:23:36
Ok so i finished the game now. How is this not a walking simulator though? It's all about walking around, reading notes, listening to audio logs and progressing the story. Sure, they shoved some puzzles in there to make you feel like you are necessary for the game to progress, but they were all insultingly easy. Not to mention the massively stupid AI that basically forgets that you exist as soon as you hit the crouch button.

Those complaints aside though, the game is incredibly well presented and has a good story to it. Just wish they'd force you to actually think a little with the puzzles...and either completely skip the enemy encounters, or make them...well, less shit.

Overall a very good experience though, so long as you don't expect there to be much in terms of interesting gameplay.
Commented on 2015-09-25 18:35:40 In reply to Megido
Well technically, all games featuring a main character implies you're going to have to walk. ^^

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or Dear Esther are "walking simulators", SOMA isn't really in that it's not limited to exploration mechanics. The balance between the puzzles, stealth sequences and exploration sequences makes it more than what some people call "walking simulators" (an expression I hate btw, since it usually undermines the potential impact of the experience, which can be great for some players). I never felt the AI was forgetting me when I was crouching, the creatures you encounter during the second part can be a pain. It is true however that sometimes it can be a bit odd when they completely ignore you. Luckily for me though, it didn't happen much.

Now I do wonder what interesting gameplay is after all. When you think of it, I see very few games today which really offer something especially deep and interesting to play. I mean, take third person shooters for example. All you do is use cover to shoot enemies for 10 hours. I don't consider it is especially more fun than what SOMA has to offer. It can appeal to some players more, yes, but others can think it's still quite poor. I love the Uncharted series, but it's so scripted that the platforming sequences are not really interesting gameplay-wise and the gunplay isn't incredibly satisfying either. The same goes with the new Tomb Raider. I've never said the gameplay was particularly deep in SOMA, but to me, the game cannot be limited to a walking simulator.
Commented on 2015-09-25 18:49:35
Well, i'd look back at Amnesia and Black Plague and see games that actually do all the same things SOMA does, only they have more incentive for exploration, tougher puzzles, optional bits and so forth. They just offer more incentive for you to explore the world, and give you some opportunity to flip through your note book and go over your clues. Granted, enemy encounters have never been good in any of Frictionals games in general, i just felt that they were perhaps even more lacking in SOMA due to the AI being kinda dumb and the knockout-system. In SOMA you can either just dash behind a corner and crouch behind something and be totally safe, or even better, just run laps and the enemy will forget you even exist once you turn a few corners. I even had the monsters get stuck in corners and stuff. kind of immersion breaking. I think i saw the game over screen a grand total of 3 times through out the game. But i suppose it's a balance thing, the encounters weren't great in Amnesia either, where a single mistake often resulted in you dying and starting over instead.

Maybe a walking simulator is unfair to you, but i really feel they kinda dumbed the game down as compared to their previous games. And to be fair, they weren't super advanced either. But they kept it at a level where you at least felt a bit more engaged as a player. SOMA felt like a slightly interactive episode of the Twilight Zone to me. Not that that's in itself a bad thing, and in the end i enjoyed it. I just wish they'd have some more stuff for me to do while traveling through the world. Some incentive to look in the cabinets, or backtrack to check out that fork in the road.
Commented on 2015-09-25 19:02:49 In reply to Megido
There was enough incentive to me. Finding documents could only be achieved if you explored a bit sometimes. There could have been more, yes, but they clearly wanted the experience to be as smooth as possible. By putting the emphasis on narration, they chose to keep the gameplay mechanics to a minimum, but that doesn't make a a walking simulator (again, hate how pejorative it sounds) to me. All you experienced with the AI, I never did. Not in the preview, not in the review (and I have not just played the game once, I started it again on PC and PS4), so I can't have the same impression you did have.
Page 1 2 >>

About the game


What's up?
  • Tiz
    Tiz I love em both to be honest. When I start playing either of them, I'm glued for a while albeit for different reasons. (2 minutes ago)
  • Tiz
    Tiz Halo is a lot more dependent on individual skill which makes gunfights more intense and Overwatch is far more dependent on team synergy. (6 minutes ago)
  • Tiz
    Tiz As someone who has a fair amount of hours in both Halo & Overwatch, I'd say they both scratch different itches, but Overwatch has the broader appeal. (10 minutes ago)
  • jmd749
    jmd749 Nioh - New PS4 Pro Gameplay - Ogress Boss Battle! [url] (1 Hour ago)
  • jmd749
    jmd749 Nex Machina PS4 First Look Tech Discussion with amazing footage. Game looks and performs amazing. [url] (2 Hours ago)
  • amerakindesi
    amerakindesi a fan created map...easy path to success. (2 Hours ago)
  • amerakindesi
    amerakindesi id still argue that halo is a fantastic game, just that 343 needs to learn to make decent maps. after all the forge custom map creation im surprised they still haven't learned to just embellish (2 Hours ago)
PreviousNext
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood GSY is getting some nice content at 3 pm CEST with our July podcast and some videos of the Deus Ex Mankind Divided preview build. :) (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood For once we'll be live at 4:30 pm CEST. Blim should not even be tired! (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood More Quantum Break coverage coming in a few hours, 9:00 a.m CEST. (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood We'll have a full review up for Firewatch at 7 pm CET. Videos will only be tomorrow though. (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood Tonight's livestream will be at 9:15 GMT+1, not GMT+2 as first stated. (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood New GSY Live dedicated this time to Just Cause 3 on Tuesday 9:30 GMT+2 (> 3 Months ago)
  • Driftwood
    Driftwood Join us tomorrow at 10 pm GMT+2 for a new livestream. We'll be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider. (> 3 Months ago)
PreviousNext
Top stories