SOMA-Xbox-One-Review SOMA Xbox One Review

   15/12/2017 at 18:40       Chris OToole       0 COMMENTS. - Score 5/5
 - Survival Horror, First Person, Xbox One, PS4, PC

Review by Ror Brennan.

Two years after it first debuted on PC and PS4, Frictional's latest slice of terror finally arrives on Xbox One. Rather than the interdimensional gothic horror of Amnesia, however, SOMA opts for a near-future science fiction setting, and looks to ask questions about what it means to be human.

You awake in a Toronto apartment in 2015, in the body of Simon Jarrett, a poor sod who's recently suffered a traumatic accident. As a result, he's off to have a brain scan as part of an experimental trial; a pair of scientists have come up with a way to model the brain, allowing them to test out different treatments in a virtual setting before applying a working therapy plan on a living patient. Simon travels to the lab, takes a seat to begin the scan, and a helmet is lowered over his face before his vision fades to white.

He wakes up a hundred years later.

Clearly things didn't go to plan. Simon awakes to find himself in a dilapidated, decaying industrial area, seemingly devoid of life, with no explanation for this sudden shift. Exploring our surroundings, we discover Simon has somehow been transported to an undersea research complex in a post-apocalyptic earth; after a comet struck the surface, the members of the PATHOS-II facility became the last remnants of mankind, and set about a plan to preserve humanity. And yet, we can't seem to find any people here, just murderous robots that seem intent on stalking poor Simon through darkened corridors at the bottom of the sea. On top of that, there's some strange growth infecting everything in the station and its surrounding environs, apparently reanimating and controlling organisms for its own ends. SOMA's vision of our near-future is a reassuringly chunky, almost retro-futuristic one, which makes its setting, and by extension its fiction, broadly believable, and at this point you'd be forgiven for being reminded as much of Creative Assembly's Alien Isolation as anything from Frictional's back catalogue.

While you'll spend a fair amount of your time in SOMA creeping around creepy abandoned facilities by yourself, Simon isn't alone during his journey through the thermal plants, factories and research labs that make up PATHOS-II initiative's clutch of facilities. Fairly early on, you'll meet Catherine Chun, a former member of the team that guides you toward your objectives and engages in frequent debates on the nature of the self. You see, while SOMA can be a terrifyingly visceral experience at times, especially when being chased by the awful victims of the aforementioned infection, SOMA's true horror is more existential in nature. I really don't want to spoil the story - which is interesting, thought-provoking, and genuinely gripping, and should definitely be experienced first-hand - but much of the thrust of SOMA rests in exploring what makes us human, and where our sense of self - our very consciousness - resides. There are some genuinely chilling and unsettling moments in SOMA that have nothing to do with creepy monsters or jump scares (though there's plenty of those, too), and it's all the more effective for its undersea setting, the pressure of the unfathomable depths pressing down on you and reminding you you're almost alone in the world, often with nothing but your own thoughts for company.

Crucial to the horror experience is pacing, and SOMA is excellent in this regard, too. You're never in one place doing one thing for too long, and as soon as you start to think you might be getting a little too comfortable in any one location, you'll be whisked off to another part of the North Atlantic shelf to do something else. Like Frictional's other games, and increasingly common to the genre, you'll spend a lot of your time simply exploring the environment and hiding from ungodly terrors (you've no means to defend yourself, of course), while also solving a decent amount of puzzles. These won't tax your grey matter too hard, but you will at least need to engage your brain for a minute or two, and most are enjoyable. 

You'll also spend a significant amount of time out on the sea floor, often trudging between stations. At first, being surrounded by vast, dark nothingness feels oppressive, with your vision and hearing severely curtailed by the deep, dark depths. This feeling never really goes away, but after a while you'll start to appreciate the relative freedom, and there's a sense of (again, relative) serenity to these sections, especially as you come to realise you're rarely in any mortal danger when out in the water. Of course, there's still that sense of foreboding, that crushing dread that the game has been instilling right from the start, when Simon awoke in his apartment in 2015 and you had a sense that things weren't quite right, and it's to the game's credit that it manages to keep that tone throughout. It's never less than unsettling.

There's also dozens of documents to read and audio recordings to find that will flesh out the lives and experiences of the now-absent PATHOS-II team if you care to explore. Aiding that is a new gameplay experience called Safe Mode, which allows you to play through the game immune to its various monsters. Before playing, this sounded like an odd addition for a horror game, but having now experienced SOMA - and again, I'll point out that its horror is more rooted in existential dread than monster closets - it makes perfect sense. This is a world you will want to explore, and sometimes you just can't - if a monster's patrolling an area, you will have to sneak past, or maybe even try running and see where that gets you. My natural inclination in narrative-heavy games is to explore every inch of the world, and I couldn't quite do that in SOMA. I'm seriously considering another playthrough to experience Safe Mode for myself.

It's a world you should experience for yourself, too. If a mix of Amnesia, Alien Isolation and System Shock sounds like sweet, terrifying manna from heaven (hell?), well, why haven't you played it already?

Stars
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Better late than never, eh Ror?
 
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 156day(s) ago.
 
Enjoyed this, cheers!
 
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Looks who's back. Shady's back.
 
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Micro Machines was my favourite!
 
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i agree chris, the Aliens table makes the others look bad.. because its so goood!! but they arent that bad.. haha! ...
 
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