Have You Played…SOMA?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Horror-fest SOMA [official site] is a game full of tricks and I’m still a little bitter about it. It’s not that those tricks were cheap by any means, just that they so effectively managed to surprise me again and again.

At first, it was the trick of its premise, which immediately pulled me in and refused to let me go. And then there was the endless tricks of its story, and the way it all unfolded with a kind of dread that was more effective than most of the horror games I’d ever played. SOMA captured my imagination better than most games ever have. I was hopelessly bound by the need to learn what happened next in the story. And that’s when SOMA played it’s greatest trick by making me believe that beating it would release me from the torturous hell of its dilapidated depths. It didn’t. I stayed awake for nights after just thinking about that ending.

And really, that’s why I love SOMA so much. It was truly an experience in a way a lot of games fail to ever be. And the bittersweet final moments are just as painful knowing that I’ll never be able to feel that sting quite as vividly as I did the first time. It’s still a great game, but SOMA will never make my insides knot as intensely as the first time I pulled the plug on what was effectively a human being. Or was it? I’m still debating that in my head.

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  1. yogibbear says:

    This game really could have been a coinflip for some ;)

    • Razgovory says:

      I thought the game was okay, not great. Started getting dull halfway through. I’m not a particularly clever man, but I did figure out what happened immediately when I woke up in the “scary place”. I also found the main quest sort of pointless since the characters talked as if it will save humanity but clearly would not. The main monster was interesting and the atmosphere was good, but the biggest problem is the developers still haven’t figured out enough things for you to do. Alien:Isolation worked for me much better, because despite the familiar setting you could use tools to avoid monsters and even had ineffective weapons.

  2. wheeb says:

    I think what struck me most about Soma was how it felt like you were interactions with the world felt so genuine. Not just things like turning valves etc (which has been done before) but interacting with the various systems within the world, the computers, the buttons and levers. Everything felt right.

    I think the fact that there was a mod to remove the monsters and just enjoy the environments is a testament to how well the constructed their world.

    • mavrik says:

      That! Starting up the tram thingy by manually pressing all the switches and buttons was incredibly satisfying.

  3. MrFinnishDude says:

    Soma was a great game, its grade A Sci-fi, the not psychological horror elements felt a bit tacked on though.
    The ending was fantastic, but christ was Simon a goddamn idiot. I was screaming at him along with Catherine because that åwas so out of place foolish of him.

    • maninahat says:

      He is really thick. Not just fish out of water thick, because he doesn’t even ask the kinds of obvious questions a fish out of water would ask, but the kind of thick who (not going into spoilers) will repeatedly fail to learn from a fairly big plot point that keeps surprising him whenever it comes up.

      • haldolium says:

        And sadly that is a major point why SOMA isn’t as great as could’ve been.

        The shallowness of his character and dialogue (along with others) really put a damper on the otherwise great game.

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        Maybe that was because he has brain damage? Maybe it’s both.
        SOMA, a philosophical game where you play as a very thick man WITH brain damage.

        • haldolium says:

          Sadly the game doesn’t provide any kind of coherent explanation for Simon being that stupid.

          • dethtoll says:

            I like to think of it as he’s clearly never read any sci-fi, ever.

          • Geebs says:

            Apart from being an experimental scan of a brain-damaged person stored in a potentially unreliable medium for a couple of hundred years and then suddenly jury-rigged back to life in a totally unfamiliar and extremely hostile environment, after the apocalypse, by a system that doesn’t really understand life?

    • Javier says:

      The way I justified this in my mind in order to not have to accept that this brilliant game may not have been entirely perfect was that Simon had naturally, in his subjective experience, won every coinflip. The effect copying his mind had every time was that of effectively transmitting his consciousness. So by that point in the game he wasn’t expecting to be left behind because that had never happened to him.

      Despite Simon’s reaction, I loved the ending. I loves everything about the game.

      • ChrisGWaine says:

        I would go as far as to say that I think the majority of people would probably also struggle to understand if they were put through Simon’s subjective experience. I also think it was more fitting for the tone of the story to have a protagonist who reacts like that.

        • TΛPETRVE says:

          But the problem is that it makes no sense. It’s not Simon who “loses the coin toss”, it’s the player. Whenever a mind upload is done, both copies of the protagonist exist at the same time, and whenever you make progress in the game, it’s simply because the game immediately passes you on to the next copy, rather than lingering in the original body that was left behind. So it’s nothing but a really badly contrived narrative technique that pretends to be clever.

          • ChrisGWaine says:

            No, it does make sense. The narrative choice for how the player perspective shifts is appropriate and so is the reaction of each version of Simon. It is not badly contrived, but well contrived.

          • Javier says:

            It does make sense, and the fact that you too are having trouble grasping the concept works in my favor when arguing Simon could have had the same issue. You claim we as the players are the only ones able to experience the transition from body to body because the player needs to be able to move forward. Except that’s not true, because new Simon has, every time, exactly our same experience: that of being transferred from body to body. Think about it, the very moment you jump into the new body everything that you just did with your previous one is no longer nothing but a memory. That’s the case for both Simons. New Simon retains that memory, just like the old one. But it’s exactly the same with you playing the game. The moment you transition from body to body as you play the game everything that happened seconds ago it’s all now a memory. New Simon has only existed for a few seconds, but his original memory carries over. The moment he starts existing he doesn’t feel any different to old Simon, because effectively they are the one and same person. He thinks seconds ago was somewhere else and now feels like he’s just jumped into a different body. Same thing happens a few times. You follow new Simon every time, so by the end the Simon that launches the Ark loses for the first time the coin flip. After winning it every single time, it took for something different to happen to actually realise that, yeah, something different can happen when using the machine: you can be left back.

  4. Legion1183 says:

    I really enjoyed the game and it kept me coming back to it every chance I got until I finished it. Simon is an idiot, tis true, he really didn’t get it until the end, many facepalm moments. The ending was great and had me thinking about it for a few days after, like a great, meaningful game, novel or film does.

    Aside from the game play and story line, the environments and atmosphere were great, lighting was beautiful and voice acting was very good too. An all round enjoyable game, although as Steven says in the article it’s one of those games you play once and won’t be shocked or surprised by it the second time round.

  5. flashlight_eyes says:

    Wait i thought RPS gave soma a pretty bad review. I think it was your review that stopped me from buying the game. Would those of you that have played it recommend it? I love the writing in Amnesia and Machine for pigs

    • MrFinnishDude says:

      If you love the writing in those games, definitely go for it.
      I would consider the games writing to be on par with many great works of literature I’ve read in the past, and it sort of keeps haunting you after you’ve played it.
      The scenery and design are superb and beautiful, the “gamey” parts can be a bit “meh”, but they’re alright.

    • haldolium says:

      Even though, the game left a bad aftertaste because of the above mentioned points, I’d still recommend it. The atmosphere is great, the philosophical subject it tackles too. It’s not a bad game, it just wasted some potential given it’s unique approach.

    • Javier says:

      It’s absolutely brilliant. Play it.

    • Pilchardo says:

      I actually think the review here undersold it. SOMA was probably my favourite game of last year. Atmosphere in spades, a story that’s like a page-turner you won’t want to put down, philosophical musings, incredible sound design, and so, so disturbing. I’m just waiting to have forgotten enough of it so I can play it again…

    • Asrafil says:

      The writing may not be as good as A Machine for Pigs but the game, overall, is a great horror experience. Felt fresh for me.

    • Donjo says:

      I thought it was incredible, one of my favorites this year. Highly recommended if you like 1. Underwater Base Complexes 2. Dystopian Sci Fi Horror 3. A Rollicking Good B Movie Story and 4. Really Satisfying Game World Interactions

  6. amcathlan says:

    I share the view expressed in this article fully, except…one thing. WAU. Either I missed more than a solid handful of story bits and data in my two playthroughs, or the amount of time spent exploring this interesting concept was entirely underwhelming. The “It would take too long to explain how machines think”-quote is not the extent, but close to it, of the meat that was dished up on the primary antagonist. My frustration by the end of it was almost a physical thing.

  7. dethtoll says:

    As a noted hater of the “I Have No Hands And I Must Wank” genre of Amnesia clones, SOMA is the only one to: A) capture my interest, 2) keep my interest, D) justify my interest. Its horror bits are quite spread out and the story is brilliant.

  8. MiddleIndex says:

    I loved this game

  9. noxohimoy says:

    The game promised too much, but failed to deliver.

    It had many interesting sides, like physics were you could put a chair in a door, to stop it being automatically closed as it was supposed.

    But the game failed to take advantage of that world to set interesting puzzles. It was too short, and filled with uneventful corridors and slow paced submarine walks.

    I loved the bits that made me remember Bioshock. I loved when I tough that it was a choice between killing a sentient being or looking for better alternatives. But it never delivered. In the end, I was just a cog in the linear script. Not able to find my own solutions or making my own choices, unless hacking the game.

  10. Toadsmash says:

    Fucking hell, people. Don’t talk about and spoil one of the biggest plot twists of a game in an article that’s obviously intended for people who haven’t played it yet.

    The internet is shameless as always.

    • Toadsmash says:

      (by which I mean, in the comments section, if that wasn’t obvious, sorry Steven!)

      • MrFinnishDude says:

        Hey now, even when I was talking about the ending I tried to be as vague as possible. Shame some other people didn’t catch onto that.