Finishing Thoughts: Soma
This came made an impression.
Where to start?
Ok, so on the surface Soma is a horror survival game, where you find yourself exploring a deep-sea research base where things have gone very very wrong. What quickly becomes apparent as you progress is that this game has much more depth than it initially implies. The end result is a game that immerses you in a gripping story, visualised through incredibly realised environments, accompanied by some masterful storytelling and voice acting, challenging your basic assumptions on the nature of some fairly fundamental concepts of identity, consciousness and humanity, all while keeping you on your toes with an array of horror elements. And it does all of this without employing any of the usual cliches that I was expecting.
I didn’t know anything about this game when I started playing. You start in your character’s bedroom, and this opening scene is underwhelming. The interactivity with the environment extends only to picking up random objects in your bedroom and throwing them around. I immediately started to form some expectations about what was in store, and they weren’t good.
However, quite soon afterwards, the entire game changes. I end up somewhere completely different, likely in the future, with no explanation, and quickly some very spooky goings-on are… going on. From this point onwards, the game just gets better and better, and kept me hooked right through to the end.
The world in which the game is set is brilliantly realised. Some of the underwater scenes were incredible, with so much detail being paid to the atmospheric elements, to create a really believable environment. The sci-fi take was appropriate and not over-done.
Then there’s the story, around which the game revolves. As the game unfolds you learn about who, or what, you are, and who, or what, are the other characters you come across. Through some really skillful storytelling, the game manages to raise some fairly deep questions about the nature of reality and what it means to be human. At key moments throughout the game you are faced with entirely optional choices that relate to deciding the fate of others — even if they are no longer ‘human’ but more ‘AIs’ — the question the game keeps you thinking about it, where is the line between the two?
This testing of the limits of where humanity ends and machinery begins is further explored in some of the physical changes that happen to the victims of the research base you’re exploring. Some of the people you encounter have undergone some pretty horrific mutilations, against their will, in the name of the preservation of life, and witnessing them in such despair really tugged at my emotions. It was genuinely hard to watch.
The other thing I liked about the game is the way it avoided a lot of obvious twists and cliches. The first ‘mystery’ that is implied is whether you are playing as you, or as something else, and while I expected that to be the main thing to figure out, it was unexpectedly laid bare and explained half way through the game. This surprised me, but allowed me to stop concentrating on that and think broader about the other implications of what was going on, leading to a much more interesting experience.
Even the ending was great — instead of a dramatic twist, the ending actually makes sense and the ‘twist’ lies in whether you connected the dots in advance (which I admit I didn’t). I had conjured up so many potential twists that the reality pleasantly surprised me.
The only slight weak area of the game was the actual horror scenes, where you have to avoid various baddies. These scenes lacked the same depth as the rest of the game, but were still genuinely tense and scary. I just don’t think the scares are that relevant to the overall point of the game. Something about the plotline that revolved around these physical creates didn’t quite connect fluidly with the other aspect of AI and the nature of existence, and this led to almost two different games in one, which perhaps in hindsight could have been handled a bit better.
Anyway, as you can tell, I really enjoyed this game and I think it will be one of those that stick with me a bit longer than usual. Like a really good book that leaves an impression, Soma packaged up a number of different themes into a surprisingly evocative and thought-provoking experience.