(Played 8 hours on PC. Also available for PS4. Price is about $25 on both systems.)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a game that terrified me from beginning to end — even after I saw the monsters, even after the puzzles started to become slightly infuriating. It’s a game I desperately want to go back to, but my fingers stop myself from double clicking on it in my Steam library. I must be some sort of masochist, because when I heard that Frictional Games was going to do another survival horror, my mind immediately went, “Yay!” instead of “Oh, no!” I waited five long years for Soma.
And, boy, was it worth it.
I won’t tell you much about Soma’s story, because that is the best part of the game. The only thing you need to know is that you play as an every-dude named Simon who ends up in an underwater facility, and he may be the last man alive there. The story forces you to think about humanity, about mankind, about the definitions of both, and even makes a statement about the afterlife. It all culminates into one of the most bone-chilling endings I’ve ever experienced, and one that won’t leave me, even after completing the game two days ago. If you don’t have some sort of identity crises by the time the credits roll, I don’t think we can be friends.
It greatly helps that most of the story is told environmentally. Frictional wisely used the oceanic setting to great effect, showing it’s beauty, it’s terror, and its poignancy. Dread sinks in (no pun intended) slowly, burying under your skin and boring into your brain. You’ll come across a futuristic underwater facility that blends the familiar and the strange.
Computers will be left on with messages left unsent. You’ll see post-its of reminders that you’ll never know someone got to. You’ll even see pictures of someone’s cat.
Then you’ll see strange black goo on the walls. And robots who think they’re people, and the way they act is so creepily convincing that you might want to shut the game off before venturing further. Speaking of acting, the voice acting is great, with the voice actor for Simon being a standout. The sound in general is just plain brilliant. The music shifts from menacing, to contemplating depending on the situation. And the monster noises will haunt me in my dreams forever.
The monsters lend to some of the terror within Soma with their design and behavior. They tended to show up in the usual places (ie, when you need an item or to pull a lever to continue), but it never lessened their impact. I was still scared shitless every time.
There’s no way to kill these things; sneaking is key. I suspect most people are tired of this formula by now, but if it works (and it works great here), then I’m not going to complain. I don’t think I ever actually died from the monsters. When they catch you, you simply wake up where you last left off, which is slightly strange and disorienting, which leads to my one complaint about the presentation. After you wake up from being hit, the screen is blurry to the point of annoyance. There are ways to heal, but you’re not near the healing area, you could potentially be wandering around with blurry vision for several minutes. It’s not so bad in the dark, but in the light, it’s a pain. Thankfully, the monsters are used sparingly, so you potentially won’t be encountering this problem through most of the game.
One other niggling annoyance with regards to the monsters is that the game tells you that you can throw objects to distract them, but for me it didn’t work at all. There was one incident in which a monster was in direct path of where I needed to go, and when I threw something within its range, it just stood there making its strange gargling noises. It only moved when I came into direct contact with it, and then I had to run around like a moron in order to lose it. That broke the immersion for me a little.
Besides sneaking around monsters, you’ll also be solving puzzles by working with various technology. These puzzles are fine; not too terribly easy, but not very difficult, either. I actually felt quite immersed while I worked with the machinery of the facility. I felt like I was truly with the character as I fiddled with buttons and dials in a vain attempt to get something to work.
I did encounter an issue with one puzzle, however. Very early in the game, a very important lever to progress did not load. Unaware of the problem, I kept running around trying to figure out what to do. It was only when I looked it up that I realized it was a problem. I solved it by reloading a checkpoint save (the game is great at keeping up with these), and other than having to replay several minutes, there wasn’t a problem after that. Not game-breaking, mostly annoying, and something I think you should be aware of.
Even with the niggling problems, Soma is excellent. It’s a game I easily recommend to horror buffs and regular players alike. I recommend that if you play (you should), take your time with it. Explore every area, read every document, immerse yourself into this fascinating world.
I don’t know how Frictional is going to top this, but as long as they continue to make games, I’m going to continue playing them, even if I get infinite nightmares in the process.