The first-person perspective of SOMA limits visibility so you never know what might be lurking around you. Aside from being a truly terrifying experience, SOMA features an intricate plot with lots of twists and turns. Communication is down, food is scarce, and machines believe they're people. Underwater facility PATHOS-II has been isolated from the rest of the world and it's up to you to uncover why. Throughout the ten-hour campaign, you'll delve into locked terminals and secret documents to determine your next course of action. The main objective is to seek out the last remaining inhabitants and help them survive.

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Journey and expectations

SOMA has been available on PC and PlayStation 4 for years now but this is the first time Xbox One owners can experience the game. When it initially came out, SOMA garnered positive reviews from critics but since then many other games have released in the survival horror genre. Does it have what it takes to stay relevant years later? Stellar titles like Observer and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard have altered our expectations for the better.

Horror games not only have to feature compelling gameplay, but they also need intriguing stories.

Horror games not only have to feature compelling gameplay, but they also need intriguing stories. SOMA succeeds in some areas but falters in others. While the story is memorable, the gameplay can be frustrating at times. The stealth sections are adequate but many of the puzzles seem like there's no logic to them. Sometimes we found ourselves running around, endlessly pressing buttons, hoping for a reaction. These sections could've been designed better. Luckily, the problems are few and far between so it doesn't detract too much from the experience.

Story and gameplay

SOMA places you in the shoes of Simon Jarrett as he is about to undergo a brain scan to see if the damage to his cerebrum is reversible. However, it seems like the test doesn't go according to plan and Jarrett awakens almost a hundred years later in an underwater facility. The future isn't that great, though: the Earth has been decimated and it's up to him to save what remains of humanity. The sudden leap into the future is explained well and the plot comes together in a meaningful way. Topics like transcendence and what it means to be human are also explored. The plot is by far the biggest surprise in the game.

Just like Outlast, the player doesn't have the ability to fight back.

Just like Outlast, the player doesn't have the ability to fight back. While you have to solve a variety of puzzles, the main mechanic here is still stealth. SOMA is a difficult game, but the Xbox One version includes a "Safe Mode" where players can experience the atmosphere and story free from harm. Enabling this makes it so monsters can't kill you. Safe Mode is a great way to play the game without having to worry about dying after every couple of minutes. This can become frustrating and detract from your enjoyment — death is rather frequent.

World building

SOMA doesn't feature any waypoints so you have to rely on your memory to navigate the maze-like environments. Maps are few and far between and even then you can't download them for quick access. Think of it as getting lost in a mall, except all of the inhabitants are out to get you. You have to go to the large maps scattered throughout the corridors to determine where you are and where you have to go. The only companion you have is a voice over the communications channel.

SOMA requires you to rely on your memory to navigate the maze-like environments.

This is definitely an old-school approach to game design but it adds to the feeling of terror. Knowing where you are gives you a sense of security. Many of the decisions made by the developers seem as though they're tailored to make the player feel helpless in this seemingly impossible situation.

SOMA is deceptive in that it gives you a false sense of scale when you initially launch the game. At every turn we were surprised at what the title threw at us. Just when you begin to think you know what's going on in terms of the plot, the game puts you in a new situation or reveals a game-changing revelation. Even the ending is one of the biggest twists ever.

Visuals and performance

SOMA strives for realistic visuals but due to inadequacies in lighting falls short of that goal. The graphics are good, but outside of the dark corridors where you can't see much, they don't impress. Despite that, the dark aesthetic suits the survival horror nature of the game. Not being able to make out enemies and certain environments enhances the feeling of dread as you try to traverse the underwater facility.

SOMA strives for realistic visuals but due to inadequacies in lighting falls short of that goal.

The game runs at a stable frame rate which appears to be locked at 30 FPS. Considering that SOMA doesn't seem to be too graphically demanding, we would've loved to see a higher frame rate. A large part of the gameplay revolves around interacting with objects and examining documents. The low frame rate results in more input lag so sometimes selecting certain items can become cumbersome.

SOMA review conclusion

Overall, SOMA is a great achievement in the survival horror genre due to its story. Despite the fact that games like Observer have overtaken it recently due to their better narratives, there's still a lot SOMA has to offer years later. While some of the puzzles may require a lot of trial and error, the voice acting and decision making redeems the game. Destroying machines which believe they're human is a surprisingly difficult decision. There aren't any right or wrong choices so your moral compass guides you.

SOMA isn't for everyone because of its genre and gameplay. However, it should appeal to many different types of gamers because it tells a deep and moving tale. Safe Mode makes it more accessible. Even after a few years, SOMA manages to retain what made it special to begin with. This is not only a testament to the writers, but it also proves that games which have great plots manage to overcome minor problems and leave a mark on the industry.

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Pros:

  • Great visuals.
  • Intriguing story.
  • Outstanding voice acting.

Cons:

  • Puzzles seem like an afterthought.
  • Certain sections can be frustrating.
  • Controls are a little clunky on Xbox One.

4 out of 5

SOMA went on sale for Xbox One on December 1, 2017, priced at $29.99. The game has been available on PC and PlayStation 4 since 2015.

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