Most people know of Frictional Games due to one reason: Let’s Plays. While horror game buffs know what games and developers are worth checking out, many players found out about the team and their games due to hundreds of videos showing Youtube personalities losing their minds playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent¸ one of the scariest indie games around. Despite the greatness and replay value of the horror adventure however, it did come out five years ago. Thankfully, the developers are finally back in business this month with SOMA, another horror exploration title that promises to have players jumping and trembling with fear, but this time with killer robots and a creepy underwater setting. But the question on everyone’s mind is: is SOMA as good as the developer’s most popular title?
Developed and published by Frictional Games
Available on the PC and PS4. Reviewed on the PC.
SOMA takes place in an underwater facility known as Pathos-II, in which slowly but surely machines and marine life have taken over the desolate hallways and empty rooms, and husks of men and women litter the floors. Players wake up as Simon, a young man with no recollection of arriving at the facility, and must find a way out of Pathos-II while avoiding various dangerous elements in order to survive and hopefully find out what the hell has happened in the first place.
Right from the get go, SOMA will hook you in with its fantastic slow burn of a plot that takes a while to pick up but soon has players gasping at all the crazy twists and player-controlled decisions that will have players questioning their morality and what it means to be human. There are plenty of cringe-worthy moments here and there to appease fans of the genre, and the thrill never lets up – even in the quiet moments – keeping players pushing forward and facing their fears just to find out what’s happened in this strange world. It’s a solid sci-fi tale, and it’s definitively Frictional’s best plot yet.
In regards to gameplay, just like the developer’s previous games, SOMA is a first-person adventure through haunting, desolate environments, forcing players to constantly move forward while avoiding monsters that will slaughter Simon in an instant if they spot and reach him. Players can move about freely, jump to clear low obstacles, crouch and peek around corners to stealthily avoid monsters, and manipulate the environment in a number of physics-based ways in order to progress, like pulling open doors slowly to peek through or fast to run past, clearing debris from the way or tossing objects away to draw enemy attention, flip switches and levers, and more. Players will also be accessing computer terminals frequently to solve tricky yet straightforward puzzles as well as be able to hear the last moments of various victims to learn more about the game’s backstory.
Then there’s segments when players explore the open deep sea, usually when travelling between different sections of Pathos-II. Being outside in the water plays very similarly to being inside, with the exception of slower, floaty movement and jumps. Despite the open space however, the deep sea is just as creepy as the interiors, as marine life freely roams about and deadly robots still patrol these areas.
Moving about the station, outside, and completing the various tasks is all very simple and responsive, thanks to the level design that despite being more open that previous Frictional Games’ adventures still funnels players towards the next objective, and spot-on controls that make manipulating the environment a breeze. Most of the challenge comes from the terrifying monsters themselves, who roam most of the game’s main areas looking to kill the player. While the new enemies aren’t as scary as those found in Amnesia, they are creepy and savage enough to have players run away in fear.
Being a combat-less game, players must resort to stealth to get around these baddies, as running around recklessly will usually lead to a very quick and painful death. Using the crouch is vital to getting around when enemies are present, as it makes moving less noisy, and players need to use the darkness and shadows to hide in, as creatures usually cannot see through it. Players can also use tossed objects to draw enemy attention elsewhere, giving players access to blocked paths when things get too close for comfort or need to get by to progress. While the stealth gameplay found here is typical Frictional Game’s gameplay, what makes SOMA special is that each enemy type you’ll encounter in the game has its own unique characteristics, making each a challenge. Some have better hearing, others you can’t look at or else you’ll draw their attention, while some just move really fast and also seem to teleport from area to area. Changing up the way how each enemy plays and only encountering each one once or twice really keeps things exciting as players progress through the game, as players need to see how the enemy behaves and reacts in order to act accordingly and get past them successfully. Sometimes however you’ll end up getting caught, but the game is at least forgiving enough that it will restart the player in a further location from the enemy with lower health so that they can try again before completely dying.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with SOMA, and I’m glad that the developers have tried something new with the sci-fi theme and the insane storyline. While the game isn’t as scary as I expected it to be and some human character models are lackluster, the gameplay, killer robots and underwater setting really shows how the developers have improved as creators. It’s the best Frictional Games title to date, and one that fans of the genre will absolutely love.