In last month's EULA Surfers, our roundup of the strangest and best new releases on Steam, I threw a little shade at SOMA. I called its opening few hours disappointing. More specifically, I said it was suprisingly similar to Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional's previous horror masterpiece) and tonally a bit flat.
Good news! Having finished it, I can happily announce that I was dead wrong. If you're a fan of video game horror, you must play SOMA.
I could make a video as to why, but I suspect it'd look a lot like Matt's piece on The Beginner's Guide. Imagine me delivering an impassioned piece to camera in a dismal alleyway, unwilling to spoil anything with in-game footage.
So I'll say this: SOMA is a rare game three times over. First off, it's exceptionally crafted, with fantastic sound design and attention to detail. Second, it's unusually back-heavy, with all of the best narrative beats and darkest ideas waiting for you in its final 20%. And thirdly, it's a horror game that wants to unsettle you on a philosophical level. Yes, it has a lot in common with Amnesia. It's literally another game about A Dark Descent. But by the end of SOMA I was reminded just as much of the techno-terror in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror.
In EULA Surfers I also said that because SOMA is set in an underwater base I was constantly reminded of BioShock. Not only does that deja vu go away, SOMA ends up wearing the setting better. I prefer the alien hostility of SOMA's seabed to Irrational's vaseline vistas.
With Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Frictional created some of the finest moments in the horror genre. I could write an essay on the creature in the sewer. I'd happily do a whole Cogwatch video on the Insanity system, where you're punished for looking directly at the monsters. With SOMA, Frictional have made still more of these moments. But rather than waiting for you at the beginning, they're lurking towards the middle, and the end.
Won't you go and meet them?
The Dark Descent is absolutely still worth playing, by the way, especially if you're a dweeb like me and then play SOMA to see how Frictional have evolved as developers. Just skip Machine for Pigs, which was the Amnesia game developed by The Chinese Room. It's a fine horror game, but it lacks any of the magic that I found in Frictional's own work (or Chinese Room's recent release of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, for that matter).