SOMA - Xbox One Review

SOMA first released on PC a couple of years ago, but now it is making its way onto consoles and fans of suspenseful, narrative-driven games should make sure to play this title if they missed it the first time around.

I was fortunate enough to play SOMA the first time around a couple of years ago, but never actually reviewed it for this site. I found that the game was creepy, interesting, and it had emotional impact that delivered a memorable experience. Thankfully these intangible types of traits age really well whether a game is two years or twenty years old, and SOMA on the Xbox One is a fantastic overall experience.

The idea of a first person adventure game that mixes elements of science fiction and horror is hardly new, but credit to Frictional Games for delivering an indie game that is nearly AAA quality in most regards. When it comes to the presentation, the visuals are good if not spectacular, and admittedly I didn't really notice any particular improvements by waiting a couple of years and porting it over to a console. However, the sound design is absolutely worth calling out. We posted this press release about the game's audio back in the summer of 2015 and I believe the video game lived up to the lofty expectations shared in it. Whether it is just creepy, subtle ambient noise or the music that has a steady build throughout the game, this is a pretty fantastic sound presentation.

Similar to another popular game from this development team (Amnesia: The Dark Descent), this is a story that plays with the mind. The setting is vastly different as you explore the underwater facility PATHOS-II. Many of the same principles apply here that exist in a haunted house - you have interplay with light, sometimes cramped passages and a sense of 'what might be around that next corner?'.

SOMA is a survival game. You are not fighting back against the twisted humans or robots that are running amok. You have to advance by solving puzzles along the way, picking up carefully placed bits of information that help to fill out the story that I will not dive into here. That is the best part of this game, and I don't want to spoil any of it except to state that you are in the role of someone named Simon who wakes up in the undersea facility after something has gone very wrong.

Where this release separates itself from the already really good PC version I played, is the introduction of 'safe mode'. Now, this will probably not be for everyone, but the creatures you encounter in the game manage to add tension, but at the same time manage to make SOMA frustrating and simply less fun to play at times. So the twist here is that the game allows you to focus on the puzzles that shifts the game's genre from simulation to puzzle game, because you don't have the creatures to deal with. Admittedly, removing the enemies does drain some of the tension from the game, but for those who don't want to be interrupted during some of the more complicated puzzles found deeper into the game, this is a fantastic way to experience the story without the frustration. It's actually really clever and an interesting way to offer players essentially two versions of the game to be played however they prefer.

Of course, one could argue that the clumsy handling of monsters at times in the original SOMA is a drawback, and that is a fair assessment that knocks the score down just a bit. I love that there is an option, but it's a virtual bandage to something that was pretty rough the first time around. Also, while the conversations are usually really good, there are a handful that are a bit head scratching and almost borderline distracting when they occur. Also, regardless of which mode you decide to play in, this is a slowly paced game that is obviously not going to appeal to everyone.

Still, I think SOMA feels right at home on my Xbox One, and I appreciate the new Safe Mode, even if it's not my preferred method of play. The visuals as solid and the sound design and story are fantastic. This is a narrative that begs you to think, to consider what it means to be human and those kinds of mentally challenging stories will always resonate well with me and be something that I think about and appreciate well after I have put the controller down.

Game Information

Xbox One
Frictional Games
Frictional Games
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
PlayStation 4

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick


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