“Amnesia: The Dark Descent” was really, really friggin’ scary. It wasn’t the only game to trigger the indie horror game phenomenon, but with its Lovecraftian horror and subtle scares, it certainly helped. As such, it was only a matter of time until Frictional Games, the developers of “Amnesia,” would come out with a spiritual sequel of sorts: the sci-fi scare-fest “SOMA.”
Unfortunately, it lacks the cohesiveness that made “Amnesia” such a consistently spooky adventure, but it still knows how to scare its audience straight. It also has a very well-told story that would make Harlan Ellison or Isaac Asimov proud.
The player is Simon Jarrett, a young Toronto kid in 2015 who must go in for a brain scan to help combat a possibly fatal brain disease. During the scan, though, he’s mysteriously transported to a strange undersea base, where he finds robots infected with strange blue fungi everywhere.
I can’t spoil much more than that, but rest assured that as a sci-fi story about artificial intelligence, it’s quite good. I wouldn’t call it original by any means; plenty of games like “System Shock” or “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” have covered the topics that “SOMA” covers before. For such a convoluted idea, though, it’s still done in an interesting manner.
“SOMA” uses “Amnesia’s” gameplay for the most part – that is, point-and-click-esque puzzles with monsters you must hide from thrown into the mix. While the formula has been copied by many other games, Frictional proves here that its still the master of it. The robotic monsters you must run from are genuinely terrifying, begging with you and screaming with the kind of mechanical agony that sends shivers down the spine. It’s beautifully dreadful.
Even though “SOMA” has great scares and a better story than “Amnesia,” though, it doesn’t mean that its better than “Amnesia” as a whole. “Amnesia’s” horror was the same brand as H.P. Lovecraft, with its story revolving around a fear of the unknown. Frictional’s formula worked well with that, feeding the player scares as they related to the plot. “SOMA,” meanwhile, takes that formula and throws it into an admittedly well-written story that doesn’t gel with it. The dread in “SOMA’s” story doesn’t come from the unknown; it comes from an inevitable futuristic reality. In that regard, the Lovecraftian gameplay formulas of “Amnesia” just don’t fit.
“SOMA” is still a good horror game, but when compared to “Amnesia,” it feels like a bit of a letdown. If you’re a fan of old-school sci-fi and/or great scares, you should still check it out, but as a truly scary experience, “SOMA” just can’t compare to Frictional’s previous work.