Soma (video game)
|Engine||HPL Engine 3|
Soma (stylized as SOMA) is a science fiction survival horror video game developed and published by Frictional Games for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game was released on 22 September 2015 for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4 and on 1 December 2017 on Xbox One.
Soma takes place on an underwater remote research facility with machinery that begins to take on human characteristics. Simon Jarrett, a fish out of water protagonist, finds himself at the facility under mysterious circumstances and is inadvertently forced into uncovering its past, while trying to make sense of his predicament and potential future.
Soma's gameplay builds on the conventions established in the previous horror titles of Frictional Games, including an emphasis on stealthy evasion of threats, puzzle-solving and immersion. However, in a break with this tradition, it also deemphasizes aspects such as inventory management in favour of a tighter focus on narrative. It received positive reviews from critics, who applauded its story and voice acting.
Soma is a survival horror video game played from a first-person perspective. The player will encounter a number of creatures, which each embody an aspect of the game's themes. Soma primarily utilizes elements of psychological horror instead of conventional scares found in most video games within the genre. Throughout the game, the player will find a large array of clues, such as notes and audio tapes, which builds atmosphere and furthers the plot. Similar to most titles by Frictional Games, there is no combat, and instead the player progresses through puzzle-solving, exploration and the use of stealth.
Soma takes place in an underwater research facility known as PATHOS-II. While the station itself is now in a state of disrepair, the player quickly establishes that PATHOS-II was a group of stations scattered around the North Atlantic ocean originally functioning as a "space gun", or more precisely, a mass driver, an installation designed to send objects into space without the hassle of building expensive rockets. Unexpectedly, the crew of PATHOS-II became the last people to exist on Earth after a comet impact caused a major extinction event. There, the last humans survive on a day-to-day basis, attempting to fight the negative effects of their collective isolation. During this period, the machines in PATHOS-II begin to develop human characteristics and a consciousness.
In 2015, protagonist Simon Jarrett is involved in a car crash in Toronto that leaves him with severe brain damage. Due to his injuries, Simon agrees to an experimental brain scan under the control of David Munshi, a graduate student at York University who is working on ways of reversing brain damage. During the scan, Simon appears to black out.
Simon regains consciousness in Site Upsilon of PATHOS-II, an abandoned deep sea research facility in the Atlantic Ocean. Simon learns that he has awoken in the year 2104, and that on January 5, 2103, a massive comet impact devastated Earth's surface, leaving PATHOS-II as the last outpost of humanity. While exploring Upsilon, Simon remotely contacts someone named Catherine Chun, who instructs him to come to her location at Site Lambda. While exploring the facility in search of Catherine, Simon crosses paths with a number of mutated, hostile, robotic-human hybrids. Simon finds a post with a communication rig, which he uses to contact Catherine again. However, the walls of the facility begin to leak, until finally the glass gives under the pressure of the water, submerging Simon. After blacking out Simon awakes underwater wearing a high-tech dive suit, which he was not wearing prior to blacking out. He continues to Site Lambda to rendezvous with Catherine, whilst being plagued by distorted visions that get more intense as time passes.
Arriving at Site Lambda, Simon meets Catherine. Expecting to finally see another human he instead comes face to face with a deep sea drone with a human personality. She reveals that she is in fact a downloaded copy of the original Catherine who worked at PATHOS-II prior to the meteor strike. She states that Simon is actually a scan of the original Simon from 2015, which has been loaded into the modified body of a dead PATHOS-II employee merged with a dive suit. After transferring her Cortex Chip into the OmniTool, a keycard/scanning device used to communicate with the WAU system, Catherine explains that she is working on a project called the ARK, an artificial world running on a black box-esque super computer. Having scanned every living person in PATHOS-II and inserted them into the ARK, she intended to launch the ARK into space so that humanity can live on, away from the now-desolate Earth.
Simon and Catherine begin searching for methods to reach the ARK, which is located deep within the ocean at Site Tau. Throughout their journey, Simon is hampered by hostile robots and mutated crew members controlled by the WAU, the artificial intelligence computer of PATHOS-II which has wiped out or assimilated the station's personnel due to its prime directive to preserve the human race, without regard for the form in which humanity is preserved.
Due to Site Tau being on the ocean floor, Simon is forced into constructing a new body that can withstand the extreme deep sea pressure called a "Power Suit". As he searches for the required materials his distorted visions intensify and he is contacted by a "spirit" of unknown origin that resembles a mutated diver, later revealed as Dr. Johan Ross. He uncovers the true past of PATHOS-II, whereby a "structure gel" is found to be the catalyst for the mutations and medium of control of the WAU. The fluid has rejuvenation properties able to bridge the gap between organic and digital lifeforms and even resurrect them from death.
Simon finally collects all the materials needed for the Power Suit, is transferred into the body, and awakens only to realize that his consciousness wasn't actually moved, but rather copied. Catherine explains that copying is the only process available when changing bodies. She quickly puts the old body to sleep, leaving the player with the choice to spare or end the old body's life. Catherine claims that the old Simon's fate was decided by a "coin flip".
Having descended to Site Tau with his new body, Simon meets Sarah Lindwall, a crippled and dying PATHOS-II employee who does not possess a robotic body, thus making her the last human being on the planet. He retrieves the ARK from Sarah and sends it to Site Phi, where the space gun is located. While en route to Site Phi, Simon is again visited by the "spirit" who tells him that he must infect the WAU's core before leaving Earth as Simon is the only organism that was unable to be controlled by the WAU. Simon eventually finds and can choose to infect the WAU's core. Simon makes it to Site Phi where he finds Catherine's black box implant, in which he hears Catherine arguing with other scientists about the risk of launching the ARK. The remaining humans argue that it will be safer to not launch the ARK into space, though this means it may come under the control of the WAU or at best will only have enough remaining energy to survive for around 100 years instead of the potentially thousands of years if aboard a solar powered satellite. Tensions rise and one of the scientists accidentally strikes Catherine with a wrench, killing her instantly. This was the reason the ARK was never launched in the first place.
With the help of Simon, the ARK is loaded into the space gun and Catherine initializes the controls to begin the launch. Catherine promises to scan them into the ARK just before the space gun is fired. When the ARK is launched, however, Simon and Catherine are still on PATHOS-II. Simon questions why they were left behind when the scan was completed successfully. Catherine explains again that she cannot transfer scans, only copy them. The player's Simon "lost the coin flip"; his and Catherine's copies are aboard the ARK, while their current consciousness have been left behind on the station. During an argument with Catherine, her OmniTool overloads due to her annoyance. The OmniTool shorts out and breaks, leaving Simon alone in the darkness, pleading for her to come back.
In a post-credits scene, the version of Simon copied to the ARK, completely unaware of the other Simon left behind on PATHOS-II, wakes up in an idyllic landscape. Simon is reunited with Catherine in front of a futuristic island city. Meanwhile, it is shown that the ARK has successfully made it into space aboard a satellite as it leaves behind a devastated Earth. The last scene shows the ARK satellite flying slowly into the reaches of the galaxy until it is a distant twinkle blending in with the stars, giving a feeling of hope for the rest of humanity aboard the ARK.
Soma was in the making since 2010, beginning with the advancement of new technology for the game engine. Setting the game at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean was an idea decided on a "whim" by Frictional Games co-founders Thomas Grip and Jens Nilsson, which Grip said they had wanted to try for a long time. The storytelling was designed to rely on the player's actions rather than serve as a guide for the player to adhere to, so as to allow those who ignore exposition material, such as audio logs and notes, to follow the plot. Soma's underlying theme is consciousness, and was developed in order to explore the nature of free will and the self. The game's atmosphere was inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick, China Miéville and Greg Egan.
Achieving a realistic sound to fit the mood required audio director Samuel Justice to utilise what he called "the room size system". Instead of processing sounds to make an effect possible, recordings were made of environments that complemented such needs, like the reverb of a large hall. With this system, over 2,000 footstep sounds were captured.
A teaser trailer featuring gameplay footage of Soma was released on 11 October 2013. The official website's info page displays a quote by author Philip K. Dick. Another trailer of the game was released on 3 April 2014.
Two live action shorts, "Vivarium" and "Mockingbird" were shot back-to-back at LeftJet Studios in Seattle, over the course of nine days. The films were produced by Imagos Films, an independent film company based in Seattle. Imagos Films also completed for Frictional Games a set of live action clips that were set to release in 2015 in monthly installments and would connect to the story of the upcoming game. Due to production problems the release date was delayed and on 28 September 2015, shortly after the release of the game, Frictional Games announced they had made available the first clip on their YouTube channel under the title "SOMA - Transmission #1", with seven more to follow in each coming day. The live action miniseries acts a prequel to the events of the game, albeit one which is inspired by its plot and characters rather than being strictly canonical to it.
In collaboration with Frictional Games, a feature film tentatively called "DEPTH" was filmed by Imagos Films under the code name "Project Apophis". The film's director is Don Thacker and clips from it were used for Soma's marketing campaign such as the "Transmissions" webseries. The film is expected to release in 2016.
Soma received 'generally favorable reviews' according to Review aggregator website Metacritic, which gave the Microsoft Windows version 84/100 based on 67 reviews, the PlayStation 4 version 79/100 based on 27 reviews and the Xbox One version 82/100 based on 12 reviews. In 2017, GamesRadar ranked the game 10 in their list of "the 20 best horror games of all time".
Richard Wakeling from GameSpot gave the game a 9 out of 10, and praised the "engaging and thought-provoking" story, the "impressive" writing and voice acting, and the atmosphere and sound design, which together, fills the game with "dread" and provides a "chilling", "edge of your seat" feeling. Wakeling disliked the sections in which the player walks on the ocean floor, however, and also felt that enemy encounters were "tedious". Philip Kollar of Polygon also gave the game a 9/10 and wrote: "I don't know if SOMA will scare people as much as Amnesia did, but it is without a doubt a stronger game, with better pacing, smarter writing and more powerful subject matter. This isn't a horror game about obfuscation; events aren't building to a huge, shocking twist. More than anything, it's about the process of dealing with the horror of reality." Caitlin Cooke from Destructoid awarded the game a 9/10 as well. She stated "SOMA gets everything right about the survival horror genre. It’s like someone created the perfect video game mixtape -- a little bit of abandoned underwater atmosphere from BioShock, detailed environments a la Gone Home, and (of course) the frenzied monster mechanics from Amnesia. Even if you dislike non-combat-oriented games, I dare you to give it a try."
Tim Turi from Game Informer awarded the game an 8.5 out of 10. He commended the sound for convincingly immersing the player in the game, as well as the "eerie" environments, the "simple", "reliable" controls, and the "intriguing" narrative. Turi had minor criticisms concerning character models, stealth, and the interaction with monsters. In his review for GamesRadar, Leon Hurley wrote: "A disturbingly different take on interesting sci-fi concepts let down by a slow start and disappointing monsters, but worth it overall." Hurley praised the "great" story, "likeable" characters, and the "interesting and unpredictable" locations. He also commended the game for its ability to pull the player through the story by providing rewarding situations. Hurley did feel "lost" at times, as there are no distinct directions, and felt that the monsters lacked any threat. IGN's Daniel Krupa scored the game an 8.1/10 and wrote: "SOMA is a sustained exploration of an original and thought-provoking idea. The concept of artificial intelligence has been explored by lots of science fiction, so it isn’t unique in that regard, but it makes particularly intelligent use of video game conventions to present those familiar ideas in new and surprising ways."
After ten days of release, Soma had sold 92,000 copies, exceeding the 20,000 copies made by the developer's previous game Amnesia: The Dark Descent in its first week. In March 2016, Frictional Games announced that the game had sold more than 250,000 copies and that the company was close to breaking even, which required them to sell 276,000 units. In a blog post commemorating one year of release, Frictional Games estimated that the sales figures had exceeded 450,000 copies. At the 2016 Golden Joystick Awards, Soma was nominated for three categories: Best Original Game, Best Story Telling and Best Visual Design.
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Media related to Soma (video game) at Wikimedia Commons