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, the player progresses through puzzle-solving, exploration, and the use of stealth; the player may die if they fail to avoid monsters, although two years after the initial release, a "Safe Mode" has been added that keeps the monsters but stops them from killing the player.
Soma takes place in an underwater research facility known as PATHOS-II in the year 2104. While the station itself has fallen into disrepair by the start of the game, PATHOS-II was a sophisticated research outpost located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Originally established as a thermal mining operation in the 2060s by Japanese conglomerate Haimatsu and European conglomerate Carthage Industries, the facility’s primary purpose shifted to space technology and operation of the Omega Space Gun – an electromagnetic railgun designed to launch satellites and other small equipment into orbit without the cost or risks of traditional rockets. All operations and maintenance on PATHOS-II are overseen by the Warden Unit (WAU), an artificial general intelligence integrated with all computer systems in the facility.
The crew of PATHOS-II unexpectedly became the last people to exist on Earth after a major extinction event caused by a comet striking the planet. There, the last humans survived on a day-to-day basis, attempting to fight the negative effects of their collective isolation, as well as other issues that began to pose a credible threat to their well-being.
In 2015, protagonist Simon Jarrett is involved in a major car crash in Toronto, which resulted in the death of his friend Ashley and the infliction of severe, near-fatal 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 and treating such cases by methods of digitally simulating a multitude of possible treatments. During the scan, Simon appears to black out.
Simon regains consciousness in some futuristically-looking destroyed underwater location shortly thereafter. In the process of the game he discovers that he was awakened on Site Upsilon of PATHOS-II. While the facility initially seems to be abandoned, he soon discovers the logs and remains of several crew members and machines while he makes his way toward the facility’s main power plant. There, after restoring the power, Simon is remotely contacted by an unknown contact at Site Lambda, who instructs him to proceed to the comm center to allow for a better connection between the two. This results in him making contact with several entities (with the most notable being “the monster” and a sentient robot by the name of “Carl” who thinks he is a human). At this point the player comes across a moral dilemma on how to proceed.
After the former situation is dealt with, Simon establishes a connection with the contact who is then revealed to be a woman by the name of Catherine Chun. A brief interaction takes place, and then the comm center begins to collapse. Catherine frantically instructs him to proceed to her location at Site Lambda, saying that she will wait for him there so they can meet. The room then proceeds to break and flood with water, submerging him - he awakes unharmed, somehow in a diving suit that he was not wearing before.
He continues to Site Lambda to meet Catherine, whilst being plagued by distorted visions that get more intense as time passes. While trying to reach Catherine, Simon crosses paths with a number of mutated, hostile robots with human behaviors.
Arriving at Site Lambda, Simon meets Catherine. Expecting to finally see another human, he instead finds a deep sea drone with a human personality. She reveals that she is a downloaded copy of the 'original' Catherine, who worked at PATHOS-II prior to the meteor strike. She also reveals that Simon himself is a copy uploaded into a cybernetic diving suit, based on the scan of the original Simon's brain from 2015. Through audio logs, Simon and Catherine learn that the original Simon died a few weeks after the scan was made, and on his deathbed gave permission for the scan to be kept for research. Munshi continued to research brain simulation technology and Simon's scan eventually became a "legacy scan", serving as a template for future artificial intelligence and included in software development kits. At some point, Simon's scan was loaded into a diving suit, which he now inhabits.
After transferring Catherine's consciousness into an OmniTool, a portable scanner, she explains that she was working on a project called the ARK, a black box for humanity consisting of a digital world running on a super computer. Having scanned some humans in PATHOS-II and inserted them into the ARK, she intends to launch the ARK into space so that humanity can live on.
Simon agrees to help Catherine reach the ARK, located on the ocean floor at Site Tau, if he can be loaded into it as well. Throughout their journey, Simon encounters various intelligent robots, most of which are mentally damaged or unstable and many extremely hostile, eventually discovering that they were created by the Warden Unit (WAU), PATHOS-II's non-sentient artificial intelligence. Its prime directive, to "preserve the human race", was overly broadly interpreted after the comet strike threatened total human extinction, and resulted in most of the crew, both their physical bodies and also their brain scans taken during Catherine's Ark project, being involuntarily assimilated into machinery, downloaded into industrial robots or otherwise kept artificially alive.
Simon is then contacted by the origin of his visions - a mutated former PATHOS-II scientist known as Dr. Johan Ross. Ross reveals the true past of PATHOS-II, whereby a "structure gel" is found to be the catalyst for the mutations, and medium of control for the WAU. The fluid has rejuvenation properties able to bridge the gap between organic and digital lifeforms. Simon finds that his own 'creation' is a result of the WAU still attempting to preserve humanity.
Meanwhile, due to Site Tau being on the ocean floor, Simon must find a new body that can withstand the extreme deep sea pressure. He repairs one and transfers into the new body, but awakens to hear his old body still talking. Catherine explains that consciousness can't be 'moved', but only copied. Waking up in the new body was decided by a philosophical "coin flip". She quickly puts the old body to sleep, and gives Simon the choice of ending its life or leaving it behind.
Descending into Site Tau, Simon meets Sarah Lindwall, a crippled and dying PATHOS-II employee, the guardian of the ARK, and presumably the last unmutated human being alive. She requests to be euthanized, and Simon is given the choice on whether to comply. Whatever the decision, Simon retrieves the ARK from her and sends it to Site Phi, the "space gun."
While en route, Simon is again visited by Johan Ross, who tells him that he must destroy the WAU's core to stop it from continuing its unwitting abuse of the remains of humanity. Simon finds the core, and can choose whether to destroy it or let it continue to evolve.
Simon makes it to Site Phi, where he finds a recording of the human Catherine and other scientists arguing about the risks of launching the ARK. They believe it's too dangerous to launch the ARK into space, though this means it may only survive around 100 years on PATHOS-II. Catherine wants to take the risk of launching, if it means the ARK lasting thousands of years. Tensions rise and one of the scientists accidentally strikes Catherine with a wrench, killing her instantly. The scientists leave, and the ARK was never launched.
With the help of Simon, the ARK is loaded into the space gun and Catherine scans them both. The ARK is successfully launched - but Simon and Catherine find they are still on PATHOS-II. Bewildered, Simon questions why they were left behind. Catherine explains again that consciousness cannot 'transfer', only be copied. The current Simon and Catherine "lost the coin flip", while their copies are aboard the ARK. Simon snaps at this realization and accuses Catherine of lying - her OmniTool overloads due to her anger, short-circuiting it. Simon is left 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. He is reunited with Catherine in front of a futuristic island city. Meanwhile, the ARK has successfully made it into space aboard a satellite as it leaves behind a devastated Earth, floating into the distance.
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 was 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.
- Digital immortality
- Mind uploading
- Philosophical zombie
- Simulated reality
- Simulated reality in fiction
- Teletransportation paradox
- Turing test
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Media related to Soma (video game) at Wikimedia Commons