SOMA is a game by horror giants Frictional Games famous of course for the Preumbra and Amnesia games.
Unlike these games the focus on SOMA is less about avoiding combat and hiding and more about puzzles and storyline/immersion.
Some may argue that SOMA is nothing more than a walking simulator, and to a varying degree they would be right, but in comparison to games like Dear Ester and Vanishing of Ethan Carter SOMA places you directly into the events. Yes you are going through the underwater complex after a big scale event, and through audio and text logs you are piecing together what happened, but in this regards it is no difference to how the events of Bioshock or DeadSpace play out. You are still very much dead-centre of the action, and your choices can and do have an effect on the world.
Now already you will notice I have made a reference to Bioshock. As SOMA is a game that uses water as a medium for isolation compared to the more traditional 'space' of SciFi, it is hard not to make this comparison. However I would ask you to keep Bioshock out of this. Let us not forget that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the depths of our own oceans. This is less about exploiting a popular game franchise, and more about making use of the familiar (and yet alien) to creepy if not terrifying purposes.
The thing about SOMA however, the very thing that makes it so great is not it's heart thumping chase scenes or underwater claustrophobia. It's the existential questions it makes you ask yourself.
Traditionally games that fall under the walking simulator genre title, they usually have some sort of question to ask or s message to portray, and in this case SOMA is no different, except that it's question is far more reaching than about how real is imagination, or how coming out as a lesbian can seem like fighting a terrible monster. This game instead makes you question what it means to be alive.
- Should we stand by the MRS GREN requirements and dictionary definition of sentience, or instead is a more I think; therefore I am am approach more suitable. If something thinks it's alive, is it? Do we have the right to stand over it and arbitrarily declare it wrong with no right to life?
It are those questions where SOMA really shines.
Now I know what many of you will be thinking right now, you are well educated, you know about science and synapses and to you, you already know the answer. After all this is science we are talking about, there's no room for wishy-washy grey-nonsense...
Well before I played this game I felt the same, I felt this was a black and white situation and played through the first 2/3rds of the game being unchallenged with that notion. Then the remaining 3rd happened and my mind was blown.
So I would advise you to play this game, go through it at your own pace and explore everything there is. Ask yourself the questions it wants you to ask and at the end see if you still hold the same thoughts you did.
I know that even after months after completing the game, I still can't answer one of the questions, there are just too many ethical based variables, and the fact that this game has put me in that situation, a situation that NO other game has ever done before, is why I have it on my runner up list!
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley