Much to the dismay of horror aficionados everywhere, the promising new Silent Hills project, with Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro at the helm, has been canceled. But perhaps there’s another horrific adventure to fill the void. Maybe if we turn to Amensia: The Dark Descent developers Frictional Games, we’ll satisfy our craving for thrills and chills. If you consider yourself a card-carrying member of the horror community and you’re always intrigued by the dark and freaky (you loved Outlast, right?), you should be very interested in Frictional’s latest. It’s called SOMA and after a lengthy development process, it’ll finally be ready to scare the ever-loving crap out of you in September.
You play as Simon, an engineer in an underwater research station who must unravel the mysteries behind the disappearance of the crew. Simon finds himself alone in an unknown part of the station, and he quickly realizes that his situation is beyond dire. The machines have started to exhibit human characteristics and as you might imagine, these characteristics aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. Some of the robots have even melded with the deep oceanic biology around the station, resulting in nightmarish creatures that will kill anything they see. Simon has to use his own resourcefulness as an engineer and somehow survive every monstrosity flung in his path. The hardest part of the adventure will be familiar to those who enjoyed Amnesia:
There are no weapons.
The player must instead use his or her imagination and innovation to survive. This involves utilizing various gadgets and tools to evade the hunting foes and sometimes, it makes sense to simply hide. The developers say the key is evasion, which should drive the urgency of the game through the roof. Don’t forget that we’ll be trying to solve puzzles and escape the underwater facility the whole time we’re avoiding contact with the denizens of the deep. That won’t be easy but it should be appropriately tense and nerve-wracking. Our immersion will be further intensified by discovering more of the mystery; bodies of workers may contain clues and in fact, these workers had an internal black box installed, so you can actually experience their last moments via audio log. Creepy.
With a compelling and effective setting and an unsettling hide-and-seek style of gameplay, this will be perfect for a 2 a.m. fear-fest. As for why the game took over five years to create, the developer made it plain on the European PlayStation Blog that they didn’t want to generate another “run from the monster affair.” The horror runs very deep in SOMA due to the team’s willingness to tackle complex themes; we’ll explore the darker corners of consciousness, identity and the mystery behind our very existence. It’s not easy to get this just right, especially when you’re relying on the atmosphere and tension to deliver the goods. No firefights, no bombastic set pieces, no intense firefights; just a horrific scenario and an exceedingly difficult path the player must traverse.
They’ve conducted several beta tests so far and thankfully, the feedback has been quite positive. Frictional says there were a “wide range of reactions” but “they were all strong and dealt with the topics we’d intended to raise.” Therefore, it appears the designers have done their jobs well, and those with enough gumption and moxie should be in for a treat. My only concern involves the basic control and puzzle elements. If control isn’t spot-on, our evasion can become an exercise in irritating futility, and if the puzzles aren’t well constructed, we’ll be taken right out of the game. I hate to say it but when a game eschews the standard interactive entertainment and goes for something subtler and more cerebral, the pitfalls are many.
That’s why, however, I’ll be very excited if SOMA turns out as well as anticipated. We need more games that push the interactive envelope and allow us to experience various emotions in different ways. And when it comes to instilling fear, the creators must first understand how humans experience fear, and then use that knowledge as a leaping-off point. Frictional seems to know what they’re doing, so cross your fingers!
8/5/2015 Ben Dutka