Soma is a game that’s often referred to as a walking simulator. You know, the kind of game where the action is minimal and the story is explained through exploration of the world. The levels are each fairly short and there is usually some kind of puzzle that you need to figure out to progress to the next section. There are also monsters in many of the sections BUT the game offers two modes when you start a new game where you can choose to be immune from the monsters or allow their attacks to hurt/kill you.
It’s not very punishing if you die since each section is fairly short. If you get attacked and die you usually just start at the same spot with some damage and the monster is moved farther away. If you die again then you’d have to start over at the last check point. Again – this is usually not a big deal due to the size of the sections in the game. There aren’t really many loading screens once you get going. And when you load an old save you get a small explanation of the current task at hand.
I mentioned puzzles before and one complaint that I have is a lot of times it’s not too obvious what you need to do next. Thankfully there aren’t that many items that you can meaningfully interact with so if you take your time and look around at everything you can usually figure out what you need to do. I did play with a guide for a lot of the game and there were several times I found myself just a few feet away from the thing that I was looking for to get to the next section.
Tell me more, tell me more
So what is Soma actually about? Well, I’ll tell you but some of it will be SPOILERS so if you don’t want to ruin the surprise then just know that it’s only about 9 hours to beat the game and it’s an interesting ride. If you want to know some of the secrets then read on…
You start the game as Simon. Through a cut scene it’s explained that you were in a car accident with your girlfriend and it seems pretty bad. You’ve had memory issues and headaches and you’re going for a brain scan to see if there is anything the doctors can do to help you. You start in your apartment and then you head out to an office that looks pretty abandoned. There is a small puzzle to get inside and you meet Mr. Munshi. You were given the impression that he’s a doctor but he corrects you and lets you know that the scan you’re about to take is something that he’s working on for his doctorate.
You ask if the scan will hurt and you’re told it only hurts as much as getting your picture taken. There is a line about native American’s thinking that having your picture taken steals your soul. We’ll come back to that 😉 You start the scan and then wake up in a dimly lit room that looks like a decrepit space station or abandoned lab. Clearly something went wrong.
Yadda yadda yadda
I’m not going to go over every single scene but you get bits of back story through interacting with computers, reading notes that are found throughout the levels, or doing something called data mining. Data mining is basically re-playing the last moments from a black box that can be found in broken down robots or even human bodies later on in the game. I thought it was pretty obvious that your consciousness was transferred into a different body but I was completely wrong about why and what the setting actually is. In the scan scene they mention making a model of your mind so they can try different treatments and see what works best. That led me to assume you were in a simulation and maybe there would be repetition or at the end of the game it would say that what you did was the successful way of treating the memory issues. NOPE! Here’s the deal…
You’re underwater in a facility that seems abandoned. It’s about 100 years into the future. You’re really not supposed to be there. Your existence is a mistake. Basically you were an early scan into this system and you were kept around as a kind of template. It starts to get into some interesting philosophical questions about what actually makes a human a human. Is the combination of your body and mind the thing that makes you a human? If your consciousness transfers to a different body, are you still you? If there is a copy of you then which one is real? How far would you go to continue living, even if it’s just a simulation? Oh, also there was a comet that hit the planet and most of the life is dead. Or all of it. You only get small bits of story and information which I like. It helps keep the world mysterious.
In one scene in the game you pull someone’s consciousness from their brain scan into a simulation to find out what they set this one passcode as. After you get the info you need you’re supposed to pull the plug on the simulation. Simon (you) gets upset because you’re kind of killing this consciousness. In a later part of the game you need to transfer your consciousness into a deep pressure suit to get to a new area of the map. After getting scanned and waking up in the new suit, you can hear yourself in the other room saying that something didn’t work. Then that voice stops talking. You ask this one helper consciousness that you’ve been carrying around what that was. She explains to you that you’re a copy of yourself and they killed off the original. You get mad. I get it, it sucks.
It’s easy to cheat
Something that sucks about most of the monsters is that if you’re not looking at them it’s like you don’t exist. At the end there is a harder monster to get around but even that thing is janky. If you look at it and just back up to where you want to go it only moves a few feet at a time. But if you run away it will catch you. I do like that the screen starts to glitch out if a monster is near. And sometimes you’re having visions and the monsters aren’t actually there. The game likes to mess with you. The monsters usually have a cool glow to them. There is this one at the end with tentacles coming out of its face that’s pretty freaking looking. Overall they’re pretty cool monster designs.
How did we get here?
Way down the line you find out that basically there is this stuff called structure gel that is making new and strange kinds of life and that is what is creating the monsters. This gel is being used by an AI to keep the whole facility running and it seems like it’s trying to keep humanity alive by changing what it means to be a human. There is a computer world for the brain scans of other people, similar to the matrix, and they were trying to launch it into space as like a last-ditch hopeful attempt to let some lives go on and see what would happen. The monsters attacked the people trying to save humanity via the ark and you’re there to pick up the pieces and try again. Even though you’re not the original you, you’re still a human and you want to help.
Ultimately you get all of the pieces in place and you get ready to launch the ark into space. Right at the end you get scanned so you can join the ark. You fire off the ark into space but you’re still sitting there wondering what happened. Simon (you) still doesn’t realize that when you make a copy of yourself the original is still around. So there is a part of you, a version of you that made it to space and the other version that is still stuck at the bottom of the ocean. That other consciousness that I mentioned earlier tries to explain it to you but then the computer they’re in breaks down and you’re left all alone. The credits roll. Then there is a final piece. It’s you in the ark, unaware that the original you (or actually the second to last copy you made, yeah it’s confusing) is alone at the bottom of the ocean.
So you made it! But also you didn’t. But humanity, or at least this final version of it, is soaring through the stars in the hopes that something good comes next or at least that they can live a long simulated life in the ark. You also get to see a view of the planet and it’s covered in fires. The one part that bugs me about that is the space vehicle/ark looks like a standard satellite with solar panels and if you’re trying to leave the solar system then they’re not going to be generating any power unless you’re close to a star. But who cares, it was a fun ride.