Soma has been available to players for a long time, as long as you owned a relatively powerful PC or PlayStation 4. Xbox One players have had to wait until now to get their hands on the horror title. The issue is whether the game holds up on this platform and if it was worth the rather long wait.
The game largely shares the same mechanics of Frictional Games previous, and highly acclaimed, title Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The player is not really expected to fight enemies but try to hide from them. The real major difference between the two games is that Soma has had a dramatic shift in setting to an underwater facility. After some rather nefarious research, horrific monsters have been left to roam around the abandoned structures whilst you try to explore.
Considering that Soma was first released way back in 2015, a lot of people will already be very familiar with its mechanics and the general gameplay. What they might not know about is the story. Without going into spoiler territory, Soma does something quite different from most narrative games, and horror titles in particular, as it does not save a dramatic twist for the very end.
Instead, the developers chose to mix things up fairly early on in proceedings. Although it might take away some excitement towards the end of the story it does allow the plot to develop more naturally and for the player to think about the various themes that are put into the spotlight. Without having to think about how the game is going to subvert expectations or suddenly throw up a shocking twist you are free to focus completely on ideas at play – something which is vitally important considering how heavy and dark much of the story can get as you approach the finale.
One of the main criticisms of the title when it first released was that the monsters felt out of place in respect to the narrative and the more exploratory nature of the gameplay. Many players felt that this was a game that would have flowed better without the enemy encounters as Soma already felt more like a waling simulator than a horror anyway.
The Xbox One version has gone some way to rectifying this issue. There is now a “Safe Mode” that doesn’t remove the monsters altogether but makes them relatively harmless. That isn’t to say that Soma is no longer scary. The enemies are still capable of terrifying if when they appear at just the right time and still add some tension. However, the removal of their ability to damage you can enhance the game by allowing you to just experience the strange world without having to worry about the possibility of being killed and having to start over.
Saying that, Soma isn’t a particularly difficult game to play through and it is still worth playing through it in both modes if you can do so. If you only have the time to play once, though, the Safe Mode might be your best bet as it is far less frustrating and a more relaxing way to get through the story.
Apart from the story, what really sets Soma apart is the impressive presentation. The visuals are truly some of the best that you will find in terms of creating an atmosphere, as the art style gives a real feeling of being in a futuristic sci-fi environment that is also openly hostile. The sound design equally draws you into the world and immerses you in a way that few other games manage. Combined with the excellent voice acting, Soma feels like a living and genuine universe that you have been thrown into the middle of.
It almost seems like Soma has taken the best parts of many of the most noted horror and narrative-focused games of the last few years. The eerie underwater setting has obviously been inspired by BioShock but it also borrows from the likes of Gone Home to create a detailed world that will intrigue and disgust you in equal measure. The thought-provoking story is easily one of the best available on current consoles, making it a must play for practically everyone.