When we sit down and talk about Frictional Game’s initial success with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the overall opinion on the memorable horror title tends to teeter between two constant extremes. On one hand, some see Amnesia: The Dark Descent as an example of what true “horror-based” games should aim to capture within their audience. Another dictates that the game was merely a shot in the dark that managed to collect widespread attention due to its peculiar twist on what had become known as “mainstream” horror.

SOMA - by Frictional Games

But we’re here to talk about four SOMA features and what the gaming community should be anticipating for its upcoming release in early 2015. Being the successor to Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its pseudo-sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, it comes as no surprise that SOMA will have to live up to immense expectations. So let’s begin by breaking down the features and addressing what we know about the game, shall we?

#4 Character

Frictional gave their newest protagonist a voice, and Simon’s not afraid to talk.

The curse of the silent protagonist has been broken. Depending on whom you choose to ask about SOMA bringing in a voice actor, the answer will waver since the topic is still debated amongst the fans. It’s not a negative additional feature, but it is one that has numerous endorsers a little concerned about. It has been proven that video game characters are far more relatable when they’ve managed to build-up their own character development throughout the course of the game’s storyline. However, gambling on Simon’s interactions and various verbal comments on his unnerving surroundings is going to be out of the development team’s comfort zone. When a game’s tasked with creating immersion for the player in an environment that’s meant to stimulate both tension and horror; some fans are firm believers that giving Simon the ability to speak outside of panicked breathing could prove to be a game-breaking mistake.

Simon strains as he's forced to look upon the monstrosities created between merging what seems to be man and machine upon his awakening.

"Oh my god," Simon strains as he's forced to look upon the monstrosities created between merging what seems to be man and machine upon his awakening. Personally, I'd have a few more choice words reserved for this situation.

But having a protagonist that is able to communicate isn’t going to cause the game to shatter into a million pieces. Thomas Grip explained the reason behind the unexpected implementation of voice acting into SOMA in an interview with Eurogamer, "the main reason was because [Simon] had to talk with other characters." In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Daniel’s story was told backwards due to his amnesiac state. Therefore, telling the tale of what transpired at Brennenburg Castle that lead up to the finale was acceptable through the notes littered across the levels. Grip alluded to the fact that Simon had also started out as a more verbose companion, "We had this idea that there'd be lots of talking. You'd constantly be commenting on things," said the Swedish game designer. "But it just didn't work so now it's almost only in dialogue. We're still sort of tinkering to figure out what stuff works best."

It isn’t uncommon for horror games to choose to focus on a silent protagonist. This tactic forces the player into implementing his or her own fears against themselves; which is a core mechanic in physiological horror games. SOMA has placed a lot of effort into creating Simon’s character so that it will add another layer to the depth to the game rather than remove it. It is also worth mentioning that the central theme that circulates around the unknown of the subconscious is important to the game’s narrative; it would help to understand who’s subconscious you’re delving into in order to fully appreciate the cumulative experience.

#3 Coordination Puzzles

SOMA features puzzles that feel a little more natural and interactive.

Amnesia was all about “do that in order to get there” and managing Daniel’s little footholds to progress throughout the narrative and unlock different areas. Rather than walking from point A to get to point B with intermingled scares in-between, the folks at Frictional Games have wisely chosen to keep the charm that Amnesia held within its broad fanbase. These types of players can handle a challenge; and SOMA isn’t solely about enticing fear but also urging the audience to keep their head on straight whilst under pressure.

At least someone was kind enough to leave a trail of blood to signify which block is the one that needs a little nudge.

Well, doesn't this feel a little nostaligic. At least someone was kind enough to leave a trail of blood to signify which block is the one that needs a little nudge.

There are still the curious little passageways that are clear enough to pinpoint without too much strain, but there’s also a lot more items and accessible puzzles that will require scouring the murky premises. It’ll range from finding a brand-new fuse for the fuse box in the middle of an ominous corridor, to somehow managing to connect two cables that you cannot physically touch by rotating a wheel that’s been conveniently woven between them. These variations of puzzles will combine your intellect and require you to make certain that each accessible environment is combed across to pick up even the most obscure tidbit or tool. The game is not unlike its predecessor in this field, yet somehow the rationality behind SOMA is meant to feel a lot more realistic.

I can only imagine how long it must've taken to search in a pitch black area for one small fuse.

I can only imagine how long it must've taken to search in a pitch black area for one small fuse.

Well, before we pass judgment on the mechanics; you’ve also got to keep in mind that we've only managed to take a little peek at a mere fraction of the puzzles. But considering these obstacles continue to get progressively more difficult in the preview trailer for SOMA avalible over at GameTrailer's official channel, I highly doubt that the gameplay will remain at a comfortable, intermediate level.

#2 Perspective and Immersive Storytelling

SOMA’s narrative will waver from focusing on “the story you’re in” to the “story that came before.”

Previously, Frictional Games were known for stringing together their narrative through notes and various hints that could be found in the immediate area. Some files spoke about secrets that would make it easier to maneuver around the enemies and surrounding regions. Therefore, it somewhat forced the player to partake in the narrative, whereas SOMA will leave how deep the metaphorical rabbit hole goes completely up to the player’s actions.

You have to look for these slivers of narrative throughout the enviorment

You have to look for these slivers of narrative throughout the enviorment. While some will take you along the path to completing Simon's story, other paths and deeper exploration might lead into how Simon became a part of it.

There are little scraps of paper, working terminals, and other items that are not connected to the SOMA storyline scattered around the environment that will have no penalty or impact on the game. You can read as many notes, logs, or audio clips that are left behind in obscure nooks and crannies to piece together the past rather than focusing all your attention on Simon’s current ordeal.  It helps to know that someone who might not be too keen on getting an understanding of the predicament could still get the same level of involvement in the game and not sit through a ‘boring’ explanation. In other words, the game takes about as much time explaining itself as much as the player is willing to listen. If you’re intrigued by the storyline, learning what happened in this horrific place might prove to be a well-laid distraction.

When people start expecting their employees to implant devices into their skulls it's probably time to consider another job.

When people start expecting their employees to implant devices into their skulls it's probably time to consider another job.

#1 SOMA Feature - The World

The environment has a million faces, and is one leading into the main reason that Simon cannot leave the premises.

One of the most unique and psychedelic nodes that believe that SOMA will rank higher than even Amnesia: The Dark Descent was that the world Simon is cast within is so indescribable. Sometimes, there’s always the smallest inkling that there is nothing keeping you tied to the location. Hop out the nearest window, climb the fence; there were numerous times I’d felt as though escape might’ve been a plausible option in a horror game. Now move that to the seafloor and you’ll quickly understand that there’s nowhere to go. Claustrophobia begins to set in as the water pressure begins to make the walls creak and groan as Simon walks around the hull. 

 It seems we are currently situated on the ocean floor

It seems we are currently situated on the ocean floor. No big deal, right? Unless you're afraid of a crushing amount of pressure from above accompanied by the constant threat of drowning.

Being locked down with nowhere to run or even maintaining the slimmest chance to escape this contorted world that SOMA has woven is distressing. The weight of the sea is crushing, the narrow hallways and disturbing imagery will continue until there’s naught but a sense of hopelessness. Left drained and submerged under the numerous bending tunnels that lead further down; it is easy to see the parallel of the game stretching into the realm of the subconscious. It appoints its focus on mankind’s battle between the mind and the shell that encases us. Going as far as to lead to the assumption that machines in the facility are beginning to integrate human emotion; therefore confusing what it is to “be human.” The definition of SOMA in ancient Greek can be translated to “the body,” but the meaning behind the title has not yet been explained in detail.

So is it merely a research center hidden from sight at the bottom of the ocean, or could it also be serving as the winding trail into the darkest corner of the human psyche—?

In Conclusion

Frictional Games might make this miraculous lightning strike twice in the horror genre, but there are still numerous questions about the game that have remained unanswered. There’s a good chance that the details will be kept secret until its debut on the PC, Mac, and PlayStation 4. Developers have been eerily quiet since the official gameplay trailer was released to the public in October 2013; so it is a little hard to conclude where SOMA will land. But the spectrum is wide, and the competition will be steep in 2015 with other horror games hitting shelves such as Alien: Isolation, The Evil Within, and Silent Hills.

But it is worth keeping on your radar, and definitely looks promising from what we’ve been seeing these last few months. Is it going to be as good as Amensia: The Dark Descent?

To be honest—that’ll be dependent on how well it’s been executed. Until then, sleep tight.