Please note that this entire post is going to be a spoiler for the game. Thanks!
So for the month of October, I decided to join other gamers in playing horror themed games for the month and I decided to start with Soma. At first I had no idea what to make of this game since only 2 of my online friends had played it and they both loved it. And now that I’ve been posting that I’m playing it, other gamers on my friends list have taken note, so it must be a good game, right?
Something’s Not Right
At first, I was really bored with the game. The protagonist, Simon (who sounds a lot like Daemon Hatfield from IGN), wakes up in his apartment after a weird dream to a phone call about coming to the doctor for a brain scan. The tutorial area (Simon’s apartment) teaches the awkward controls on opening and closing doors with the analog sticks and how to pick things up and how to run. Fairly basic stuff, though I can tell a lot about Simon from his surroundings: he loves to read since he has books all over the place and his eating habits are terrible since there’s fast food containers all over the place. I also liked that you could read emails on his computer and send the daft that he’d written. Then there was the strange/awkward phone call while he was on the subway with his coworker and I started to wonder if I hadn’t sent the email, would that conversation have been different?
All of this, so far, was interesting but I’m still bored. And then…
Then I finally get to the hospital for the scan and have to solve a simple puzzle to get to the back room where the doctor and the chair are waiting for me. I sit down, listen to a bit of dialogue between Simon and the doctor and everything goes black and I wake up somewhere else…
Um, ok Soma, you officially have my attention. What the FUCK is going on? At this point I’m so absolutely confused that I keep playing and hoping that answers come soon. Is this one of those games where they don’t show you the big evil horror, you’re just hunted by it through out the game? Or is the evil thing there, I just haven’t met it yet? I would soon find out.
After discovering a bit more context from objects in the game through what I assume is some sort of psychic ability and learning that I must avoid/hide from the white light creatures, I finally press onward and am greeted with the first big reveal: I am in some place that’s under water! Definitely getting a Bioshock vibe from it all now that I know this. I make my way a bit further and find (after a bit of crawling) a poor robotic like creature trying to stay alive. I talk to it to try to glean as much information as I can and when that fails, I unplug it from the computer it’s attached to out of spite. Presto! That restored the power and now I’m in contact with a woman named Catherine who tells me to get to the control center in the domed room upstairs. The sound quality is a bit jumbled so I have to turn on subtitles in order to understand what’s being said by anyone. I go on my merry way without a second thought…until I get to the next room.
After falling down from the catwalk, it occurs to me that I am suddenly not alone anymore and the next reveal happens: I can see a monster! And I can hear the monster! I quickly crouch and slowly and silently follow it around the room, feverishly trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I spot the stairs in the back of the room. I wait until it gets far enough away and I run up the stairs, burning myself with steam and close the hatch behind me. Safe at last! I wander around this new area and find the corpse of some poor soul who didn’t make it, a few locked doors, a wall map, a locked computer and a robot that’s complaining about being in pain and needing help. I wander around for a bit and by this time I’m exhausted from the events of the day so I decide to call it a night. All in all I’m still a bit bored and on the verge of just passing on the game entirely because I’m just not getting it plus I’m filled with nothing but confusion about how the game started versus where I am now. Maybe sleeping on it will help, we’ll see.
The Next Night
So I decide to return to this bizarre underwater world and give the game a second chance after all. I make the pain robot scream a few times by cutting off the power and cutting it back on then I find the passcode for the terminal on the body in the hall. I punch it in and unlock the storage closet and the power supply and I see the note attached that says flip it at your own risk, so I did. That’s when the ‘oh shit’ moment happens and the monster from before comes up the stairs and is now wandering around where I’m trying to hide. After clenching real hard, I make a run (well, a crouched hustle) for the terminal and power up the control center up stairs where I need to get to so I can talk to Catherine again. I dash up the stairs after several long minutes studying the monster and it’s walking pattern and close the hatch behind me. Safe again! Catherine and I converse for a bit when all hell breaks loose and the dome breaks and the room begins to flood.
At this point I think 2 things: 1) I really fucked this up and I’m going to die and I’m going to have to reload my save and start over again and 2) hopefully after I die I wake up back in Toronto and this fucking nightmare is over with for now because I need a serious break from this discomfort. No such luck on either part as I suddenly am alive and breathing underwater. What the fuck (again)? I climb out of the ruins of the comm area and find myself on the sea floor. I run around outside, avoiding a crazy robot that wants my fluid (or whatever it was, I didn’t stick around, I just ran) and find a way back into the building. And suddenly I have a flashlight? What the hell? Why wasn’t I shown this sooner? Are they being serious right now or are the developers poking fun at horror games? Whatever is going on I just ignore it and press on to the shuttles. I crawl around for a bit, leery of the idea of using the flashlight at all (after all I might as well be sporting a giant KILL ME sign in the dark) but I keep searching and I find this:
What the fuck is that? Whatever it is, it’s keeping her alive. And more importantly, yay another human being! I was beginning to think I was the only one in the whole damn game. After talking to her a few times, I reluctantly unplug her machine from the power supply so I can get the shuttle working again. I feel really bad about doing that, but I press on anyway. I board the shuttle and hope that it gets me to Catherine without a hitch, but I’ve played enough horror games to know that this isn’t going to end well. I board the shuttle and I’m treated to an in-flight movie about what the hell is going on.
The Big Reveal
Holy shit! So after the video, the shuttle of course crashes in a fiery heap and I’m left to tread along on foot. I run to the end of the tunnel where another of these weird flower sphincter things is and this time, much to my horror, instead of simply sticking my finger in it (which is still questionable and gross) my character sticks his whole fist in it! What the shit?!?! Ugh, ok, that was a bit more than I was expecting. I go back to the door and make my way back out into the ocean, run from some more of these weird robots and find the area where Catherine is. But once I’m inside things go bad really fast. She screams at something to leave her alone and my fight or flight instincts kick in and she warns me not to look at it as I’m running toward the room she’s in. Uuuuuhhhhhhh…..ok, what the hell is THAT? I look at it briefly then turn away thinking that as long as I don’t look at it (like Catherine SAID), nothing’s gonna happen, right? Nope. Whatever that thing was pulverizes me and disappears. I’m thinking ‘game over’ and Soma is thinking ‘GOTCHA!’ as Simon comes to in the room with Catherine, albeit a bit worse for wear.
That’s when things start to get very real, very quickly.
It turns out that Catherine is another robot that thinks she’s a human. And she (and the computer in the next room) reveals what the hell is going on: we developed a technology to launch satellites into orbit from under water so as not to have to rely on fuel anymore. Then, a comet hits the Earth fucking everything up and the only way to save humanity is to digitize their brains and place them in a satellite called The Ark and launch it. Only, much to their horror, The Ark hasn’t been launched yet, it’s still on Earth. I wasn’t really surprised by that, though I did have my doubts when I was doing the searches. The little searching mini game was neat and easy to figure out once I understood that the scan went longer the closer I got to the target square. After finding out that I’m now responsible for launching The Ark and getting Catherine (and somehow myself) on board and the fact that Catherine is now in my Omnitool, I decide that’s a good place to stop for the night because that’s a lot of shit to decompress, not to mention drudging up the old ‘what does it mean to be human’ thoughts again.
Nothing matters at this point except launching The Ark. After staring at the start screen for several long minutes trying to psych myself up for the task at hand, I return to this waking nightmare.
I exit the building where I found Catherine, try to use a small submarine that’s nearby only to find that it’s not functional. I follow some lights on the sea floor and realize that I’m being hunted by that thing that attacked me earlier. I run into the ruins of a ship – The Curie – and crawl through it to the other side. I think I’m safe and then BAM! that thing appears for a split second and scares the shit out of me. God damnit, this is not cool anymore.
I’m inside the ship but there’s one of those fucking things in here. I’m panicking. As it approaches I quickly look away hoping that it will save me from whatever is about to happen. To my surprise it works! It goes way out of sight…but where? I’m still getting the static distortion as though it’s near, but I can’t see it. I hide in a side room, hoping it will pass me by and it opened the fucking door! What the shit! I look away again and it disappears. I don’t know how long I can keep this up so I need to find that other submarine and quickly! After an uncomfortable walk through the ship to the engine room and ripping out the black tentacles from the engine, I run like hell back to the sub from that monster (I died the first time because I didn’t understand what was going on.) Catherine launched my sub and we crashed and now I don’t know where I am. There’s some robot talking to himself and I found a door into a building. I go inside and there’s blood everywhere. This is all beginning to feel so hopeless.
Where am I?
I have reached Theta after an uneventful but emotionally uncomfortable zeppelin ride. I’m coming to the realization (both in and out of game) that I’m not human – I’ve been a robot all along! I land and proceed to the building in front of me, but first I have a very depressing conversation with a robot named Robin. It’s becoming very heavy, this weight, this personal horror. I stopped the game and bury my face in my hands for a minute. This is when I could use the comfort of your hand on my back, but you’re not here. I have to go on, I must go on.
So the mystery of how I got here is revealed at last: Simon died at the beginning and his brain scans were used as a template for an A.I. development kit. The last bit of hope I had for getting back to that other reality is now gone. This has all become spectacularly insane.
I’ve rebooted the router in the server room below. Sheer terror. Whatever that thing was that was wandering around walked close to me several times but didn’t see me in the darkness. I went back to Catherine’s lab to get the cipher for the submarine and had an irritating time trying to trick Brandon Wan into giving me the information. Once that was over I had the option of erasing the data or just shutting down the simulation. Neither of them felt like comfortable choices to make, so I just shut it down. I’ve killed people in games before, but this…totally erasing someone’s existence or just turning it off…I don’t know how to put this emotion into words. I don’t like it.
I failed to get the sub and now I’m being hunted in a lab. I managed to get the chip to unlock the elevator but I have to avoid the creature that’s here. It’s attacked me twice but I’ve survived. My pulse is racing. The elevator has crashed. I’m so dead. I managed to escape the monster through some dark tunnels and rooms. I found myself in what I assume are sewage tunnels. When I pulled the lever to open the door, I was surprised to see the monster had found me. I started to run only to be flushed out some pipes into the sea. I live, for now.
Omicron – Night Four
I find I am no longer able to read the black boxes of the dead. Have I lost the ability somehow (due to damage to my body?) or has it just run its course. I keep seeing what I assume are subliminal messages when I’m reading terminals. Is my body damaged or am I going crazy? Or is it something else? I’m trying to find parts to repair a power suit so I can get to The Ark.
It’s gotten to the point that I can’t bear to watch my character heal himself.
Existential crisis moment. Panic attack. I managed to get the items needed to repair the power suit to make the transfer to the new body. But it didn’t work out like Simon – or I – planned. Instead of a complete transfer to the new body, Simon is still in the old one too.
After an argument with Catherine, a panic attack and the realization that I’d be condemning the old me to stay in this hell forever and all alone…I made the choice:
What have I done?!?! What. Have. I. Done?!?! I’ve lived with this scenario, this living nightmare, in my mind for years of being forced to take someone off life support and give them a humane death instead of selfishly keeping them alive. And now that it’s happened…
I stood there and watched as the old me slowly stopped breathing. I picked up Catherine and left.
I get on the elevator and listen to some very heavy thoughts between the two of them about life and death. Simon mentioned what was the point of going on because everyone was gone. I’ve often lived with that fear. That someday everyone I know would be gone and I’d be all alone. Uncared for, unwanted, alone. I felt the brush of this terror years ago in my youth when my parents had died. There was so much said between them in that moment, and I have a lot to say on all those subjects, but words fail me at the moment. I am at a complete loss. I have to fix the elevator.
That was a terrifying run from the elevator across the ocean floor to the front door of site Tau.
Site Tau – Night Five
After last night’s events, I stopped to decompress and compose myself.
I’ve just met the last living human on Earth, and I don’t even remember her name. She’s hanging on by a thread and has given me The Ark. I did the humane thing and put her out of her misery.
Sarah was her name. I stayed with her until she took her last breath.
I’m so angry right now that this thing that keeps appearing and talking to me doesn’t scare me anymore. I want to punch it in the face.
Whatever – or who ever – this thing is has now led me to Alpha and to the heart of he WAU (the substance that’s been controlling all the monsters I’ve had to run from in the game but it’s also been healing me when I needed it.) It’s telling me to poison the WAU and kill it but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but there’s no other choice.
It ate my hand and then killed the creature that’s led me here. I ran from it and now I’m at Phi. I’ve got The Ark loaded into what looks like a giant bullet and I’ve found Catherine’s human body; her remains.
The Ark is loaded, I’m about to fire it into space. I’m filled with dread that this isn’t going to work and that all this will have been for nothing. I’m also filled with anxiety that I might save humanity. I have to keep going.
I was left behind. I launched The Ark but I was left behind. In that moment, I was filled with despair. The same despair that I felt when my parents died and left me behind, when Tyler died, when Jeff died, when Max died. I was left behind.
After the end credits, I was greeted with Ark Simon’s awakening in a cave. I ran and ran until I came upon Catherine standing on the shores of a lake with a massive structure in the background. The lie of the afterlife never looked so beautiful.
I am greeted with one final shot of the satellite – The Ark – orbiting the ruined, dead Earth. I feel like it’s more of a high tech casket than anything else. The real Simon died hundreds of years ago, yet he’s still alive in the room down below on the planet, and alive in The Ark. But is it really him?
I feel devastated inside, yet glad that this nightmare has finally come to its bitter end.
The concepts presented in this game – what does it mean to be human? How do we know if we’re alive? – aren’t anything new or original. These ideas have been explored by games before and by some of my favorite TV shows (Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse to name a few.) The way Soma presents these is, however, a bit more terrifying than others, and ultimately leaves me with a sense of something lost or something that I just don’t have the answer to.
I am filled with more thoughts and emotions about the events in this game than I have words for.
I often think about mortality and immortality, about copying my consciousness into a machine and having “myself” live on like that, but is it really living? Would it be living? And immortality…would I really want it? No. The fact that you only have so much time on Earth is what makes it so precious, so fleeting. I would never want immortality, I couldn’t bear the thought of watching the people that I love wither away and die while I stayed healthy and fit (not that I haven’t watched people I love die, but that’s another story for another time.) There are so many people that I never want to live without, but I know that one day I’ll have to face that nightmare again.
Inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras / omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremem: grata superveniet quae non sperabitur hora.
Amid the hope and worry, the fear and anger / believe that each day which breaks is your last: the unhoped for hour will be a welcome surprise.