SOMA is a game that I’ve heard a lot of great things about, but that I had no real interest in when it first released; monsters that can’t be beaten with clubs, shot with guns, or befriended in some fashion are simply the worst kinds of monsters, and helplessness isn’t a game experience that I personally see the value of. The positive things I started to hear about the story really made me wish that it was a different style of game so that I could enjoy it like others had, though, and so the game releasing on Xbox One with a “Safe Mode” (which was patched into the PC version, and is supposedly coming to the PS4 version at some point further down the road) piqued my curiosity. This is an optional mode/difficulty where the monsters can’t actually kill you. I want to emphasize that it’s entirely optional and therefore doesn’t infringe on the hardcore horror-lover’s experience in any way, shape, or form. It does, however, give non-horror gamers such as myself free rein to run around messing with what would ordinarily be fearsome enemies. That may not be the originally intended experience, but I’m having quite a lot of fun, and the bits of story breaking up bouts of monster harassment are starting to get truly interesting.
The monsters seem like an obvious place to start
I’m still fairly early in the game, and as such have only come across a single type of monster (who attacks, at least—there’s lots of creepy, harmless weirdness that makes walking around fairly disquieting despite how little poses a threat).
When I started the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the monsters, but this first little guy is adorable. He looks kind of like a robotic turtle, so I lovingly named him Turt Douglas and made it my life’s mission to befriend him:
Sadly, he’s not much of a people person. He has that strange scream that never ceases to turn things a bit awkward, obviously, but it’s not just that. He also punches you when you try to get close. That’s not a big deal since I’m playing on Safe Mode and am therefore Superman, but it’s still not very neighborly behavior.
He’s also awful at fetch and doesn’t care much for surprise hugs. Still, I can’t bring myself to hate him. Turt Douglas is the first friend I’ve made in this game, and his temper doesn’t take away from how adorable he is. Other monstrosities surely await further within, but Safe Mode has definitely dulled how threatening this first one is, and I mean that strictly in a positive sense; again, I’m here to make friends and experience the story now that the monsters are as powerless as the main character.
Okay, let’s rewind a bit
The monsters don’t come in until some early story stuff happens, and you actually start the game out in an apartment as the game teaches you that you’re able to grab and rotate various objects. The value of doing so isn’t immediately apparent (though I’ve been making screenshots of the back of objects when a doodle or something is there, just in case it turns out to be foreshadowing or something), but being able to mess with objects nevertheless lends itself to messing around.
First, I positioned some sunglasses so that various objects were wearing them.
Then the main character said something about his fridge, so I spent some time cleaning it out and throwing everything away. You can start to see a little control awkwardness here as I struggle to reach something on a bottom shelf that requires a weirdly specific angle to grab, but it’s not too long before the game lets you crouch.
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I got stuck at the beginning like an idiot
When the fairly normal beginning quickly takes a turn, you find yourself in a room where the door refuses to open. There’s a computer console asking for something called an “Omnitool,” so I wandered around this room for several minutes, picking various things up in the hopes that they’d turn out to be a door-opening Omnitool.
The solution is to throw something through the window and break it. Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the beautiful simplicity of the solution, but I don’t really see how that possibility is made clear to the player. Was I turned around for some kind of cue? I threw a whole bunch of porcelain cups around in the apartment and none of them broke, so I had simply assumed that the computer was the clue for how to get out. Luckily, the game’s been much better at giving directions since this early point.
There have been a few frame rate hiccups
The game looks and plays great on the Xbox One for the most part, but I’ve noticed a small number of occasions where the frame rate suddenly drops down into the single-digits before quickly recovering. It happens rarely enough that it hasn’t become much of a problem, but it’s worth noting regardless because I can’t imagine anything more irritating than a hiccup like that when not playing on Safe Mode.