Can a horror game still be scary without threat of death? SOMA's new Safe Mode sparks debate

Originally released in 2015 on PC and PS4, Frictional Games' SOMA was the studio's spiritual successor to its own immensely popular Amnesia: The Dark Descent. SOMA was more story-focused than its predecessor, leading to complaints about the game's monsters feeling more like annoying roadblocks than intelligent foes. But no need to worry about that anymore, because the game is getting a new "Safe Mode" option on December 1 - the same day it arrives on Xbox One.

What is Safe Mode? Frictional hasn't been entirely clear, but has tweeted that players will be "protected from the hostile creatures". It sounds a lot like the "Wuss Mode: Monsters Won't Attack" mod currently available on Steam, where the terrifying creatures you find roaming the halls of the PATHOS-II research lab still exist and creatures swimming in the inky black depths still bite, but nothing will harm or kill you.

Over on Reddit, this has sparked some debate over whether or not this will ruin the game. After all, if there's no fear of failure or death, what fear is there at all? Here's what some who support playing with monsters say (NOTE: I've tried to keep them to a minimum, but some light SPOILERS ahead):

"I'm obstinately against the people out there who claim the monster encounters are a pacing issue. I'd argue they enhance the pacing of the game. Often you're dealing with some psychological horror and the monster is like a lime spritz on top of that fajita meat. Good shit," writes hitalec.

"The ... monsters offer perspective and thoughts into human survival, consciousness, what it means to be human," says The_Radders.

Meanwhile, others think that the removal of a dangerous threat is no big deal, and may even enhance some players' enjoyment of the game:

Youre_real_uriel argues "If you care about the story, and you should because it's excellent, they are an annoying problem. SOMA is an exploration game with monsters that discourage exploration. If you're blowing through areas playing monster avoidance instead of trying to figure it out, you're missing a lot of the story, which is one of its best achievements aside from atmosphere."

The Leviathong also could've done without the creatures. "My point of view is the monsters work from a thematic, but not gameplay, point of view," they wrote.

Personally, I'm not sure where I fall. I can definitely relate to feeling frustrated with SOMA's encounters, but at the same time I fondly remember the panic I felt trying to escape one particular enemy that scared the hell out of me. I also find the creatures intriguing, and would like to inspect them without fearing for my life. I suppose it's a good thing that Safe Mode is an option - that way, people can have their existential dread and eat it, too.

What do you think? Do horror games work better with your life on the line, or should a story and atmosphere take precedence?

Sam Prell

Sam is a former News Editor here at GamesRadar. His expert words have appeared on many of the web's well-known gaming sites, including Joystiq, Penny Arcade, Destructoid, and G4 Media, among others. Sam has a serious soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and emo music. Forever a farm boy, forever a '90s kid.