Soma, designer Ian Thomas told me, is a game about identity. Its horror comes not from monster closets or boo scares, but from questions about self and humanity that will haunt you the more you ponder them. Frictional Games, who previously brought us Amnesia and Penumbra, certainly knows how to get under a player’s skin and wriggle around like some kind of awful brain-eating worm - but Soma seemed quite ordinary while I was playing it. As Simon, I was exploring some kind of facility, a voice in my ear urging me to get to Comms. It wasn’t a particularly inviting environment, given that the computers were down and the power was out in places, but it didn’t seem particularly scary. And then I met Carl.
As I was poking around, trying to find my way to Comms, I encountered what appeared to be a broken robot, covered in rubble. He was actually kind of a jerk; while he didn’t have actual eyes to roll, he nevertheless managed to convey his irritation that I didn’t seem to know what was going on. He told me his name, that he was human, and that he was obviously hurt, so could I please go fetch some help? That seemed like a fine idea, so I headed down a hall I had yet to explore...and discovered a corpse wearing the work ID of a guy named Carl. Yeah. Oh, but it was about to get worse.
In another room I discovered that everyone who worked at this facility was equipped with an implant that happened to save the last few seconds of their life, and when I touched Carl’s dead body, I heard his final moments, which weren’t pleasant. He was cheerfully talking about putting the finishing touches on the facility, and the next moment he was under attack. His final word was simply, “Run.”
The storytelling in Soma comes through exploring its environment, examining small details and considering context. You’ll encounter friends and enemies as you try to piece together the clues you find, though it won’t be immediately obvious who’s on your side. You’ll need to be smart about what you’re seeing, says Thomas, to determine whether or not someone is a potential threat. And while there are no traditional weapons in the game, there are many different kinds of enemies, so be prepared to feel some serious panic. And probably run. Or hide. Or both.
Carl in the robot body doesn’t know he’s dead. I don’t know how to tell him he’s dead. Then again, what made him Carl is still there, so...is he really gone? And what was it that killed him in the first place? What is anyone doing there and where is “there”, anyway? So many questions. The answers will come on September 22, when Soma is released for PS4 and PC.