My thoughts on: SOMA

Just chiming in with some quick thoughts on a game I have recently been analysing. A recently released horror game by Frictional Games, SOMAis a perfect example of a well paced and suspense-driven game. I haven’t been playing the game personally as I do not own it, however I have been watching people play it and taken notes as they go.

SOMA describes itself as a psychological horror. Predominantly set in an underwater facility in a disaster-struck Earth, the player is set loose within the facility not knowing what is going on, where they are, how they got there, or indeed when they are.

Something I feel the developers used fantastically was subverting expectations and building anticipation. The game is clearly marketed as a horror game; It’s advertising showed it as such, as does the game’s information on digital download stores and on the game’s retail box. It doesn’t hide the fact at all, however as soon as the player loads into the game, they are greeted by a typical suburban apartment set in the present day. It’s immediately jarring and completely unexpected. The player learns about their character as they read their computer and go through emails and discover that the protagonist suffered a brain injury in an accident, and must attend a doctor’s appointment. Everything is fine and normal here, and the game makes the player do mundane things such as pack their bag, take their medication, take a shower, make a phone call, and then finally leave.

The effect this has on the player is it shatters all their expectations. Much like in Alien, everything is fine here – The calm before the storm. And yet something feels off. As the player knows this is a horror game, something has to go wrong, right? Everything feels off, and as such, it feels creepy. Unsettling.

Eventually, the player gets to the doctor appointment where they perform a brain scan. The screen flashes, and the player suddenly finds themselves waking up in this ruined facility with no explanation – The point of no return. A hostile facility filled with enemies, the player is left to their own devices to discover what’s happened. The player is kept on a constant edge as after that happens, coming out of the blue, they don’t know what else can happen.

This is a fantastic use of pacing, and I must incorporate it into my research.

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