What do you want from a videogame? As I look back across 2023, and all the big releases like Starfield, Diablo 4, and Baldur’s Gate 3, it seems like exploration, freedom, and choice are the defining characteristics of today’s popular PC hits. But there is another type of game – or rather, another approach to game-making – whereby your freedom might be limited in the literal sense, but the richness and depth of what you experience is just as great, or perhaps greater, than the most expansive RPG. Personally, I like shorter games where every single moment feels written, pored over, and choreographed. You might have played Amnesia The Bunker, or other entries in the superlative horror game series. Frictional’s best work, however – and the best game of the last decade – is something different, and you can get it now for less than $5.
On its surface, Soma has a lot in common with its horror game contemporaries, or what we might derisively call ‘walking simulators.’ When the planet Earth is all but destroyed by a meteor strike, you suddenly awaken in an abandoned, decrepit, underwater research facility called PATHOS-II. The power is out, the communications are down – there are huge, malformed robots wandering the halls, but either they want to kill you, or seem eerily convinced that they’re actually people. So begins one of the best PC games of all time.
Over the next six or so hours, Soma delivers the most coherent and resonant narrative in a videogame ever. Its science-fiction overtures give way to a deeply human story about togetherness, compassion, isolation, and loss. There are no trite messages. Every time you feel you can predict what Soma is trying to do, it wrongfoots you. It’s frightening, it’s tactile (for saying it’s abandoned, PATHOS-II feels more alive and lived-in than perhaps any other location in gaming history), and it all swells towards a brilliant and beautiful ending.
If I had my way, basically every videogame would be made with the same principles and disciplines as Soma. It takes an hour until you settle in, but keep with it. I’d also recommend the ‘safe’ mode, which prevents the monsters from actually attacking you, and lets you enjoy all of Soma’s better qualities without the hassle of run-and-hide stealth.
Available now for $4.49 / £3.69, if you’ve exhausted all of 2023’s big hitters and want something thoughtful, provocative, and completely unique, play Soma. Just click the links below.
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