Video Game: SOMA

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."

SOMA is a 2015 Genre-Busting Survival Horror Science-Fiction game by Frictional Games, in the vein of their Penumbra series, few details are available about the game's plot, though the teaser website and announcement trailer have strong parallels to the SCP Foundation and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. The setting of an underwater laboratory similar to BioShock.

The game utilizes the third version of Frictional's HPL Engine. A return to sci-fi horror, the dev team intended to bring deeper themes to the front, in order to create a much more disturbing experience — a reaction to Thomas feeling that Amnesia was more of a "shallow fright-fest". The first gameplay teaser can be seen here, though almost none of its content appears in the final game.

On May 29th, a full, 12-minute gameplay trailer was released. It can be viewed here.

The game released on PC and the PS4 on 22nd of September, 2015.

The game provides examples of:

  • After the End: It appears that SOMA is set during 2104, one year after an asteroid impact destroys the surface of the Earth, leaving a bunch of scientists stranded in an underwater research facility.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The WAU has noble aims and abominable methods.
  • Altum Videtur: The tagline, "I THINK THEREFORE I AM", flashes up in Latin too.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Simon can potentially lose his hand if he chooses to poison the WAU.
  • And I Must Scream: The final fate of both of the Pathos-II Simons (thought the second Simon has the option of mercy-killing the first Simon about halfway through the game). While their 3rd A.I. copy gets sent to paradise in the ARK, the two Simons you actually played as are left aboard the ruined remains of Pathos-II, alone for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive.
  • Angst Nuke: The A.I. minds seem to overload and shut down if they experience excessive stress or negative emotions. Brandon is forced to reboot every time you freak him out, and Catherine shuts down permanently when she finally becomes sufficiently angry at you. Then again, Carl and Simon both can become extremely distressed and continue to function, so it may be a question as to the quality of the hardware the A.I. mind is hooked up to.
  • Apocalypse How: The comet Telos destroys most, if not all life on Earth's surface, but the oceans are still teeming with life.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Through various logs and notes scattered all over the place, you slowly find out how things went to pot on Pathos-II after Telos hit Earth and then WAU interpreting its programming in a rather skewed way.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: "Structure Gel", the black goo that's found all over the base and creates the game's Organic Technology aesthetic. It's a fantastically powerful electrical conductor that makes electronics more efficient and even allows for interface between electronic and organic systems. It's also the method by which WAU is able to control both robots and human bodies and implement its Assimilation Plot.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Catherine spends her last moments cursing Simon's stupidity, and Simon is left alone aboard the habitat in a broken robot body, having failed to realize the Brain Uploading process actually creates a copy of the person's mind instead of actually transferring their consciousness. However, the digital copies of Simon and Catherine live on happily together aboard the paradise-like virtual reality environment of the ARK, with the Simon copy totally unaware that he's not the "original". Humanity's organic self dies, but our creations and memories live on, possibly forever.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The WAU's bread and butter. As the administrative AI in charge of PATHOS-II, it is supposed to keep people alive, and its programming evolved after the comet impact to keep the last remnant of humanity alive. However, it's definition of "alive" ranges from giving artificial organs to injured people who can't seek medical attention, keeping them alive and coherent, but unable to move and in excruciating pain, to uploading brain scans of people it has directly or indirectly killed into immobile robots so they are still technically alive, to mutating people with its own structure gel to make them a part of itself.
  • Body Horror: The gameplay demo establishes this well. The player plugs a mechanical brain into a corpse, causing the body to tense and thrash as a nearby machine starts up; said machine then breaks and starts overflowing blood.
    • For the game proper, suffice to say that H. R. Giger would be proud - one of the more horrifying sights is when leaving the first station, when you see a woman being absorbed by WAU, who's now living thanks to a set of external, artificial lungs nearby.
  • Boomerang Bigot: While Simon is quite squeamish about hurting the station's non-hostile robot inhabitants, Catherine repeatedly tells him that robots are just machines and has no qualms about mistreating them in pursuit of her goals. This is despite the fact that she and Simon are technically robots themselves.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: The High Pressure Suits used for extreme depth operations are keyed to the biometrics of the user they are assigned to. If an unassigned suit cannot be found, then unorthodox methods would be needed to activate one. In Simon's case, this is borrowing an entire body, sans head, that is already wearing a suit and copy himself over to that.
  • Brain in a Jar: Literally so in the early trailers (though not so in the final game,) opaque jars of dark metal with a single glowing red light that cover brains wired up to technology. Sometimes set up the animate a Meat Puppet, other times to seemingly serve as a Wetware CPU.
  • Brain Uploading: A lot of it. Apparently, without the consent or even the knowledge of the brains. And even those on board with the idea soon learn that it's more like Brain Copying than anything else.
  • Brown Note: What some enemies are capable of inflicting upon you if you look at them for too long. It's actually a small localised EMP.
  • But Thou Must: Used to horrifying effectiveness within the game. Multiple times, you have to shut down power providing life to Mockingbirds, robots that have brain scans of people uploaded into them, and a couple unfortunate humans that require power to survive due to injuries, but are still "alive" thanks to WAU creating new organs for them.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Most of the weirdness aboard Pathos-II can be explained by 1) The Applied Phlebotinum "structure gel" which allows for interface between organic and electronic systems and which allows WAU to mutate and take control of human and animal bodies, and 2) the digital minds created by Dr. Catherine Chun's Brain Uploading experiments. Johan Ross, on the other hand, is a whole other level of weird, behaving like a straight-up ghost and performing such acts as phasing in and out of reality, surviving at the bottom of the sea without a pressure suit, and even speaking directly into Simon's mind.
  • Cloning Blues: The research being conducted by Catherine actually involves brain copying, rather than straightforward brain uploading (as foreshadowed by the trailer in which a scientist is severely disturbed when he engages in a conversation with a robot that is revealed to have his personality/identity). The copied mind believes they are the original and that their consciousness has been transferred, but the original is still around and their consciousness hasn't actually been transferred into the new body.
  • The Computer Is Your Friend: The WAU was designed as a Master Computer for the entire Pathos-II installation, with a directive to protect humanity and the capability of growing its own programming with the network, allowing it to control more drones and habitats across any expansion Pathos-II might have to undergo. It proved very good at this too, even employing structural gel as a filler to repair any cracks or other irregularities that might threaten its human inhabitants. It got smarter the more of this gel got deployed, and the more systems it took into itself. Then when the comet hit, it started to get ideas about what lengths it might have to go to in order to preserve the few specimens of humanity that were left...
  • Continuity Nod: The live-action teasers for the game actually have significant impacts on the plot. The Vivarium machine, which created a virtual Imogen Reed within itself, proves to be the basis of the ARK's technology, as Catherine reverse-engineered the concept from the dissected Vivarium. Furthermore, the Mockingbird robots are not robots trying to be human, but robots with the brain scans of people uploaded to themselves unknowingly, with the robots actually thinking they are the real person, and refusing to believe that they are not.
  • The Corruption: The WAU is slowly engulfing the entire base in organic tendrils.
    • Use of the structure gel on animals causes them to become much more aggressive. An old experiment with the corpse of a mouse allowed it to become reanimated, but eventually murdering its living partner. This is due to WAU having encoded the structure gel with its own programming, which is pretty damn hostile. This is foreshadowing, as it's revealed in the same log that talks of the experiment that many of the deep sea creatures around the base have also been contaminated by the structure gel.
  • Darkness Equals Death: In the Abyss, the deepest part of Pathos-II at the bottom of a trench, the currents are dangerously strong, almost no light from the surface reaches it, and thanks to The Corruption, the wildlife is mutated and very, very aggressive. Fortunately, they dislike light, and will stay away from lit areas. Unfortunately, between major buildings the only lighting is a trail of lamps left as markers, and they are difficult to see in the depth and some of them are disabled...
  • Dead Person Conversation: Simon is mysteriously able to hear the last moments of a dead person's life by touching them... or a dead robot's. This isn't magic; he's datamining their blackboxes.
  • Dream Sequence: The beginning of the game is Simon explaining to his friend, Ashley, about his brain injury, during the very car crash that caused that injury. Then he wakes up.
  • Driven to Suicide: As mentioned elsewhere on this page from promotional materials, a number of people in the underwater base were killing themselves. However, what isn't mentioned is the reason: it was based on Insane Troll Logic that, by killing your physical body just prior or immediately after being scanned, it would mean that the scan would now be the "real" you, instead of just a copy.
  • Evil Counterpart: Ross to Simon.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: While the first monsters you face are WAU-controlled robots, most of the enemies in the game are reanimated corpses mutated and controlled by WAU by forcefully injecting humans with large quantities of structure gel, which is encoded with WAU's programming. The mutation is so severe that many of them are little more than a mass of glowing tumors walking around on two legs.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Sarah. Catherine tries to do this, but winds up getting Killed Mid-Sentence as she's screaming at a belligerent Simon.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Simon, a Toronto bookstore employee from the modern day, suddenly finds himself aboard an underwater based in the year 2104, after the end of the world and with all sorts of weirdness going on around him.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: Earth is totally destroyed and, with the habitat falling apart, the last vestiges of mankind are inevitably doomed. Catherine's final hope is "the ARK project", in which digital copies of human minds are uploaded into a virtual reality computer aboard a satellite and launched into space so that at least something of humanity's culture will live on.
  • For Science!: One can't help but get this vibe. For example, the ARK project was initially just a side experiment before becoming what it is in the story proper.
  • Gender Bender: Not much is made of it, considering the circumstances, but except for the very beginning and the very end of the game, Simon spends the entire story inhabiting female bodies.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The gameplay teaser soon leads to the player following a rhythmic, mechanical noise not unlike a heartbeat.
    • The sounds the Robots make, especially if they see the player.
  • Human Resources: Why have machines when you can have people machines?
  • Hypocritical Humor: At the beginning of the game, before Simon is to go in to have a brain scan done, he remarks that his coworker Jesse has the memory of a gold fish. This is coming from a man who was in a car accident and suffered immense brain damage.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Dr. Catherine Chun is repeatedly described as quiet, shy, and a loner, and during her time with Simon she often demonstrates behaviors which are distinctly anti-social. Her treatment of other lifeforms including Simon also waivers between Adorkable and coldly unempathetic.
  • Interface Screw: The protagonist's screen goes static when he's under stress and/or near the WAU. If Simon's body suffers damage, his vision will go slightly out of focus.
  • Just Friends: Some dialogue indicates that Simon and Ashley were close, but Simon wished they were closer before she died. In the Lotus-Eater Machine, an illusory Ashley tells Simon that they're lovers, but this is just the WAU apparently trying to create a dream world for Simon.
  • Last Of Her Kind: Near the end of the game, after spending the entire game seeing nothing except dead corpses and broken simulacrums, Simon comes across an actual living human survivor, Sarah Lindwall, who he realizes is the last actual living human in existence. Having run out of food supplies, Sarah has hooked herself up to a life support machine and has withered away to an almost skeletal state, but still keeps guard over the ARK. After speaking with Simon, she gives him the ARK and asks him to Mercy Kill her, knowing there's nothing left that can be done for her.
  • Late to the Party: By the time Simon shows up on the scene, Pathos-II is thoroughly trashed and all the humans aboard the base have long been killed off by WAU.
  • Lava Pit: Downplayed to a realistic example: site Upsilon has a deep borehole used as a source of geothermal power. A glow can be seen from deep below, the catwalks in the turbine room are all railed.
  • Mad Scientist
  • Meaningful Name: The research complex is called "PATHOS-2". Pathos is defined as "a quality that evokes pity or sadness".
    • Soma in Hinduism is a drink that causes immortality. Seeing as the machines believe they are the humans whose brains have been copied thereto, the title is frighteningly apt.
    • In Ancient Greek, Soma can mean either the body of an individual as separate from the mind, or one's life in the physical world. This also fits in with the games theme of copying a consciousness across multiple bodies.
  • Meat Moss: Deep in Theta, the structure gel and WAU's three Proxies are worse than anywhere else.
  • Mercy Kill: On multiple occasions throughout the game, you're given the choice of whether to mercy-kill the station's broken inhabitants, or leave them to what passes for "life". As wracked with pain as they are, many of them actually don't want to die, Sarah being the main exception.
  • Monster Delay: The creatures chasing you are very hard to see directly; all you can see is something dark covered in bright lights stomping towards you, and your vision blurs as it gets closer.
  • Multinational Team: The Pathos-II crew is comprised of a diverse mix of ethnicities from all over the planet. Makes sense as they are all employees of a multinational mega-corporation operating in international waters. Though for some reason almost all of them speak American-accented English.
  • Nanomachines: Structure Gel appears to be made of something like this; it's able to interface with machines and organic life and modify the properties of objects. The actual term "nanomachines" is never used, though.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Though the initial gameplay teaser video has a lot of aesthetic and thematic commonalities with the final release, none of the specific scenes or locations from it appear in the actual game. It also appears to star an entirely different voice actor.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The WAU creates Simon in the process of its experiments in creating new forms of human "life"; Simon then proceeds to save the last traces of human consciousness by launching the ARK into space, and in the process also potentially destroys WAU as well.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The first trailer released, "Vivarium", had very little happen for most of it. A woman walks into a room with a big machine full of wires, tinkers with the camera, goes out an comes back with a chair, tries to get the machine to do something, talks a little on a phone. She eventually gets the machine's screen to show some white static, so she continues fiddling with it, and she eventually turns the screen slightly towards the camera, but continues to try and fail to make whatever it's supposed to be doing happen, until the screen shuts off, and she complains it just died on her... only to have the screen start up again, showing the room she's in. And you can just make out someone on the screen, (possibly her) collapsing. And the woman panics after she sees what's happening
    Woman: Hey, are you seeing... Oh shit! (scrambles out of chair) I can just - F***! (runs off screen) SHUT IT DOWN! Contain- (static)
    • The most intimidating area of the game is the crushing, turbulent, lightless depths of the Abyss deep beneath the ocean. You can hardly see anything and straying from the barely-lit path is certain death.
  • Powered Armor: A rare non-military application. Pathos-II is stocked with several Himitsu-manufactured High Pressure Suits (HPSs) which are tough, rigid-bodied affairs with strength enhancement to allow divers to perform Extra Vehicular Operation in extreme pressure underwater environments, such as at the base of the space gun. Simon eventually gets copied to one.
  • Psychological Horror: Some reviewers have said that while SOMA is a little less "scary" than Frictional's previous games, it is much more "haunting" due to its themes and use of atmosphere.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Sometimes the screen glitches up, such as when a hostile robot is nearby or Ross is trying to talk to you.
  • Organic Technology: Due to the structure gel, the architecture in places seems to have an Gigeresque "biomechanical" look to it, with winding circular tunnels made out of what are either rough metallic or ceramic tiles or organic scales, and plenty of creeping tubes that might be conduits or some kind of roots or veins.
  • Reality Ensues: Munshi's experimental procedure, while helping to create Artificial Intelligence much later, couldn't save Simon's human life. It was just that: experimental, and so was not clear on if it would actually help without brain surgery in and of itself.
  • Regenerating Health: Averted. Being attacked by an enemy usually results in instant death, except for a few very specific exceptions. Simon's health degrades if you stare at enemies, which won't kill you but does cause your vision to degenerate. The only way to restore himself to full condition is to interface with structure gel nodes found around the area.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Catherine tried the ARK project, which would result in Mad Scientist-type methodologies, but hates herself for the resultant Apocalypse Cult.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Subverted Trope. The "robots" are actually mechanical bodies housing human brains or rather, human minds. At least one of them actually tells the main character he is human.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The body crammed into Simon's suit and forced to assume his ego is actually that of a woman.
  • Schmuck Bait: The first enemy you can encounter (when the game prompts you to start crouching to sneak around threats) is behind a door locked with a pneumatic seal, and is clearly trying to break it down to get into the room. It'll give up and leave after a while, clearing the path to the omnitool you need to progress, but there's nothing stopping you from unlocking the seal and opening the door early.
  • Single Specimen Species: All the enemies you face in the game are monsters being directly controlled by the WAU, and have a distinct electric blue glow from the structure gel used to control them. The sole exception is the BULL underwater robot that attacks you outside Lambda. The BULL is one of the many usually non-hostile robots not connected to WAU, but the human mind inside it just happens to be an asshole.
  • The Singularity: The WAU seems to have hit this, or something really CLOSE to it. It's already got the ability to modify itself and its structure gel is capable of way more than its designers originally intended. The technology to copy human minds and put them in robot bodies was reverse-engineered from what the WAU did rather than any human invention.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: SOMA plays up and down the scale with this one:
    • The Zeppelin cargo transports would class as a Type 1, having only a very simple autopilot that can lock onto beacons and guide themselves into pre-defined platforms, but lack any autonomy beyond that. An omnitool with a cortex chip is needed to allow them a greater range of piloting decision-making.
    • Most of the Universal Helper line would rate a Type 2, being described as "like a dog" in intellect. They are capable of performing programmed tasks and accepting simple orders, and are generally used for routine things. Several models of them can be remotely piloted via a Neural Interface pilot chair to allow a human to perform telepresence tasks through them.
    • Most of the machines with cortex chips in them are capable of getting to Type 3 when the patterns of a human mind are uploaded into them. This puts them into Ridiculously Human Robots territory.
    • The WAU rates in the area of a Type 4, but it is difficult to pin down since its intelligence is very... different, from what humans would understand as intelligence. Unfortunately, it does not understand humanity any better than humans understand it...
  • Solipsism: Seems to be a Central Theme in the game, with Rene Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" as an arc phrase, and a heavy focus on the divorcing of mind from body, and what that would mean for the mind - and the body. The title literally translates to "body" as distinct from the mind/soul, psyche. All played for Psychological Horror.
    "Are you still in there? Am I still here?"
  • Survival Horror: It wouldn't be a Frictional game without it.
  • The Stinger: After the credits, you play as the final copy of Simon reuniting with Catherine in the beautiful paradise of the ARK.
  • The Teaser: To set the tone, a series of teasers are being released: in order, this currently includes "Vivarium", "Mockingbird", "Upsilon", "Theta", and "Lambda".
  • Tested on Humans: From the sounds of the Theta teaser, this will be coming into play:
    Woman: Strausky, come in! I need help in the lab!
    Man: (crackling/unintelligible)
    Woman: Conrad executed himself after— (crackling, then unintelligible) What should I do?
    Man: I'm gonna need to call Straumire.
    Woman: No! No! I'm so close! Straumire's gonna shut down the ARK project! It's not my fault people keep killing themselves!
    Man: Catherine, what are you gonna do? It's not like you can sneak a 300 pound body under the lab!
    Woman: Yeah, I know!
    Man: (beat) Catherine, are you okay?
    Woman: No. Not even close.
    • The game reveals that this is more out of necessity than No OSHA Compliance, as humanity is on the verge of extinction, and her ARK project is their only hope for survival in any form.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Simon finds out his true nature early on. Some refuse to acknowledge their new circumstances while others like Catherine take to them rather well.
    Simon: I guess I already knew, I just didn't want to think about it.
    • Sometime later, you get the ability to do a medical scan on yourself and a chance to look in the mirror, just to be sure. Simon's body is a human body (the woman Imogen Reed, to be precise) stuffed into a diving suit with a blackbox, camera-eyes where a head should be inside the helmet, and everything laced with structure gel to keep it all running. Simon is particularly lucid compared to most of the station inhabitants because his body is mostly-humanoid so his digitized mind doesn't distort itself much to compensate.
  • Under the Sea: Pathos-II is a science facility at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: The player character is in occasional contact with a scientist named Catherine Chun, via radio. However you only meet the long-dead original near the end of the game.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: From the sounds of the teasers, human-machine integration does not go well, with scenarios including patient suicide. The truth turns out to be more existential; these individuals were unable to grasp that the Brain Uploading meant to save what's left of humanity is a form of personality copying rather than an actual transfer of consciousness, and killed themselves under the mistaken belief that their consciousness would be "reborn" as the copied mind in the paradise of the ARK. While Catherine isn't strictly responsible for any of this (the suicidal scientists were influenced by a highly "spiritual" colleague who brainwashed them with pseudo-science), throughout the game she does frequently lie to others about the exact nature of her Brain Uploading process, all in the name of completing the ARK project and ensuring that something of humanity is saved.
    • The WAU is possibly the biggest one in the game as it will do pretty much anything to keep humanity alive, no matter how much pain and suffering it causes for its would-be benefactors.
    • Ross as well; how much you'd consider him an antagonist depends on your perspective (though he WILL kill you at some points if you don't run fast. Near the end of the game, he leads you to the mysterious Alpha site where the heart of the WAU is, exposits that your current body is full of poisoned structure gel that will kill the Wau and everything it runs, and expects you to inject it into the WAU. This would absolutely kill every monster in Pathos-II, but also every person living in it, even if the only ones living are crazed robots with the minds of humans and people hooked up to horrible life-support structure gel machines. It's another "painful life/Mercy Kill" choice, and if you go through with it, he turns on you, because to make sure the WAU dies he needs the only one immune to the poison gel dies.
  • Wetware CPU: The structure gel somehow allows living creatures to couple with technology.
  • Wham Line: Shortly before exiting Omicron station, Simon hears his prior incarnation still talking to Catherine.
    Simon: Catherine, why was he still talking?
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Simon has to deal with the fact that many of the "robots" he encounters are brain scans of real people forced into mechanical bodies. He's left wondering if he's any more human than them. Catherine, however, treats them all coldly as robots that don't feel any pain or suffering.
  • Your Head Asplode: Everyone in Omicron Station mysteriously died of simultaneous head explosions. While at first it seems that Ross is responsible, he says it was the WAU itself killing everyone there to prevent them from using the poisoned structure gel.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: As the base's A.I. system, the WAU is programmed to keep the people on-board alive. Once the surface is destroyed by the comet impact, WAU reinterprets its prime directive as to preserve humanity... unfortunately, it's definition of "humanity" and even of "being alive" is very much Blue and Orange Morality. In the end it even goes as far as exterminating the world's last remaining actual humans to preserve itself and its creations.