Words cannot describe the love I feel for SOMA — the story is just exquisite. I felt my heart in my throat at every turn as our hero, Simon Jarret, suffered through the horrors of PATHOS-II. The game shows that movie-like story telling can be found in video games and possibly done even better than in typical Hollywood movies. The story makes you ask yourself deep philosophical questions that you normally wouldn’t think about on a daily basis and forces you to answer them to progress the story.
Simon Jarret is the protagonist and probably one of the most human characters you could ever play as in a game because his emotions feel so real. You find Simon heading to the doctor’s to get a brain scan, but when he gets the scan everything goes wrong. The plot escalates quickly from here on out.
Simon wakes up, not in the doctor’s office, but in the deep, dark, and underwater research facility of PATHOS-II, alone and confused. He makes his way through the facility to find a computer with the face of a beautiful woman on the screen. The woman’s name is Catherine and she says that she was a researcher for PATHOS-II. Catherine tells Simon of a creature called the “Warden unit” (WAU) that wishes to save humanity through genocide. Confusing, yes, but there is a reason. Catherine also tells Simon about a machine called the ARK where the rest of humanity lives because a nuclear war made the Earth uninhabitable. The ARK works by uploading human brain scans into itself where their digital lives then reside, but the ARK has limited power on Earth. Simon wants to send the ARK up into space where it will have unlimited power from solar energy. The WAU wishes to save humanity by uploading people to the ARK, but it gets confused and instead of doing that kills civilians instead.
Simon later finds out that his body is, in fact, not his own. He’s in the body of a cyborg-type creature because the brain scan he took allowed him to inhabit the robot’s mind. This fact upsets Simon, but also serves as foreshadowing for what happens in the future. Further along in the story, you’re given a choice involving cloning. Simon needs to reach a special launching chamber to send the ARK into space, which happens to be at the bottom of the ocean (otherwise known as “The Abyss”). In order to achieve his goal, Simon must send his brain scan into the mind of a robotic diving suit and retrieve the ARK from “The Abyss”. Once Simon does this, he finds out that Diving Suit Simon isn’t the same as Cyborg Simon. He’s outraged when he discovers this and yells at Catherine for not telling him. You’re then given the choice to let Cyborg Simon live all alone or kill him with merciful intent.
Once you pass that dilemma, Diving Suit Simon takes the elevator down into “the Abyss” while talking with Catherine. Here you see major character development in the form of Catherine telling the player about her life on Earth before the mass destruction; her story makes you feel much more connected to her. You then continue through “the Abyss” until Simon and Catherine reach a woman who’s stayed alive for years longer than predicted just to protect the ARK. She gives Simon the ARK and asks him to do two things for her: (1) pull her life support, and (2) stay with her until she dies. You have the choice to leave with the ARK and not kill her, but she’ll sit there and suffer.
After these events transpire, you continue towards Simon’s goal to send the ARK into space, but now Simon receives messages in his head to kill the WAU. You then have the choice whether to kill the WAU or let it live. Finally, Diving Suit Simon reaches the end of his journey by finding the launcher. He puts the ARK in the rocket and sits in a chair where he’ll upload his brain scan into the ARK so he can live in paradise. Catherine tells Simon that she’ll launch the rocket while doing the brain scan in order to send the ARK into space more quickly. This leads to the most stressful scene yet. The countdown starts. Catherine is uploaded to the ARK. 10 seconds remain. Diving Suit Simon still hasn’t been uploaded and the time is ticking down, but at the final second he makes it aboard. You hear a scream of joy from Simon and feel so happy that his suffering is over, but fate is a cruel mistress. Simon opens his eyes to see emptiness around him. He screams at Catherine, begging her to tell him what happened. Catherine tells him that yet another copy of him was sent into the ARK, just as Cyborg Simon was sent into Diving Suit Simon. Simon and Catherine start to argue viciously, but Catherine runs out of power, leaving this Simon alone forever; the worst fate someone could ever meet.
The credits roll and it seems there’s no happy ending for this Simon’s story. Then you wake up inside a beautiful cave where sparkling gems cover the walls. You see a wide opening in the cave, which leads to a magnificent forest of green. You walk through majestic woods until you find a panel with bright blue text: “WELCOME TO THE ARK.” You made it! You made it to the ARK and, as you walk, you see a beach where Catherine is standing. She’s in a human looking body. You see a beautiful city in the distance and a transport nearby. You walk into the transport with Catherine, and the camera zooms out into space where you see the ARK floating around Earth.
This game isn’t just a mindless tragedy, like many story games. It feels like a futuristic Shakespearean tragedy. Simon feels like he could be you in his situation. Simon doesn’t just accept the facts he’s given, he questions everything and is curious about the new world he inhabits. Simon isn’t a mindless drone like many other protagonists, he’s a human with feelings and complex emotions. Catherine is the perfect companion for Simon and his emotional state in the new world he’s facing. She gives Simon facts about the world around them, but also feels sympathy for the struggle he faces; most companions just provide facts and don’t feel any sorrow for the struggle of the main character. This detail made Catherine seem more like a friend to me than anything else, but Catherine doesn’t just feel pity. Catherine feels anger, sadness, and joy, which makes her seem more relatable. Catherine challenges Simon’s ideas, she pities him for the struggle he’s having to face, and she feels joy for his accomplishments.
The whole idea of the story seems incredibly unique, as well. The idea of a brain scan being put into a computer to make a clone has been done before, but never so thoughtfully. They made the story feel very special with the characters and the certain struggles they faced that you wouldn’t normally see. The choice whether to kill your clone is almost unbearable. You’re technically committing suicide, but it’s also the most merciful choice you could make so that “Clone You” won’t be alone. The villain isn’t just painted black and white. The WAU wants to save people, but it misunderstands how to do the deed, which makes the question whether to kill the WAU or let the WAU live so much harder. You would be killing a morally innocent being for not knowing what it’s been doing that whole time. Then the ending nearly brought me to tears. After all Simon’s hard work, he’s betrayed and left alone to rot in his robot body. Luckily, we get to see another clone of Simon meet Catherine in the ARK for a more satisfying ending to the story of Simon Jarret.
The choices made the game feel akin to real thought processes, unlike other games. I had the choice to kill my clone or let him live, kill the villain (or the misunderstood hero) or let it live, and mercy kill a woman who wants to die or let her suffer. All of these choices made me think. I asked myself what does it mean to be human and would I mercy kill someone even if it involved me having to look at that person dead in the eyes as I did the deed. The choices were deep and held meaning unlike the choices in other games which are whether to kill this guy or another guy.
Now, there are some cons to the story that I would like to point out. It’s hard to follow due to the fact that, if you just listen to Simon and Catherine talking, you won’t get half the story of what happened down at PATHOS-II, which could lead to confusion down the road while playing. Some of the game relies upon you reading various journal entries found around the research facility. The journal entries are also quite confusing at times which could make the story feel less enjoyable to some. The movement feels clunky and slow, but it doesn’t affect the story at all which shouldn’t bother anyone.
Overall, this game’s story is absolutely amazing in many ways. The characters feel so real that, by the end of the game, you feel as if they’re your friends. The whole idea of the game could be a book given how complex and interesting it is. I wasn’t able to cover everything in it even with the synopsis. The choices felt like they mattered and they made you question your own ideals just to progress with the game. The game has all this and only a few small flaws (the plot can be hard to follow). I think that all the pros definitely outweigh the few cons.
You can buy SOMA on Steam for $29.99.