Column | Unravel intricate AI storyline in survival horror game “SOMA”

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

There is a scene about three hours into SOMA, the 2015 modern horror classic by Frictional Games, where the two characters of the narrative are taking an elevator to the floor of the ocean. You’re recounting the various disturbing events that just took place. 

What happens if you make an artificial intelligence clone of someone and the clone dies? Does it go to heaven? What then happens when the original dies? Do they both get to go? 

It is discussions of identity, and what it means to be human, and the seemingly token sci-fi “deep meaning” cliché that are the core of SOMA. But this game depicts the philosophical struggle of this question in such a nightmarish way. It rightfully deserves all of its praise as a modern classic. 

SOMA’s narrative is captivating from the get-go. A cold open has your character Simon on his way to get a brain scan after a horrific car accident left him with severe brain damage. All seems normal in Simon’s apartment and subsequent subway ride, which leads to his arrival in an ominous hospital room where he conducts the experimental scan. 

Immediately afterwards, he finds himself in a dark, frighteningly gory laboratory with all its occupants gone and horrifyingly creepy robots coming to rip his skin off. This is the first 20 minutes. 

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There is no combat in SOMA. All you can do is run and desperately try to navigate the dark metal core doors of this mysterious facility. Similar to past fictional game titles, the longer enemies are in eyesight, the more messed up your visuals and sound will become, so getting out of a situation by hauling butt to the exit is your only option. 

This isn’t as much a cheap haunted house as it is a carefully constructed narrative where every beat of the plot has its purpose. You are soon acquainted with Catherine, your only companion on the journey in the form of an AI personality on your futuristic door opener. Despite the fact that these are robots you’re talking to, SOMA has some of the most endearing characters I’ve seen in a horror game, with people having a real sense of personality and even humor in the face of such terrible circumstances. 

The mystery of what has happened is up for you to uncover, but without spoiling it, you’ll be left with lots of questions on whether or not AI is — or even deserves to be — recognized as sentient as a human when the time inevitably comes. We are far off from this game’s 22nd century setting, but much of the discussion and meaning behind it is increasingly common talk of today’s AI-dominated media scene.

With the jaw-dropping ending of a plot twist well worth the price of admission alone, SOMA is a tale everyone should try out, and one of the finest games of the eighth generation. 

SOMA is available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. 


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