Monday Blues: SOMA

(“Monday” Blues: On every first Monday(ish) of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

SOMA

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A Game by FrictionalGames

What It Is: A sci-fi horror game where the player scours a mysterious underground laboratory, searching for answers and escape while hiding from monsters.

Why You Should Play It: On its surface, SOMA is somewhat familiar, utilizing the same formula partially pioneered by developer FrictionalGames’ own previous work (including Amnesia: The Dark Descent): explore a strange environment while staying hidden from the invincible threats roaming with you. While the gameplay certainly has moments of raw intensity, it’s perhaps slightly less frightening than its spiritual predecessors in terms of its mechanics. In SOMA, however, the real horror comes from challenging themes,  moral choices without easy answers, and the claustrophobia of dark corridor after dark corridor.

While it’s a polished game, it’s a fantastic story. SOMA represents exactly the sort of character-and-theme-driven speculative fiction I savor and strive to create. I finished the game over a week ago and it’s still lingering in my head. In fact, I dreamed about it last night. If that’s not a sign of a worthwhile experience, I’m not sure what is.

I highly recommend SOMA to fans of sci-fi horror, man vs machine narratives, story-driven games in general, or anyone with a taste for a little existential angst.

Set at the bottom of the sea, SOMA goes deeper than most stories dare to in more ways than one.

Monday Blues: Sunless Skies

(“Monday” Blues: On every first Monday of the month, I’ll recommend a new world – a book, a game, a podcast, etc – to escape into. Or at least to look forward to after a hard day’s work.)

Sunless Skies

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A Game by Failbetter Games

What It Is: A gothic fantasy RPG that mixes rogue-like exploration with interactive fiction.

Why You Should Play It: Sunless Skies combines two seemingly disparate genres – survival-focused exploration and prose-based interactive fiction – into a cohesive whole. Much of the game is spent piloting a flying train through the stars, making careful use of resources to avoid starving to death or running out of fuel. There are locations to find with only vague directions, hostile rivals to shoot down, and crew members to manage. The rest of the game is spent navigating branching stories through a slick menu interface. In doing so, you make choices about how to make money, where your allegiances lie, and what just what sort of captain – and person – you are. The way these two separate modes affect each other ties them together.

The atmosphere accomplishes a similar aim, communicated equally well through the different elements: the narrative with its sparkling prose and strenuous choices; the aesthetics through the stars shining below and the lonely, #wonderdark soundtrack; the mechanics through the struggle to stay alive among the solitude and silence of space.

As someone who loves both story-driven games and those with complex, challenging mechanics, I’ve enjoyed sinking my teeth into this deep virtual world. I’d recommend it highly to others who love gothic, immerse games, or who love stories combined with strategy.