Saturday, October 03, 2015

Soma: A bit of a diatribe. Just a wee, teeny, tiny... massive diatribe.

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE GAME SOMA HEREBY ENSUE!

Seriously, this entire post is all spoilers, along with thin threads of theories that may or may not be correct. I am also writing this from the perspective of having played through it twice and watched a couple Let's Plays on YouTube (edit: and I've added a few things since the original posting which only make the game that much more of a plot hole that is so vast it's trying to form a singularity). Lastly, this is long. Like, really, really long. Grab-a-cup-of-coffee-and-hunker-down long. But I feel it needs done, because this game is a huge disappointment and I wanted it to be good. I really did.

So, yes, Soma... where to start. Let's go with the interesting part: Reed. Everything else is a badly-written mess, but we'll get to that later.

So, Reed, tell us your story. For those who have played the game through, you know that Simon (the main character who you play) inhabits Imogen Reed's body for most of the game. Reed was a woman stationed at Theta, someone Catherine had a thing for but it appears Reed wasn't interested. That makes Reed the only likable character in the game, in my opinion, because Catherine is a Runt with a capital C. Sadly, you technically never meet Reed.

With that in mind, how exactly did Reed's mostly-headless body get into the pilot seat room in Upsilon, get optics jammed into it for a faux-head, and structure gel thrown in to mesh the entire thing together? Was she wearing the suit when she died, or was that put on afterwards? The helmet would have had to be put on after the optics were put in. The door was locked, computer systems locked down, the only accessible omnitool in the area was elsewhere in the station, and the window had not yet been broken to provide access to the hall. What the heck happened to bring the first scene into existence in the first place?

Let's have a look at the pilot seat room, where Simon arrives in the seat via being resurrected from a brain scan:



Dark much? This is at the lighting level recommended at the beginning of the game. Increasing the gamma just washes everything out, and is technically cheating. It also does not help this scene much. You also don't have access to the flashlight yet. But with the magic of Photoshop and levels, the room becomes quite clear:



Innnteresting. But this doesn't tell as much as it could without moving around the room a bit. Doing so, some things become more evident, even in the proper dark lighting settings of the game. In the image above, you can see what looks something like a vent on the right, blood on the floor below it, and the blood trail leads to the chair:



Like so. And what is that thing on the floor near the chair? Let's have a look, with the levels turned up again.



Huh... where have we seen something like this before? Err... later in the game?



Hah, Catherinebot! Not exactly the same, but similar. There's no real indication on either 'bot how they got around, and the dead 'bot isn't about to tell you. Neither is Catherine, who is useless in that respect. She's useless in a lot of ways, but I digress.

So, back to the initial pilot seat room. There are two suits missing, one of which should be yours, with Reed's body in it, some electronics stuck into the remains of her head, and structure gel somehow molding all of "you" together. Catherine explains the concept later... odd that she would know how you were made, isn't it?

'Kay, all well and good, but where is the other suit missing from the pilot seat room? I do believe it is in the room with the omnitool, which you find in another part of the station after breaking out of the pilot seat room. Here's the second suit in the back of the room where the omnitool is found, with levels jacked slightly to see better:



Odd that it's missing its head. Was this a failed first attempt to start unraveling whatever the heck is going on in the game? Simon's duty is clearly something along those lines. Pretty much all you do at many points in the game is mess up work done by previous residents of the stations to keep WAU-critters from moving between areas. Yeah yeah, later on you get involved in the ARK business, but a friend of mine has (or read) a good theory that you and Catherine are basically the antagonists in the game. Either way, here we've found the other suit in the omnitool room. Whatever was going on there clearly did not work out.

Later on you get a better look at Reed's body in the scanner in Theta's medical wing, which Catherine gives you a truly ridiculous reason for getting into (so she can figure out what you're made of to better work on a way to transfer you into the ARK... you're a brain scan, that's all that ever seems to matter in reality).



Here you can see that about a quarter to a third of Reed's head actually survived, leaving the lower jaw or at least part of it, and some tissue and maybe some lower skull. Gotta wonder what happened to this chick, and where exactly she died. The bodies much later in Omicron have either entire heads exploded, or a fatal wound on one side as is the case with the person in the power-restoration tower outside Omicron.

Was Reed near Omicron when everyone's heads exploded? If so, why? She was stationed at Theta. Omicron was quarantined before the head-explody incident too, though I couldn't find a reference to how long it was between lockdown and head-explody time.

Now, let's jump all the way back to the pilot seat room for the last shreds that possibly bring together Reed's story. The monitor near the pilot seat gives information on the pilot's chair, when the room is powered on.

Clicking the "In Progress" button gives you a scrolling mess of code that actually has English words in it, in capital letters. The trick is to either be able to read like lightning (I didn't even notice the words on my first playthrough), or take screenshots like I did when investigating the room properly (second playthrough). It's very hard to get the initial bit of code, but what I got from the screenshots is as follows, with slashes where the screenshot breaks were (where I might have missed some words):

RESTORE SIMON SIMON LIFE DAVID GRAPH LEGACY SIMON RESTORE CONCEPT SOUL / RESTORE REED SAVE SENSE DAVID RESTORE TRAUMA SIMON DEAD RESTORE / LIFE CARRY TURN ON POWER

Did Reed try to bring herself back in her own body and not just in some 'bot? Was she done with the nonsense and instead loaded Simon into the suit? Did Catherine try to load Reed into the body, fail, load Simon, die somehow, and a new scan of her (or the one from the pilot seat room if that was her) emerged in Lambda? Was Reed's brain scan too damaged to use anymore? Was wannabe-doctor David Munshi's scan used at some point? Was he the first suit now headless in the omnitool room? Did the WAU engineer the whole thing, trying to put Reed back into her body but failing and so using Simon's legacy scan instead, because it was one that WAU could find? The terminal in Theta with Simon and David's legacy scans clearly has WAU all over it, so that's most likely how any of the old scans got from Theta to Upsilon.

There is another set of code similar to the one in the Upsilon pilot seat, tied to the suit where Herber's body is over at Omicron. The words I pulled from the screen shots there are:

RESTORE DECEASED REVERSE STOP DEATH REMAIN ALIVE PAIN (and a lot of repeats of RESTORE and a few of the others)

It's unclear exactly what either set of code really means or is meant to represent, but the one from Omicron has nobody's names in it that I could find. That's another one where it's hard to get the beginning screenshotted. The words in the Omicron code at least seem to follow the general idea of Upsilon's, except it may have realized Herber's body is dead and be trying in vain to return her to life.

So... that's Reed's story, if I have threaded together very thin connections to form the correct theory (there's a little more, but I reference it later and I'd rather keep it out of this section). If I did theorize correctly, it took digging with a proverbial ice pick to find it. It's potentially one shred of good writing, though there are still a lot of questions left, and some of it may have been lost to the game getting hodgepodged together by the developers appearing to splice together at least two stories that don't match up at all.

Let's dive into that now...

There are two WAU stories.

Story 1: The WAU is an AI that is entirely uninterested in human concepts like desire, love, hate, etc. It infects but perhaps does not control everything around it, in an attempt to follow its programming to "preserve humanity." It does not think like humans, it is just a process. Its process makes it appear as a cancer, because its definition of "humanity" is a machine definition, one that cannot be predicted by humans. It is technically preserving humanity by trapping human bodies and transforming them into something that will remain for eternity, while the minds within the bodies live forever in WAU-controlled dreams. Basically, The Matrix, minus the concept of using human body heat as energy.

Story 2: The WAU is an AI with some sort of human-like emotions or processes that we would call human emotions, enough for it to get attached to specific individuals (Ross) and desire to stop any attempts to end its own existence (killing Herber and almost all of Omicron, which goes directly against its orders to preserve humanity).

It's entirely possible in either version that WAU was experimenting on the wildlife in order to better figure out how to preserve humans. Some of the wildlife reacted so badly to WAU that humans were killed during the TAU evacuation, and Ross was eventually killed by wildlife (best theory, anyways) at or near the climber.

One thing is clear: WAU freaked out about Ross dying. Had it grown attached to him? He was the AI psychologist assigned to Site Alpha, where the WAU's central core is housed, according to notes left throughout the game. If it got attached to him, then it is manifesting something very like a human emotion or connection.

Did WAU not form a connection with Ross, but instead feel at fault for his death for purely logical reasons, aka uncontrolled WAU-infected wildlife killing him? That could be a reason for it trying desperately to revive him, but its efforts to do so put the rest of Omicron's staff in danger, physically harming them to the point that people had severe headaches, ringing in their ears, dreams of some sort, sleep problems, and some were literally bleeding out of their eyes. What if someone had killed themselves to end the pain, or gone insane and killed several people? Would WAU realize that any such deaths would be its fault as well? If WAU used logic to blame itself for Ross's death, it failed logic in hurting the rest of Omicron in order to revive Ross.

Also, Ross clearly hates the WAU enought to kill it now, and he didn't like it even before he died. There are indications he wanted to get away from working at Site Alpha in his logs. By the time Simon gets to Omicron, Ross had already tried to get Herber to go poison WAU (which instead got almost everyone in Omicron killed off by WAU overloading their blackboxes to explode heads). Ross now tries to get Simon to go poison WAU, and thus the game proceeds to send you off to do that, amidst working towards the ARK project goal.

Urgh. Let's move on to another indication there are at least two stories.

There are two Catherine stories.

Story 1: Catherine never felt at home in her own skin as a human, and comes across as creepy to at least one other member of station crew. Someone who may be a psychologist in Theta's medical wing spoke of Catherine as being very closed-off. Catherine is often cold to Simon, randomly apathetic (whines that Theta is too far away and doesn't feel comfortable with you carrying her around in the omnitool), and even completely useless many times. Simon asks her for better than she's giving him in the power tower outside Omicron, and all she has for him is "Good luck?" Yet, weirdly enough, the moment he goes upstairs to poke around for clues, she suddenly wants to know where he went... which leads us to...

Story 2: Catherine is very human, sometimes vulnerable and insecure, and cares very deeply about the ARK project. She was spurned by Reed and it affected her so much that she made the vivarium that you find in Catherine's quarters, in order to make a virtual or projected version of Reed. Catherine will stop at nothing to convince you to do anything possible to recover the ARK and get it launched, because she believes it is the only way to save anything of humanity (note that she and her ARK greatly mirror WAU and its dream-sleep). She also tells you of an entirely human experience she had on the roof of her home in China. In the power tower, she has a bit of a deep discussion with you about what it means to be human, and touches on the same line of discussion elsewhere in the game.

Basically, Catherine waffles bad. Perhaps she is meant to be written as unstable, but the whole package does not come off as believable. She's cheery and upbeat one minute, then distant and useless the next. It's difficult to tell if she woke up in her robot body (in the room in Lamdba where you find her later) just as you connect the radio right outside Upsilon's thermal plant room, or if she has been awake for longer.

I mentioned the vivarium in Catherine's quarters, let's check that out now. Simon says it looks like a projector, and through shreds of what Catherine says in response to various cues in the room, it appears the vivarium had to do with Reed. Personal logs reveal that the WAU copied the vivarium, and the WAU's version simulated Reed in a virtual version of the scan room. Catherine then reverse-engineered the WAU's vivarium-copy, in order to create the method of transferring people's brain scans into the ARK. So basically, Catherine and WAU traded ideas back and forth more so than she probably wants you to realize.



From left to right: Catherine's original vivarium, the WAU's copy, and something Catherine describes as "part of Reed's vivarium." (The far right object in the back is just clothing on the edge of the bed, and yes, the levels on this screenshot are also jacked to see better.)

So, what was the original vivarium? I'm going to guess it was some kind of glorified porn-machine. Catherine clearly wanted to play with Reed, and real-Reed wasn't going to play. In fact, Catherine mentions that Reed's brain scan doesn't play nice with other scans during other tests related to the ARK. This is because Catherine says Reed is "too real" even in her scan.

So, WAU copied a porn toy, and Catherine copied WAU's improvements to eventually create the ARK and the method to scan people into it. WAU was already creating similar scans while people were using the pilot chairs to control robots around the station, indicated by hangover-like effects the pilots experienced just like when people got scanned for the ARK by Catherine. This is further reinforced when people's scans pop into random robots later, and WAU makes them think they are real people... right down to seeing real arms, hands, and bodies, not their true robot forms. Only the DUNBAT seems to know something is wrong, and screams that it's all Catherine's fault before crashing into a water outlet in Theta while Simon passes out.

Unfortunately, it's not 100% clear if computer-Catherine is independent of WAU, being manipulated by WAU, manipulating WAU herself, or has become some sort of bizarre Catherine-WAU hybrid who doesn't want you to realize the big picture is really, really dark and convoluted. WAU clearly has issues with Ross dying, which seems to mirror Catherine's obsession with Reed. Perhaps Catherine is the reason Reed's body gets any sort of scan loaded into it after all, and that's why Catherine is at Lambda instead of elsewhere. Lambda is closer to Upsilon than the other stations you visit later. Was she trying to get to you? A lot of what she says during initial radio conversation is vague and evasive. Hell, she's almost always evasive and any legitimate information she gives you (outside of the bare minimum she needs for you to keep your ass moving toward her goal), she probably only gives by accident.

Now, let's talk about the structure gel. The structure gel is implied to have been created by humans, so it is not some deep-sea discovery (which would be much more interesting). It is described as being "crosslinked gel with aligned graphene in a polyunsaturated matrix." A person named Eames at Omicron can create it as needed. Logs state that it was WAU that used the gel in ways humans never thought possible, because WAU is a machine AI. There is a pure version of some sort that you have to get during the mission to transfer yourself to Herber's suit, and there is the WAU version that contaminates the stations, people, wildlife, etc. The exact way the WAU uses its version of the gel is unclear, and leads us to another divergence.

There are two structure gel stories.

Story 1: WAU fully controls anything infected by its version of the structure gel. This can be seen with creatures that want to stop you from interfering with WAU's sleep-trapped humans. The first healing node you can use audibly begs you not to, so it would seem WAU is fully sentient, present, and paying attention all over every instance of itself.

Story 2: WAU infects but does not control things with its version of the gel. It clearly has no control over Ross, who looks very much like he is almost pure WAU-humanoid in the jump-scare flashes you get of him, and when he is standing along the route to Site Alpha... but then it's not clear where Ross actually is (more on that later). So, right, WAU infected the wildlife that indiscriminately killed people during the TAU evacuation, and also Ross later. This seems directly against WAU's programming to preserve humanity, so it implies the wildlife infected by WAU's gel were out of control. Also, with the WAU being everywhere, the bits all over walls and corridors should easily be able to tell the creatures it corrupted, "Hey, Simon is hiding over here!" but it never does.

Perhaps WAU simply decides which creatures it wants to control and which it doesn't, but the choices feel too arbitrary to make a finished story. And then there's Akers... another big mess, and another big question mark when it comes to WAU's control over its subjects.

Akers is either following WAU's manipulations or he is 100% crazy, made up all the stuff about WAU leading him to the light, and... no... that doesn't really work either, due to him being the ickydude in the medical wing of Theta. It has to be him, because he's the most "present" of the mutants in Theta while the rest downstairs seem to be the proxies referred to by others. He also still has his arms. Not only does he make things difficult for you in the medical wing, but he can clearly get downstairs (so much for Brandon's self-sacrifice) where he grabs you when you go down the scripted hallway towards the stairs. He puts you into WAU's dream-sleep goo, and it's only the elevator literally crashing and burning that wakes you up at all. So, Akers is technically doing exactly what WAU wants: jamming people into goo so they can be preserved in dreams forever.

Let's ditch that dead end and go back to Ross, because he's mildly interesting, if just as frustrating in the end. You first hear from him if you connect to Omicron via Upsilon's radio in the comm center before contacting Catherine at Lambda. Ross tells you, "Kill yourself. There's nothing left to live for." (And if you call Theta, you get Stratsky who says, "There's something better here. It's here." ...but he's a decomposing corpse under the power tower at Omicron where he drowned himself. It's possible he's the voice in the DUNBAT but if so, it's powered off when you get there and also quarantined.) For the rest of the interesting bits, we'll skip on to Omicron itself.

Ross's body may be outside Herber's dispatch room in Omicron. That's the room with Post-It notes of bizarre drawings including WAU's core, and scrawled messages about taking the poison gel to Alpha, plus audio recordings of Herber making and receiving various calls. The body right outside the door, aka potential-Ross, has the least amount of WAU infection. In fact, there are only a few thin tentacles on the wall behind it, and a splash of plain-looking gel on the floor right beside it.

The body's chest innards are exposed, and it looks very much like it might be an android. Could this be Ross's body in its rebuilt state after WAU bombarded it with electrical frequencies and radiation from gel outgrowths in the containment room? If so, the Ross jumpscares could be a bizarre psychic projection, since he is also talking to you via on-screen text glitches when you read computer screens in Omicron. He is also most likely the one who glitches the secondary monitor in the power tower outside, giving you the four-digit code to override the station's quarantine lockdown for the outer doors.

But... if that is Ross... why is the resurrected version injured and doing nothing where it sits in the hallway? It does still appear to be alive, in some sense. Its head is also not exploded. Neither is the head of the human trapped in one of the hallways, the human that gets up later to stand in the medbay and gank you in the tunnel to the dive room if you don't run fast at the right moment. Also, that floor-trapped human became one of what I like to call the "WAU banshees" awfully damned fast. If you complete areas as quickly as possible like I did on the second playthrough, it's inexcusable how fast it is unless the transformation is supposed to be almost instant. I mean, look at these things (levels jacked again to see details), that's some pretty drastic changes:



There are at least three people inside Omicron whose heads are not exploded: maybe-Ross-android-guy, WAU banshee number one (in the power room where you get the battery pack), and WAU banshee number two (in the medbay, most likely the guy on the floor in the hall who has vanished when you get back there). As a weird side-note, the headless dive-suited body in the very first room you explore in Omicron moves from slouched against the wall to draped over the bench by the lockers, while you are busy doing stuff upstairs. So, can WAU control those bodies too?

WAU not killing off Ross is a given, since it struggled so hard to bring him back in the first place; however, he's immobilized, so perhaps it finally realized he was trying to kill it, but it still can't seem to end his psychic projections to Simon... if that's what's going on.

So who are the other two people? Why did they make it? Did they not have blackboxes, or did they pull them off in time (they're implants, good luck there)? Were they incapacitated instead of killed, so that the WAU could turn them into guardians? The banshees seem very upset, weeping desperately with hands over their eyes when you stay still. One even seems to tell you to leave her alone in the power room, if you get too close, but that may be something you overhear like with the dream-sleep humans WAU has trapped.

There is one last strange body in Omicron, in the power room. He seems to still be alive, in a sense, but probably missing his head since it seems to be merged or created from electronic components in the machine he is slouched back against. So here, WAU did its duty to preserve human life... sort of. If his head blew off like the others, then really the body is the only thing being preserved. Perhaps a too-literal interpretation of WAU's coded orders to preserve humans.

Let's have a quick look at Simon's character before I totally lose interest. He's forgettable. Badly written. Annoying. Way too trusting and doesn't question Catherine nearly enough, nor point out just how badly she waffles back and forth in her own personality. He is as unbelievable a character as she is. A silent protagonist would have been much better than Simon, either with text-inputs for responses to people... or nothing. Catherine would probably say just about the same things to you anyways, not counting the details she doesn't bother remembering correctly anyways (like how Simon is from Toronto, not Vancouver).

Sigh... I have three pages of notes on this nonsense, but I really don't want to write any more. The gameplay itself is lacking, and while the atmosphere can be tense on the first playthrough, my friend played it along with me via Skype and was not scared at all. Jump scares are cheap, and they're also badly-timed and horribly-triggered in this game, to the point you can miss them completely, or trigger one part and not another until you step on the perfect part of the floor to trigger the rest, completely breaking any immersion you managed to find. Monsters teleport with no reasoning given for how they can do so. They just do.

One jump scare out in open water is so poorly implemented, if you come at it from the far right of the map, you won't see it (but you will hear it) because the graphics for it are flat, one-sided (invisible from the back and sides) and literally facing towards the one direction the devs think you will be walking! That one also triggers badly, to the point that on my first playthrough I only saw the first scare directly ahead of me and missed the one that popped in behind me (duh). My friend saw nothing at all, and Cry in his YouTube Let's Play triggered it so far back, he saw both instances quite clearly.

On my second playthrough, I noticed the atmosphere was pretty much nonexistent. That just adds to the fact that the game has no replay value. The plot remains essentially the same and the entire ending is exactly the same. Here's the only real differences before leaving Site Alpha, whereafter nothing you do changes anything at all:

Apartment email choice A: You can choose whether or not to send the email to tell the guy at your store that you won't be in, due to your scheduled scan. If you send it, you get a nicer phone call from him during the subway scene. You can choose to ignore the phone call all together. This changes nothing, aside from you missing the conversation during the call.

Apartment email choice B: If you choose not to send the email, you get a meaner version of the call on the subway. Again, you can ignore it, and doing so changes nothing aside from missing the conversation during the call.

Carl choice A: You can choose to continually fry Carl in order to power the door switch to the Comm Station in Upsilon A. If you turn off the current after a while, you will note that he seems particularly addled and no longer quite with it. You can leave him frying indefinitely and won't be able to get back to him after the Comm Station door locks behind you. Aside from ethical implications, the only thing this does is avoid having to deal with the stompy-bot that spawns from making the other choice.

Carl choice B: You can leave Carl happy in his delusion for the moment, and pull the switch in the Flow Control room instead. This will essentially kill him by cutting off the power to him completely. You will also spawn a stompy-bot that makes it harder to get into the Comm Station. So the big difference in this set of choices is: pretty much nothing, both choices are ethically bad, but throwing the Flow Control switch makes it harder to progress to the next plot point. It's also weird that the game punishes you for killing Carl by giving you a stompy-bot only in that scenario, because at least in my opinion, shutting him down is the lesser of two evils compared to leaving him stuck in a robot body being electrocuted for an indefinite amount of time (since you can never go back and check after the Comm Station door locks behind you).

Amy choice A: You can leave one power line active by pulling the top one only, and Amy remains alive. This only changes one thing in the shuttle, giving you a warning (I forget what exactly, probably something safety-related). The shuttle still runs properly and you still crash at the same exact spot because the tunnel doesn't get any less f0rked just because you didn't kill Amy.

Amy choice B: Pull both power lines and Amy dies. The shuttle controls all light up happily with no warnings. You still crash as per usual.

(As an aside, you can actually choose to go to a station other than Lambda like Catherine expects. You will get a different introduction video related to the station you chose to go to, but will still crash in the exact same spot because the tunnel is only ever messed up in the same location. It's also possible to completely miss Catherine's call right after that, if you ignore the ringing intercom and go explore the end of the tunnel first.)

Zeppelin chip choice A: You can choose to use the stun gun to kill the robot that most likely has a human brain scan running in it, the one that rambles on and on about random work-related stuff and doesn't much seem to acknowledge your existence. Doing so bothers Simon and he complains to Catherine about how the robot seemed present, in a sense. She blows it off. The zeppelin still powers up just fine and sends you to Theta.

Zeppelin chip choice B: You can instead choose to stun-kill the adorable little helper-bot that's gotten you through sticky situations at various points in the game; you won't actually see him again if you leave him alive, so it is technically a valid choice... it's just the choice I like less, partly because my friend dubbed him Michaelbot after one of my original characters, but also the 'bot is probably the best surviving anything in the game. When you tell Catherine about it, she pretends to be shocked because the K-8 unit is "so cute!" and then laughs and says she's kidding, that they're "dumber than rocks." Real nice, Catherine. Up yours. *ahem* Anyways, same diff, zeppelin works and off you go to Theta.

Stored scan data choice A: You can choose to erase various brain scans in Theta, including your own legacy scan and Brandon Wan's scan you got the cipher from. Doing so makes any scans referenced later at the ARK prototype inaccessible.

Stored scan data choice B: Leaving the scans intact at Theta makes them list as accessible for the ARK prototype, but Catherine tells you that you can't use legacy scans for the test she wants to run. You still have to run the dummy scan as per usual. This is very disappointing, and essentially leaves you with no reward for making a "good" ethical choice. Then again, perhaps it is an "evil" ethical choice for leaving scans behind for WAU to play with. And the biggest problem with this set of choices is that when you have scan data to test, Catherine says the legacy scans won't work. This creates one of the worst plot holes in the game if you connect the dots: would a legacy scan work in the ARK at all? Would Simon ever be able to enter the ARK? Does Catherine realize this and brush it off quickly? But as the end of the game proves, Simon does make it onto the ARK... sort of. The writers are either doing massive amounts of handwaving, or didn't notice a direct conflict in their own lore. The straightest plot-hole fill-in would be to blindly state that the dummy scan is the only one she can run the test with, because "reasons." That's not good enough for me. Why can't Catherine use a legacy scan of Simon or David or anybody else still in the system for the exact same test? Why doesn't Simon notice the discrepancy, aside from being written as "dumber than rocks," to steal Catherine's words from elsewhere?

First-suit Simon choice A: You can choose to kill the version of Simon you left behind in the first suit, after you transfer to the deep-dive suit containing Herber's body. Choosing to power down his battery kills him in his sleep.

First-suit Simon choice B: Choosing to leave first-suit Simon alive does nothing. You never meet nor hear from him again... nevermind that you pretty much render Tau's dive room inoperable when you leave it, so after that point there may not even be a way to go back to anywhere you've been before. When the game ends craptastically with you all alone without even dumbass Catherine anymore, you are probably well and truly frogged.

Lindwall choice A: She asks you to kill her. Shut down her life support like she asks, and she dies. This changes: absolutely nothing. Except that you killed the last surviving true human on the planet. Go you.

Lindwall choice B: Maybe she deserves to live on in the hell she's created by standing around while the real Catherine got killed, essentially trapping the ARK on earth. Leave Lindwall alive... this changes: absolutely nothing. Oh, right, she says something to the effect of, "I'll be here if you need me," if you send the ARK downstairs and walk all the way to the exit while her life support is still on. Ooh. Epic. *yawn*

Poison choice A: If you choose not to poison WAU's core, Ross tries to force you to do so. The wormfishthing kills him before he can, and you have a brief moment where you can actually decide to poison WAU anyways; whether you do or not, you must soon haul ass to get away from the wormfishthing. If you do not poison WAU's core even at the second chance to do so, you do not lose your hand.

Poison choice B: If you choose to poison WAU's core, it noms your hand off. Ross says it's working, then tries to kill you because he says you are the only thing immune to the poison and must be destroyed before WAU can get to you (even though you were carrying the poison in you, and Wau has your entire freaking hand so it can surely simulate an antidote from that). Ross is eaten by the wormfishthing before he can kill you, and you must run from it yourself. Catherine will be shocked at the state of your arm when she sees you next, and you can see the stump when you climb ladders. That's it. There is no direct evidence you can see yourself that you did anything at all to WAU, and the wormfishthing still makes the remainder of your run to Phi difficult. Uh... yay?

The rest of the game is pretty much linear, and I'm not just talking about Phi-onwards. As final proof that your actions do not matter, at the very end in the ARK when you can choose during the survey to die and be removed from the project, you are not killed. Don't get me wrong, I love a good linear game... key word: good. This game is not good. It's not even an acceptable waste of time. I want my 33 hours back. It's that bad. I'm lucky I didn't pay for it, but I feel bad one of my other friends gifted it to me on Steam... at least she got it during a minor sale, but still. The only reason I played it through with my other friend the first time was because at that point, it was sort of a challenge. Possibly watching-a-train-wreck syndrome. Or, "How bad can it get?" Oh. That bad. And then I played the damned thing again, trying to salvage anything of worth from it. Sigh.

The following screenshot is just sort of an extra, from early on in the game, but it's one of the few cool things and needs to be shown off. It's the robot in Upsilon that flips out and busts down a solid door for you, if you even notice the thing is missing when returning to his area when he makes a bunch of noise (you never see anything at all no matter how fast you try to get to it or follow it). This robot is really hard to see in-game, so I've jacked the levels to make it more visible. He's the one on the right:



And now we come to it, having exhausted everything else I care to regurgitate. The worst theory of all... a fanbase-theory that, if you didn't like the ending of ABC's LOST, you will really, really hate. Basically, that it's all a dream. And there is actually evidence of this, in the most unexpected place. That, or there is some seriously lazy modelling in the game. Here we go:




For the top image, we have a TV dinner in Simon's fridge, in his apartment. (His apartment also has a poster of outer space, and one of an underwater diver. There's a horror book in his nightstand related to an undersea story as well. More hints of a dream to come?) For the second image, we have the exact same meal taken from the Munchprint food processing device in Omicron's kitchen. I flipped the Omicron screenshot upside-down and changed the levels to make it more obvious that it's the exact same model. Apologies for the lack of clarity in the Omicron image, I was missing health and as per the game's mechanics, the more hurt you are, the worse your vision gets. This is a very bad thing in reality, because some people who tried playing the game experienced dangerous physical reactions to the vision mechanic. You can turn it off if you know what setting to tweak, but it was still a bad decision to include it at all.

So, kiss the entire plot goodbye. The whole discussion. The stories don't make sense thrown together like they are because it's all going on in Simon's brain, and the scan at the lab in 2015 put him into a coma. All the discrepancies, the teleporting that doesn't make sense, Ross's stupidity about your immunity to WAU's poison, and even poor Reed's thin threads of potential backstory... it's all faulty dream logic. It doesn't. Frogging. Matter.

Is that what I actually think about the overall story? That it was just a dream? I... don't actually care anymore. It's bad writing and bad game design by too many people trying to cram too many things into one story. That's how I'm categorizing it, and that's that. I still do like the tiny thread of potential Reed backstory I pieced together, almost like I found one good bit that one writer worked on, but it got obfuscated by the crap-heap that the rest of the game became.

What's really sad is, I pared down the 23 hours it took to run it the first time to about 10 the second time. The game is too easy, even the first time. I never healed during the replay, except for the first time it forces you to heal in order to teach you what heal-nodes are and won't let you progress until you try it. Aside from the challenge factor of not healing, I was testing a theory that others posed, about how monsters supposedly won't attack you if you have as little interaction with WAU as possible (aka don't heal up), and instead the monsters supposedly whine about wanting more gel. I did see one case of that with one of the deranged robots out in an open water area, but I wasn't sure if that was a timed thing and perhaps I left him behind quickly enough. There are only about two or three of those kinds of robots in the early stages of the game. Every other monster was still quite happy to eat my face if it caught me.

I wanted the game to be good. I really did. It's Frictional Games. Amnesia: The Dark Descent was great, and yes, linear. But as for Soma, only a tiny, thin, possibly nonexistent thread is even remotely interesting to me in this game, and that's Reed and the potential ties to the first room you wake up in at Upsilon. And the game's ending... ugh. Just plain ugh. I can appreciate a bad ending when it fits, but this was just plain stupid... wait... no... perhaps it was fitting. A garbage ending for a garbage game.

I'm sorry, Frictional, but I tell it like it is. You wrote too many stories and jammed them all into a box at the last minute, hoping nobody would notice. Too many people didn't, and are lauding this game as the best thing since sliced bread. That trend is very disturbing, because it is also present with monstrous disasters like Until Dawn, or as I like to call it, Wolf-Saving Simulator 2015. Seriously, the only reason to play that game is for the tiny bits involving the white wolf. In other words, skip Until Dawn entirely. Watch someone Let's Play it if you really want to. It's a too-long interactive movie with unrelatable characters and horrible gameplay, end of story.

Now, as for Soma? Watch Helloween4545 play it on YouTube, Helly doesn't sugar-coat. Don't pay for this game. Don't encourage crap writing, badly-implemented atmosphere, and cheap jump scares. This game is not horror. It's cyberpunk or sci-fi at best, with hints of psychological thriller thrown in to try and wedge its way into the horror genre.

To quote Simon: "All that hope, wasted."

2 comments:

Zetey a said...

Actually Imogen Reed died of lack of oxygen. If you'd watch the short miniseries from YouTube that went into Imogene's backstory and events before the game you'd know this. Also Imogene's head is missing because if you'd paid attention to the Proxies (creatures mutated or built by the WAU), you'd know that the WAU constantly takes out and replaces certain body parts that don't need replacing AKA removing most of the head. Also if you pay attention to the death screen animation you notice imogen reed with structure gel leaking out of her eye sockets slowly ripping apart her own head revealing a red glowing eye underneath, suggesting her body was reanimated with structure gel and ripped open her own head before putting in cameras. BTW, yes proxies can survive brain damage or decapitation, we hear in the web series that a woman had "half her head destroyed" after a piece of shrapnel went through her head but came back later fully revived and fully capable of waking, making vocalizations, and anything else a human could do even with horrendous brain damage.
One last thing, the WAU is pointed out at least 7 different times to not feel attachment emotion or even real thought, every idea it has stems from one goal: preserve humanity. It felt no connection to johan Ross, it was simply trying to reanimate him to use him as another proxy like it did with Terry Akers although this time it failed. It's more described as just a bunch of logic gates that process information and decide what to do, not an intelligent, thinking machine.

Zetey a said...

And although this game isn't the scariest, the real horror is the question it presents. Several people (including myself) have said the ideas that it poses have made them uncomfortable or horrified. Some ideas include: Would all the pain and hardship people go through from the WAU really be worth it to preserve the last of humanity or would it just be amoral and evil?
Memories are what makes us, us. If we lost all our memories we'd practically be dead, memories make our personally, who we are, without them we're nothing.
What makes us human? Where do we draw the line? Some say that the robots we find are human because they feel emotion thought and feeling but they were never born, they don't have what we perceive as souls, and they're synthetic, does that still mean they're human? Would a corpse reanimated that had only part of the brain reanimated to the point it's able to perceive its former child and call out to them be human, or simply an abomination trying to imitate them?