Why, Two Years Later, Sci-Fi Horror' Soma' Is Nerfing Its Monsters


#1

When SOMA launches on Xbox One later this week, it’ll have a surprising new option for players: Safe Mode. Though SOMA’s underwater nightmare sports unimaginable horrors, they cannot kill you. Lots of games include difficulty settings, but it usually means the player is given more rope before the game over screen—lots of health, for example. Here, the fundamental design principles of SOMA have been upended in favor of trying to get more people to play an underrated thriller.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/ywbad7/why-two-years-later-a-popular-horror-game-is-nerfing-its-scary-monsters

#2

I brought this up in the Alien: Isolation thread, but the current horror trend of not being able to fight back makes these games kind of boring to me. Generous checkpoints and infinite lives means that death is not a threat and there’s no reason to actively avoid being killed. It is kind of interesting to see how people get so upset about a change in presentation and not much else. If the monster runs up on you, knocks you down, and then you get up and keep going, how is that really all that different from a black screen and a reload? Is the extra hundred or so feet I’m pushed back from the last checkpoint really that much different? It reminds me of the uproar people had for the 2008 Prince of Persia where you couldn’t die but were instead rescued at the last second. Functionally it’s the same thing, you’re just being put back a little earlier, but people hated it.


#4

I don’t really find that design trend of “hide from the big loud noise monster” very fun, just anxiety-inducing in a bad way. (if you’re asking what an example of “anxiety-inducing in a good way” is, I’d say the radio in Silent Hill buzzing as enemies get close)

Adding an official version of Safe Mode to SOMA is absolutely a good idea. The story is already a really cool and creepy exploration of the “existence as a commodified construct” idea, and while the monsters themselves are justified well in the narrative, it creates an artificial barrier preventing people from experiencing the best parts of the game. Considering how popular the “Wuss Mode” mod was, it was a story people really wanted to see.


#5

The only part I’m really curious about this affecting is that one chase sequence early in the game where one of the monsters chases you back to the submarine, but considering that that sequence was probably my least favorite part of SOMA I don’t think a change there would necessarily be negative.

And removing the danger of the monsters while still preserving their plot role might have an interesting result on the atmosphere—they might even become weirdly sympathetic, which I think might actually benefit the game’s narrative.


#6

I don’t have the article offhand, but the PC Gamer interview with the team specifically mentioned this along the lines of “the Wuss Mode mods often wouldn’t account for scripted sequences like this, which is why we’re making an official version” with the implication that they’d be altering sequences like that to be far less lethal.


#7

Yeah I definitely understand why games like Amnesia were a breath of fresh air when they came out but now this is pretty much the default way we make horror games. It makes sense from one perspective – horror games are usually about disempowerment, and what’s more disempowering than literally not being able to fight back – but it winds up making these games feel kinda mechanically same-y, and you lose a lot of those frantic moments of trying to kill something that you got from, say, Silent Hill.

That said, I am interested in the monsterless horror games I’ve seen from some experimental developers, most notably Kitty Horrorshow. Games of hers like Anatomy and CHYRZA aim for dread rather than terror, and as a result they get a lot of feelings out of me that I’ve never gotten from games before.


#8

This is the version of the game that I always wanted. Soma is an incredible game when you aren’t being asked to engage with the monsters


#9

I love the idea. Any word if it is getting patched into the ps4 version?


#10

My main takeaway from this article was the person who made SOMA saying: “Your gameplay is not very active as stealth in horror games is a lot of about simply waiting” and me being like yeah nice don’t do it again please


#11

The bleak story of this game and its examination of consciousness has stuck on my mind ever since I played it. Happy they’re creating an official mode as I had to use a mod both because I hate hide-em-up horror and because I truly could not play the original game without becoming a broken nervous wreck.

“Safe Mode” is a pretty terrible name though, why not “Story Mode” or something less derogatory to the player?


#12

The tweet announcing this mode mentions that the PS4 version will get patched later.


#13

I think that and Exploration Mode both have the issue that they’re not necessarily immediately reassuring. If you’re building a mode for a horror/thriller game that’s about allowing people with an anxiety (someone who would not normally be able to experience a horror game due to the combination of fear and player control) to participate then you need to front-load it with the idea of safety. This is a mode where you’re safe, you’re not about to be attacked and killed, you can feel safe and avoid spiralling into your own head and freezing up/being unable to play the game.


#14

This is for me! I have the game but I am too scared to play it. So I will definitely try Safe Mode.
I bought it because I heard the story was good, and I want to find out what it’s about.
When I started playing it I got a little too scared when I (presumably) got to the first monster and turned it off immediately. I still have it installed on my PC after all that time but never dared to launch it again :blush:


#15

I think this is a very positive change as Soma has always been absolutely fascinating to me. The story behind it is really creative and original but I never played it simply for the fact that it has the typical “monster chases” in it.

I’m not too well versed in Amnesia’s lore but the monsters in that felt very “cardboard cut out”, they simply existed as helpers and that was the sum of it, generally they were uninteresting. But the monsters in Soma are an absolute necessity to keep in because they themselves are part of the world, they have entries about them, they are relevant to the game world as they were integral to the plot that built up to what is presented to the player. It’s good that they’re not removing them entirely but rather neutering their blood-need and murder-lust.

Soma was a game that felt a bit schizophrenic to me, the game world that harboured and cultivated sorrow, a final spark of life in a dying world as humanity finally slips from tangible flesh into a digital memory through circumstance forced upon them. Yet the horror aspect felt artificially inflated by the implementation of the “pursuit” monsters. A base instinct of fight or flight that had been sheared in two to leave only a single option available to players. You couldn’t look at the scenery as you were so tunnel visioned by the harrowing experience of being hunted. This resulted in a more Objective Based gameplay, reserving time for when you could actually look at the world to particular moments. But that fear of discovery and death to follow was always there, a black, tarry smudge that always stuck with you because of your knowledge that monsters were present, potentially around every corner.

Amnesia’s world was a tileset, a grand castle that descended into a dungeon, sprinkled with moments that restricted themselves to rooms and such. But Soma takes place in the final habitation of humanity, a place descended into anarchy and depression. It was a shame you couldn’t take a moment to really appreciate and look at it. Now that you can, I think it’ll be a much richer experience for it.


#16

More details from the devs on the mode and their reasoning for implementing it now.

This is a cynical take, but from my view, most of the reason that a game like SOMA even has the monster avoidance mechanics in place (other than “because our last games had it”) is that the scare-cam streamer audience is incredibly lucrative as far as marketing goes.

I don’t know if that would have been dampened by having a Safe Mode equivalent at the game’s original launch, but as the devs say:

We actually considered releasing something similar at launch, but chose not to because we felt it would make the core intent of the game too unfocused.

Which I can’t argue with. I’ll be picking up the Xbox version tomorrow and playing through it for the first time.


#17

I loved the story and the world so much, but by the last third of the game seeing a monster made me feel exasperated rather than repulsed or terrified.


#18

I recently finished the game in safe mode, and, from what I understand (I played before, but didn’t get far), it was better experience. Not sure what add to discussion, but to summarize my personal feeling about “SOMA” and similar games:

  • Existential dread is enough.
  • When you die a lot, monster(s) stop being scary.

Any other games did that recently/at all?


120 Games, 1 Goal - Pile of Shame: 0
#19

I do think this is a really good idea, both from a level of developer reflection on their game (and using the power of patches to change something) and, well, another method to get people interested in their game again. I remember SOMA being much-criticised at the time over its monster design, so hopefully this gives the game a good second wind.


#20

Yeap. I think I bought it only after I realised that there is a mod for the same thing (article mentioned it).