Spoilers abound below. I talk a lot about most aspects of the story, and game, so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read this. If you haven't played the game, or watched a play through, you'll likely find yourself confused. It's also possible I got some things wrong on my first play through, or some of my theories are incorrect. I can't presume I found every note there was to find. This isn't so much a review as, maybe a therapy session lol.
So, I wasn't prepared for the emotional steamroller that SOMA turned out to be. I went into it knowing that it would likely be creepy, spooky, scary even, and intriguing. It is made by Frictional Games, after all, and I loved their other games (Penumbra series, Amnesia series) very much.
At first, SOMA was what was expected. A moderate beginning with suspense. This quickly turned into some kind of what the fuck situation. I immediately had theories about what had happened. Was humanity in a holographic world that I somehow got booted from with the scan? Was I kidnapped, and brought to this station? As I progressed, and eventually met Catherine, I was pretty firmly in the 'Just woke up from the Matrix' mindset, but it all kind of went bizarrely wrong. There were smaller jump scares, but for the most part, the suspense and creepiness came from thinking what COULD be out there. With all this talk about the WAU's monsters roaming around, every sound became suspicion that another guardian was stalking the halls. More often than not, this wasn't the case, but the paranoia became another permanent part of the game.
Thoroughly picking over every note, and detail I could find, I began to piece together the pretty horrifying reality that had occurred. Somehow, the brain scan I had at the beginning of the game, to solve my brain trauma from a car accident, was put into a sort of library of scans. The original Simon, my character, died shortly after the scan was taken, having been able to find no solution to his brain trauma. This occurred in 2015, and it's now 2105. After 100 years, my original brain scan was pulled out of a legacy system, and used by Ross, I'm pretty sure, to copy into a new body to try to stop the WAU from turning humanity into a mockery of what it was.
The actual realization that I was not the human I was before was a little disconcerting as it occurred at a sort of hectic moment of the game where I thought I'd fucked up, and was going to drown. That even causes Simon to 'snap out' of his human thinking, and see him for the cyborg robot thing that he is. Not even human, just a copy. Of course, this is hotly debated in the game... If a scan could be a human, even if they have no body. Indeed, the entire idea of consciousness being the soul of the human is a largely debated topic, and one I'm interested in. SOMA fights with different sides of this throughout the entire game, and Simon seems to go from one side to the other a few times.
Things are okay, for the most part, until Tau station. Not only has a large portion of this station, and all the crew, seem to have been assimilated completely by WAU, but we can't get any further without a different diving suit. To do this, we're told that we need to be transferred to another suit... like another brain scan. Only it's not what we think. After putting the suit together, and getting the scan, we hear our own voice speaking from our previous suit. It turns out that we weren't transferred to the other suit, we were just copied, and placed in to it. There are now, effectively, two Simon's; one 'asleep' in our previous suit, and the one we just copied in to this new suit.
I have to say, as our character Simon-c (Simon-a being the original, and Simon-b being the first scan) realises what's happened, it took me for quite an existential breakdown. The panic in his voice, the realisation, the fear... it weighed down on me pretty heavily. You can choose to kill your previous copy by draining the battery, or leave him alone to wake up in a few hours. In the dark. Without Catherine. Without anyone, even the WAU monsters. In the dark. Alone. Both of these options made me feel physically queasy. I got up from the game, and walked around. Made coffee, made some supper. This decision was one of the hardest in a game, and it wouldn't be the last hard decision in the game. In the end I choose to end Simon-b's life instead of leaving him to that void of fear, despair, and darkness. It didn't feel good at all, but I did it, and headed out of Tau, and down to the Abyss.
As I ventured further, I kept thinking about Simon-b, and what it means to be human. It really bothered me. Just the experiences, the thoughts? Do we require the flesh, and blood, and bone to be human. Would it be enough to scan the memories, and thoughts to a new host? Or even living in the digital world, as we would on the ARK. I felt very uneasy as we got to Phi, and Ross began jumping in, and out of reality, but it got worse when I found out where the ARK was... being guarded by the last human, Sarah. After a conversation with her, she begged me to kill her. Remove life support, and let her die. The last 'human.'
All this time I'd been faced with the question about what it is to be human. Sarah, like many others, had already scanned herself into the ARK. Was that enough? She would live on from the time that her scan had been made. Could I really kill the last flesh human? What does that even mean? Everyone is in the ARK, living on... and here is the last human slowly dying. Apparently, in huge amounts of pain. I just looked at her wheezing, begging me to kill her, and so... I did. I turned off the machine, and stood there as she died, listening to her reminisce about her life. Then she was dead, though she would have died eventually, it was still me who had turned off the machine.
Again, the uneasy feeling set in, and I continued to progress. Even finding Catherine's original body, dead of course, didn't really phase me as much as it probably should of. The next thing that really bothered me was when Ross guided me to destroy the WAU. It felt... shoe horned in. It seemed like an after thought. As though someone had suddenly thought, “Oh! We have that WAU.. I guess we should do something about it.” So this stupid afterthought like idea had me miraculously have the poison for it in the suit I had made. I went in there, poisoned it, Ross died, and I got out minus one arm, which didn't matter since I'd be whole in the ARK after Catherine scanned us in. With that very 'star trek ending' scenario done with, in the mysterious Alpha site no less, we continue to the launch gun.
It was at that time when the real nonsense happened. Catherine had explained previously, when Simon-b was copied to be Simon-c that the brain scan transfers were not solid transfers, but copies of the scan until that point, put in to a new environment. This meant that the previous copy was still active in the previous environment. Any time a scan is made, and placed in to a new environment, the previous remains active. I wanted to say that twice because it's something Simon, in all his iterations, didn't seem to grasp. It's a flip of the coin as to whether their present aware consciousness is copied over, as it was with Simon-c, or if it remains in it's previous environment, as it happened with Simon-b. There is a bit of suspense as the ARK is launched, and the copies are made to be transferred to the ARK, but when everything is done, and launched, we remain in the darkness of the Phi launch site.
Much like Simon-c, I was confused, even though I'd seen the transfer go through, but then it hit me. Our awareness hadn't copied over as it had from Simon-b to Simon-c. We were left here, mirroring what had happened back on Tau. As Simon-c screamed, and panicked, I just sat there with this feeling of dread creeping over me. I knew Simon-d was in the ARK, continuing, but it didn't matter any more. None of that mattered because I was still here, in the darkness, without Catherine (her system shut down due to the pressure of the station), without anyone... not even WAU. The darkness seeped in as systems began to shut down. As Simon-c was crying, and sinking into insanity, most likely, all I could think about was how long would it take to die? Could I kill myself? What happens to my scan when I die? Simon-c had asked these same questions, in regards to Simon-b as well, but now I was considering my own horrific future.
I felt like I just wanted to, in real life, lay down, and never get up again. I was drained as the credits rolled on by, and when they ended, I was greeted with, what I knew to be Simon'd's new life on the ARK. I felt no better. I felt sick, even. I stood up, hearing Simon'd's ecstatic joy at the copy working; after all, he had no idea that it hadn't as, to him, he was the primary conscious, and had won the coin toss. He gave no thought to Simon-c, like he did to Simon-b, and really, who could blame him. He was now on the ARK, with Catherine, and the future was theirs to live, while Simon-c was alone in the void with unanswered questions, and terror.
The 'happy' ending made me feel worse. It wasn't happy, and I was resentful to Simon-d. I earned my life, but I guess so did he. And Simon-b, but I killed him. I killed Sarah too, and the WAU. I guess it was fitting to die alone, while a fresh, new me lived on circling our Earth. Living.