Keeping it Safe for Everyone: SOMA’s new ‘Safe Mode’
SOMA is a fantastic horror title from Indie masters Frictional Games. They first brought us the Penumbra series, followed by the acclaimed Amnesia (A Machine for Pigs was developed by The Chinese Room), but they have never really reached the success they rightfully deserve.
The main reason for that is the niche market of the horror genre. Much like the hardcore stealth game, horror has it devout worshipers – and those that don’t understand them. The games that play to the strengths of the genre are praised highly and vocally, but only by a small percentage of the population. This is where ‘Wuss Mode’ comes in.
In the past, horror games have had mods that would either remove threats or make them ignore you. With these mods, someone who doesn’t like the whole ‘scared’ thing could go through the game to see what all the fuss is about. How does that turn out at the credits screen? Unsurprisingly, not well.
Darkest Dungeon is a punishing pseudo-rpg/management simulator. You are expected to make multiple runs, die repeatedly, get frustrated, and return with a new strategy. This game gets high marks everywhere and despite that, I will never play it. Why’s that you ask? It’s simply not my kind of game, and I accept that.
If DD had a ‘Wuss Mode’ where I had no worries about management or that whole pesky death thing, I wouldn’t play it. Not because I feel it’s cheap or a cop out, but because I know I won’t ‘get it’. At the end of the game, I still won’t see what the praise is about because all the fun was in the gameplay I didn’t like.
Horror games are about just that – horror. Taking away the consequences of failure, or real player threat, just dilutes the whole experience. If you can never really die, then you’re never really scared, and the game fails in its one objective. In SOMA’s case, there is an interesting story without the enemies, and It’s worth experiencing. Whether you have enough invested in the game to bother caring is subjective. The story bits are the one place you have respite from the dangers in the game, and the adrenaline fall off seems only to intensify what you are watching.
Frictional has announced their own official attempt at making SOMA more digestible with its ‘Safe Mode’ update, coming to XBOX ONE and PC. Instead of removing the monsters completely, or making them ignore you, Frictional is attempting a happy medium. Enemies will menace you, but never kill you. I have no doubt they will do a fantastic job at that, and probably tweak it further after feedback, but are they helping themselves or just watering down their brand?
I’m sure this will get more games sold, but at the cost of enraging the hardcore fanbase. They’re the ones buying every product Frictional makes, day one. The stigma of the horror genre promotes a level of self worth among its players. “I survived [Insert Difficult Game Here],” is a badge of honor shared among fans. When you create a ‘Wuss Mode’, you’re only creating animosity between the two camps that leads to toxic behavior.
Expanding your horizons is good, playing games not in your wheelhouse is a great way to discover genres you didn’t know you liked. Understand though that it’s a little like a buffet table: Sure, you can try everything you like, but you won’t like everything you try, and getting angry over that has exactly one casualty – you. Venting at everyone who likes something you don’t is selfish – it’s just not for you, move on.
I applaud Frictional for wanting to do it right, for trying to bring more people into the fold. I really hope it works out for them. For those of you that waited for it, I hope it gives you a glimpse into what makes their games great. For everyone else, I hope you can understand that Frictional is a business, and a business needs money to survive. If you want to play the next SOMA, ease up on the vitriol. Instead, think of “Safe Mode” players like your little brother – just wanting to play too.