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Well, I just finished it. I literally just put the controller down and switched over to the forum to post this. This will be a review thread. Obviously, there will be spoilers, so I won't bother tagging them. Come back when you've finished the game, but make sure you heed the title of this thread!

That was without a doubt the best gaming experience I've ever had. It feels like Frictional Games have really taken all that they've learned through Penumbra and Amnesia (and, from a third-person perspective, A Machine for Pigs) and crafted the perfect horror game. I'd like to talk at some length about how this game just affected me, what it means for the industry, and what to take away from it all.

The story.

When the final credits started rolling, before the final scene on the ARK, I felt empty. I had worked so hard and gone through so much, and that was it. You just flickered out, like a candle running out of wax. There was nothing left for you anywhere, and your last contact with another sentience had just flickered out. I half expected Frictional to go with that ending, ever since the same thing happened to the last living human, Sara. The experience was bittersweet; I knew that the other side of the coin toss happened each time we switched consciousness, but so far we hadn't experienced it due to the plot. At the end, though, when we served our purpose, it was a tragically beautiful moment for them to show us what happens to the losing side. And then the final scene came. The final ending with the ARK drifting off into space, to sustain what essentially became the essence of humanity without the presence of humanity for an indeterminate time. It was perhaps the most meaningful, heavy ending to a medium of storytelling I've seen. Before the final scene, it was a No Country For Old Men ending, and after that, it was an Interstellar ending. Humanity was going to be okay, albeit altered in an incredible way.

Let's take a moment to appreciate the incredible thing Frictional created here, with this story. It touches on every single human being's greatest fear, to go extinct. It encapsulated human ingenuity with the invention of AI copies, allowing humans to go beyond their mortal forms. This was what humanity was always meant for; to defeat our physical forms. From there, it became a race to bring that ascension of being to the rest of the galaxy, to survive. The world we started on failed us, so we had to leave. How could we leave without leaving behind our physical selves as well, though? We were never meant to live in space. So we had to find a way to build ourselves better bodies to accomplish that goal, and a simulation to exist within that body while still maintaining what made you human at heart. The lengths we'll go to to ensure our survival. It's perhaps the best story about the human condition I've ever experienced.

The production.
The visuals, setting, and atmosphere built up by Frictional were all paramount to this being the absolute best gaming experience I've ever had. The world they crafted, in a truly bizarre and alien world (fathoms beneath the ocean on a destroyed earth), was truly perfectly presented to make us feel completely out of our depths. As stated by Simon, there was no connection whatsoever to the intro of the game. And the presentation of it was amazing. I felt a growing sense of helplessness every time I stepped out into the ocean, particularly during the abyss walk where you dart from light to light in extreme torrents. I don't understand how Frictional was able to do it, but the sound design was flawless. I've never felt more immersed in a world before. I truly felt like I was deep, deep underwater where everything could rip me to shreds. The decision to make the hands be visible and to use the mirrors was a particularly effective one, although I was a little sad to not be able to see what I looked like inside the Heavy suit, since the only mirror at Phi was broken. It was all in effort to drive home the point that humanity isn't as tied to physical form as you'd think.

The choices.
The choices in this are what made me feel so empty inside when I finished playing. I felt truly connected to Simon, that I WAS him and that the personal struggles of flitting in and out of touch with your own humanity were also happening to me. In particular, when I was still in "human" form (as perceived by my struggling, coping brain) and we had to choose between causing pain to a broken robot on the floor or turning off the reactor so no one else would be able to use the station, I made the wrong choice. I didn't know it was the wrong choice until much later in the game, though. And this isn't something that the game told me, it wasn't a "you didn't save this character!" screen or dialogue, it was a personal realization, and another immediate realization that I had left a man screaming on the floor in pain, all because I didn't truly believe he was human, I merely thought he was a malfunctioning A.I. I chose to let him be shocked endlessly and leave the reactor on, because I thought at the time that he wasn't even real to himself- just a program. I chose the easier way to go because I valued myself over him. Later on, when I realized that I underwent the same exact transfer that he had, that I truly believed I was a human while I was actually robotic, just like him, it dawned on me. That WAS a real person, as real as I thought I was. And I left him dying on the floor. These kind of decisions went throughout the whole game, where none of them directly impacted the gameplay, but they made me feel horrible. That was the difference between this game and the rest of them that promise "choices".

Overall
I'll wrap it up now, thanks for sticking with me so far. I believe this game is a watershed moment for gaming being used as a medium for storytelling. It was like a great hit of a movie that gets referred to later as one of the classics and an example to follow, but it was 12 hours long and involved your personal choices, letting you be the protagonist. I've never taken such an emotional roller coaster before, and I want to thank Frictional for continuing to raise the bar. You guys are masters at this, and I hope that this game brings you as much success as you deserve. It also thrills me greatly to see the improvements to the engine, as someone who has always enjoyed making custom stories. I bought it for PS4 because I don't have a computer good enough to run HPL3 effectively, but as soon as I have one of those, I'll happily buy it again for PC to be able to use the tools. Besides, after that story, I don't think I'll have anything that comes even close to it.

Truly perfect, in my opinion. It tells the story in a way that drives it forward and draws the player in for a wild, awe-inspiring ride. The monsters were varied and all scary as hell, always throwing me for a loop. I could never not escape them, though. Nothing made me feel cheated, or like it wasn't my fault for being killed. They made me panic, which is exactly what they should do. SOMA will now remain an inspiration for me. Thank you for reading.
For the first ten minutes I thought that I was in a computer simulation by the Toronto scientists, and that this was one of millions of automated tests, to see, just in case, whether stressful situations might help Simon's brain condition.

(09-27-2015, 09:43 PM)Streetboat Wrote: [ -> ]And this isn't something that the game told me, it wasn't a "you didn't save this character!" screen or dialogue, it was a personal realization, and another immediate realization that I had left a man screaming on the floor in pain

I think that start, where I was certain Simon wasn't real but a construct, led me to rapidly consider everyone else behaving with sentience on their own terms; they wanted to be real, well, so do I. Similarly, I noticed quickly that the WAU was preserving people, keeping them alive when you meet Amy soon after. I only unplugged one of the two, and she seemed to still be holding on...

It was thinking of them that, even after seeing all of the monstrosities possible, knowing that Simon-2, Simon-3, and Catherine were all possible, I thought the WAU was worth giving a chance and letting live when you get to the end. I agree with your assessment of the ending, as well. Utterly devastating; as it fades to black for the credits, we don't even know if the bullet launched the ARK successfully, just that you uploaded and it fired. I imagine that Simon-3, in a desperate bid to repair Catherine's Omnitool, goes back and puts it into a WAU flower.