(opens in new tab) is one of my favourite horror games in recent years. Developed by Amnesia creator Frictional, it’s among the best sci-fi stories ever told by a videogame, and its underwater setting, research base Pathos-II, is an incredible piece of world-building. But sometimes these are hard to appreciate when you’re being stalked by an unknowable machine-monster that makes your screen glitch and distort whenever it’s near.
I spent a lot of my time cowering in dark corners, which isn’t the best way to appreciate a game’s story or environments. I’ve always wanted to return to SOMA, just to revisit that world, but the stress of having to sneak around the monsters again really put me off. Then I discovered a mod created by Daniel Childers called (opens in new tab), which tweaks their AI so they never attack you. They’re still there, and they still make your screen freak out, but you can dance around in front of them and they don’t care.
This is not the correct way to play SOMA. If you’ve never played it before, do it properly the first time. Avoiding the monsters is the worst thing about the game, granted, but you have to experience it how the developers intended at least once. Then when you install Wuss Mode and revisit Pathos-II, you’ll feel the satisfaction of being able to explore every corner of every environment without worrying about dying. I’ve noticed so many details I was too stressed out to properly absorb the first time.
I’m also amazed by how effective a horror game it still is when the threat is removed. The atmosphere is so thick and oppressive that it still oozes eerie menace. And anyway, for me the story is the scariest thing about SOMA. It makes you think about things games generally don’t, like what it means to be human, the nature of existence, and other stuff that’ll fill you with existential dread. And who doesn’t love a bit of existential dread?
There’s something surreal about encountering a monster with the mod enabled. The clunks around aimlessly, jabbering in its broken machine-voice. bob around in the murky green depths muttering to themselves. It makes them seem strangely pathetic, as hopelessly lost and confused as you are. But even when it can’t attack you the is still horrifying, purely for the amount of screeching and distortion that pounds your senses whenever you stumble into its gaze.
There’s a catch, though. There are a few sections in SOMA where combat is unavoidable, like the frantic chase through the wreck of the Curie. This advances the story so there’s no avoiding it. Luckily these are few and far between, and the majority of the game can be enjoyed in safety. Interestingly, there are very few lines in the script that specifically mention the monsters attacking Simon, so the mod doesn’t jar with the story too much. It works so well it could almost be a legitimate game mode.
So if you’ve finished SOMA but feel like you missed out on some important plot points because you were frozen with fear, Wuss Mode is a great way to revisit Pathos-II in safety. And it’s also perfect for anyone who wants to play the game purely for its sci-fi elements, but who can’t handle horror games. Because they’re absolutely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre. Just bear in mind that the developers didn’t design the game to be played this way, and you’re not getting the complete experience.