We wanted to do something light and quick before we dive into Fallout 4, which will no doubt consume a big chunk of the year. So we’re going to run through SOMA, the follow-up to Amnesia from Frictional Games. Unlike that one time we treated Amnesia like a joke, we’re actually giving SOMA a full play-through and taking it seriously.
I love the dream sequence here, which is something you almost never hear people say about any movie or game ever. Here is why this one succeeds where so many others have failed:
- It’s short. Just 30 seconds. Far too many games make a dream sequence that lingers for several minutes. This ends in one of two ways: Either the player figures it out right away, in which case they spend the entire rest of the sequence impatiently waiting for the story to Get On With It Already because none of this matters. Or the dream feels like reality, in which case the audience feels cheated that you wasted their time because they watched a mundane scene that didn’t matter and ended as soon as something interesting happened.
- It ACTS like a dream. Way too many storytellers seem to be under the impression that human beings dream in little expositional short films, complete with musical cues and establishing shots. But Simon’s dream really feels like dream logic. He’s driving his car, but he’s sort of aware that he’s about to be in a crash. But he’s already got the head injury from the crash. His head is bleeding, which is annoying instead of panic-inducing like it would be in real life. He’s having a conversation about the medicine he needs to take, which is a concern in his life now, long after the crash. This is the exact sort of casual continuity-bending nonsense that you only see in dreamsAnd Mass Effect 3..
- It LOOKS like a dream. Note how the camera stays in first-person, and is mostly hyper-focused on small details, leaving the rest of the scene vague. Contrary to what Hollywood thinks, we don’t usually dream in third-person widescreen HD1080p with Dolby Surround sound.
- It serves a purpose. These 30 seconds of screen time are packed with detail. We learn that Simon was in a crash. He injured his head, and possibly his brain. He had a girlfriend. The fact that she’s not part of his life when he wakes up is a pretty big hint that she probably died in the crash. We see the medicine and hear the name Dr. Munshi, introducing the elements the game will need in about 15 seconds. The writer uses the dream to bring us up to speed, while also conveying Simon’s ongoing unease and confusion.
 And Mass Effect 3.
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