18 July 2020 | atlascentauri
Of Sound Mind and Body
Of Sound Mind and Body
AI: The Somnium Files is a game of two conflicting hemispheres. In many ways it's one of the most brilliantly constructed games I've ever played, with a story that's almost un-paralleled in its quality, up there with the likes of some of the best gaming's ever seen. However, these many moments of brilliance are at odds with the games numerous flaws, clichés and baffling annoyances. Much like Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly these hemispheres of quality constantly clash and compete with each other. Creating an experience that, for all its highest and lowest points, ultimately end up being enjoyable and memorable enough that it became impossible for me to deny its impact.
Visuals and Performance
While certain backgrounds, such as city vista's and districts are bland and at times nearly featureless the games attention detail in distinct character designs and interiors are (for the most part) exceptional.The Somnium's you explore in particular being the visual highlights. Though in regards to the characters the lip syncing and facial animations are about as wonky and inconsistent as the frame rate. Speaking of which while AI is fully capable of running like grease lightning on many occasions there are momentary spats (5 seconds to a few minutes) of performance slowdown, sometimes going into at least 10 digit range for FPS.
The Somnium Files is replete with an at times downright gorgeous and evocative soundtrack, coupled with some very crisp sound design. Voice acting and line delivery on the other hand is a completely different story. While there are more than enough examples of actors absolutely nailing the scenes where they get a chance to shine more often than not some deliveries are so off the mark you'll swear your reliving the worst that late 90's to early 2000's dubbing had to offer.
The Somnium Files's comes across as a hybrid of dialogue heavy Visual Novels and Third-Person adventure/puzzle games, similar to the game directors previous works (Zero Escape), with a few clear inspirations derived from the works of Telltale. A vast majority of the game finds you in stationary in several key locations as you interrogate witnesses and discover clues with the help of your AI companion Aiba. Within these portions you will on occasions have to utilize quick time events in order to survive and progress. These events involve a mixture of timed button presses, button mashing (aka my mortal enemy in most games) and aiming your weapon to shoot a specific object within a certain time frame. And while these sections provide some variety to the experience they are also come across as cheap, yet another example of a tried and true formula needlessly slapped on to most games within this (and last generations games) without any thought or depth or meaningful consequence to make them truly engaging. Thankfully they are the exception rather than the rule, as most segments outside of Somnium's (more on those later) focus purely on investigation and character and story progression. However, as engaging as playing a cyber detective can be its also at times disappointingly limiting, especially when you come to discover that the only meaningful choices to progress the plot revolve solely around Somnium psyching.
Diving into a character's mind to extract information is where the games main draw, both mechanically and in terms of the narrative awaits. Within these warped psyches you must solve a series of bizarre and surreal puzzles under a time limit in order to reveal more information about a person, and in turn the plot. As you solve puzzles you use segments of time and gain "Timies", either positive (cutting down on how long a task can be accomplished) or negative (penalties that speed up the clock). These in turn, along with the puzzles themselves, help hint at how the player should progress through the warped memories of the games central cast. And while many of these puzzles excellent job of relying on the players intuition on how to progress many others suffer from the same type of "moon logic" found in the worst examples of adventure games of yesteryear. To add insult to injury failures and retries are tied do not alter the story in any way, forcing you to rely on a limited number of continues that are tied to pre-determined checkpoints. If all retries are used you have to restart the level from scratch.
You play as Kaname Date, a detective who, alongside his AI partner Aiba, are tasked with investigating the body of a woman found in an abandoned amusement park. Without going into specifics for the sake of avoiding spoilers the story gradually and meticulously escalates into a mystery that is both much larger and oddly enough much smaller and more personal than one might expect.