NEW VERSION UPLOADED 2014-04-05
Disclosure: I was asked by the game's sponsor to help improve the game's English translation. I have not been paid for it in any way, nor did I change anything about the story or the text's structure.
Azure Games' action adventure Somnium: Exodus is a horror game. Or maybe it's a science fiction story. Existential crisis? All three? Man, this is where the written medium really lets me down. Pretend I'm sauntering from streetlight to streetlight down a menacing dark street, looking mysterious and thoughtful with a bubble pipe as I speak, okay? As the game opens, you awaken, disoriented and in pain, in an abandoned hospital unable to remember your own name or why you're there. Strange things, dangerous things, seem to flit in and out of reality as you explore the city and empty streets, trying to find out what's going on... but the truth is stranger than fiction, and our world will never be the same once you discover it. Quick! Now find and play the spooky mystery sound effect from Earthbound! Doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo!
For the most part, Somnium: Exodus is a very straight-forward play. You move with [WASD] and the [arrow] keys, and interact with the [spacebar]. Clicking the star in the upper-right corner will open your skill tree, which you can put points in as you level up, both to grow stronger and activate/deactivate passive abilities such as being able to spot crucial items or skipping puzzles every ten minutes. Enemies, when you encounter them, will most often spawn periodically from the glowing blue circles, and attack by emitting bursts of orbs you'll want to dodge, and avoid touching the enemies themselves to boot. To fight back, you'll need to click them multiple times to destroy them. Your health is represented by a green bar, and your mental fortitude by a blue one, which depletes whenever you attack an enemy, and slowly regenerates over time. Health regenerates as well, though significantly more slowly, so be careful with baddies, since once you die, it's game over. The game autosaves for you each time you solve a puzzle or otherwise make story progress, but the only way you can manually save is by interacting with coffee machines.
Analysis: Somnium: Exodus is an extremely ambitious game. It's not really scary so much as it is intriguing despite its excellent ominous atmosphere. The plot takes a lot of twists and turns in ways that can be hard to follow, which can make you wish the game kept all the text you found on hand for you to refer to whenever you wish, but darned if it isn't clever in a way that makes you want to keep following the trail of clues. It's sort of a shame that the profanity is so heavy and unnecessary at times, since players who don't care for it will be missing out on a clever science-fiction storyline, albeit one that ends on a big cliffhanger right as things start picking up. I want to call it Sliders meets a certain classic RPG I can't name because it would basically spoil everything. Somnium as a series has big plans for itself, and stands to be even bigger, badder, and more epic in the future considering the ways its storyline could lend itself to taking you some truly fascinating places... it just might be a ride that's less smooth than others.
The problem lies in the fact that the gameplay feels a little rough around the edges. The clicky combat is clunky, and since there's no way to destroy the enemy spawners, you're stuck dealing with swarms of foes all the time, many who can easily kill you in two hits early in the game. Health regenerates painfully slowly, and combined with the fact that most enemies are the same throughout the game, it sort of winds up feeling as if Somnium: Exodus would have been stronger without them at all. Some puzzles can also feel a little obstinate, with clues that are potentially too obscure or rely on scouring places that don't stand out to see if something has been hidden there. There are no optimisation options, which means some players might find it too laggy, while others will simply find themselves dealing with bugs. It's the sort of thing that will only improve with time as its talented development team becomes more experienced, but at the moment turns the experience rockier than it should be. It makes for the sort of game that could have been absolutely fantastic, instead of just good, if it had had a lot more player feedback early on to smooth out the rougher edges along the way.
As a result, Somnium: Exodus is a game that needs patience on your part, and perhaps polishing from the team down the line when it comes to future installments. It's a fairly massive game for a browser adventure, and gorgeously rendered to boot with its detailed areas and artwork, to say nothing of its soundtrack. Stripped of its action sequences, brave though it was to include them, and packed with more puzzles, Somnium: Exodus might have been on much firmer footing, but as it stands, it's still an extremely creative game that stands as a clear labour of love from its team, who is one we hope we see a lot more of.