I recently finished SOMA and have a lot to say about the sound design and even more to say about the evolution of the monsters throughout the story and the WAU’s involvement in it. This piece will be loaded with SOMA spoilers so if you have no finished the game or at least watched a playthrough, I urge you to do that before even going past the spoiler line. There are story spoilers abound, you’ve been warned.
—–SOMA STORY SPOILERS BELOW—–
The first monster you encounter in SOMA is vaguely human. It looks more like a lumbering ostrich than a person-robot hybrid, but it talks. It sounds human. What it lacks in human physical features, it makes up in human behaviors and sounds. As the game progresses, the monsters you encounter become less human sounding soon only able to growl, screech, howl, and sound purely animalistic. However, they look more human. They look like shadows, some even resembling the Lying Figures from Silent Hill. Silent Hill is known for its vaguely human but not quite body horror monsters, something SOMA slowly devolves into. The final monster you encounter, the only other ‘sentient’ being besides you and Catherine left, is a decaying human skeleton made-up of structural gel.
You go through the majority of the game believing the WAU is an evil being, killing the very last humans and creating the utter destruction on the multiple underwater colonies you explore. The WAU is the reason the ARK needed to be launched. It’s the reason that you come across slaughtered corpse after slaughtered corpse.
However, most of the corpses aren’t corpses. They are alive. Breathing, albeit more wheezing. They are kept alive by various tubes and encased in black ooze, the structural gel. They are being kept alive by the WAU. The WAU, who destroyed the last humans, is also trying to keep the last humans alive. Why? If the WAU is A.I. gone malicious and rogue, why is it being compassionate?
Simply put, the WAU loves humans. Its ‘hidden’ priority was to preserve humanity. Its madness and rage was actually started by it losing a human it held particularly dear, Johan Ross. In its sorrow, the WAU begins to try and find ways to bring this human back as well as continue to keep humans alive. The WAU does not want humanity to fall or fail. The WAU has come to understand what preserving humanity means, through its warped idea of humanity since it is simply a computer, an A.I with a mission spurned by loss.
Thus, as you progress through the story, the monsters you encounter are the WAU attempting to prevent human loss and death. Unfortunately, placing human minds in robot bodies tends to drive them to madness. The robots you find, like the first one injured on a conveyor belt, are the WAU uploading their consciousness into these bots. The majority of them are dead somewhere nearby but the WAU, in an attempt to stop this, implanted them into these bots.
The creatures that attack you are people who the WAU has tried to save, but upon learning what they are, were driven to madness. They attack you because they are confused, mad, and more likely than not, absolutely terrified. What are they? Human? Machines? The entire basis of SOMA is to question what REALLY makes us human, separate from our biological bodies. It is a story about grappling with humanity and identity.
As you progress, following the story and the evacuation as those before you experienced it, you encounter more human looking bodies that react and sound less than human. I believe these are the WAU attempting to create bodies that are not going to drive the human minds it places in them absolutely mad. These bodies are almost entirely structural gel as well, which is why they are pitch black almost tar-like creatures. It’s the WAU attempting to figure out a human form for the humans it holds so dear.
There are monster that talk about needing structural gel to ease the pain. I would not be surprised if the more human-like monsters are based on corpses, much like Simon, in order to help maintain and keep their form. They become more aggressive the more structural gel you use, seeking you out to ease their pain and maintain their form. The structural gel was created by the WAU, so it makes sense that this is the key to creating the WAU’s humans.
Unfortunately, the WAU is a computer. Catherine continually reiterates this fact that the WAU cannot think like a human. It cannot understand like a human. Even if it did, it would lack the very necessary things that would make it able to understand and react like a human. This is why the WAU fails, for the most part, in its mission to create something the humans will be able to use. It does not understand being tied to a corporeal form and maintaining sanity and identity. It cannot comprehend this. The only reason it succeeded with Catherine is because Catherine, as she puts it, never felt comfortable as a human. She feels more at home being a robot than a human.
What about Simon then? The reason is succeeds with Simon is because Simon sees himself as a human originally. However, as the story progresses he seems that he is indeed a robot. The entire story is about Simon’s struggle with his humanity, his loss (or perceived loss) of it, and what makes us human. If Simon were to lose his mind upon discovering what he had become, there would be no game. The game hinges on Simon’s mental stability. There is also another reason. Perhaps Simon is the WAU’s ultimate creation. The WAU did it. It found a way to create a human mind with a human enough body to prevent madness.
In my game, I destroyed the WAU. I destroyed the very reason I was alive and able to launch the ARK. I killed my metaphorical parent. I destroyed the only reason humans were able to finally launch the ARK. Oops. I was given the choice and I believe I made the wrong one. Would I go back and change it, knowing what I know now having sat and looked at the game? Absolutely.
But that brings to question the last monster you encounter. The skeleton form that orders you to kill the WAU. The thing that SHREIKS for you to kill the WAU but never attacks you. This is the only other lifeform that you really encounter (that is still around) besides you and Catherine that is a sentient being created by the WAU. This creature is searching from something other than the ARK, as even after you find the ARK it continues to search. Most likely this is referencing the heart of the WAU. Its single mission is to destroy the WAU, through your modified version of structural gel.
This creature is Johan Ross, the person who spurred the WAU’s priority “preserve human life” and through its mourning, created the monsters that roam the various areas. Ross has seen what the WAU can do, and has retained his memories of the experiences, most likely because the structural gel reanimated his actual body, keeping his memories intact. While the previous attempts were reuploads of scans or lesser life forms, the experiences of Ross with the WAU and the events before Simon spur him to destroy the WAU for it is, in his mind, subjecting humanity to an eternal suffering in its attempts to keep them alive. Ross believes in the ARK as the last survival, like Catherine, and is attempting to make sure humanity only survives through the ARK and not as reanimated corpses and machine parts from the WAU.
The WAU was not as horrible of an A.I. as originally made out, at least not that I caught on my first playthrough. It simply wanted to prevent humans from dying.