S.O.N. or South of Nowhere is a sort of brooding adventure game in which you play a father looking for his son who is missing in the Pennsylvania forest. The marketing for the game would classify it as an “epic psychological horror game”, but at about one hour and twenty minutes of playtime, it’s pretty far from epic.
The opening forest is really nice looking and the atmospheric wind sound places you in the middle of it, even though there’s a mountain at your back. Playing with headphones really amplifies the sensation. The trees are snow covered and tall seemingly breathing with the sound of the breeze. In the distance, there’s a flickering light.
Your first point of interest is a chapel. The chapel has all the signs of things gone wrong. There’s the cliched flickering bulb, text written in blood, hanging body… The sound gets properly ominous. I feel I’m in for a treat. Then you begin to notice the little things. Objects don’t feel like they’re part of the world. They feel like someone playing with a game engine just sort of plopped assets down in areas without really making them a part of the area. It gives the game a sloppy and rushed feel. Light sources are created by little magic floor light bulbs with no wiring really diminishing the impact of the objects they’re meant to draw attention to. I found myself drawn more the mystery of light bulbs that can shine through a floor.
The sound design is pretty good though. Aside from the sudden jolts of cheesy door banging or alarm ringing, the sound is well done. There are boomy echos in caverns and corridors and wide open areas seem to breathe with the wind blowing through trees. The bits of music scattered throughout feel appropriate in their settings and sometimes build tension well.
Gameplaywise, there’s not much game here. I’d say it’s like a point and click adventure with very little interaction. The only puzzle is a memory game that I quickly solved by retracing my steps, and the only real decision to be made is at the end. You spend most of the time collecting keys that open doors. Grabbing the keys can be frustrating because you have to place them in your view correctly. There’s no on-screen guide that lets you know what the right spot is, you have to move your view around and find that sweet spot in the x and y-axis along with the right distance from the item(z-axis). When you find it, it will cause the item to outline in red and finally, you can interact with it using the X butt… nope using the left trigger. Why not the x button? Was using L2 as the interact button done just to frustrate players trying to place an item in the super sweet spot view desperately hammering the X button?
Early on you’re given a walkie talkie, but it’s never really used. There’s a repeating message on one channel and static on the other. Some pretty interesting things could have been done with it but in the end, it was just a reason for you to hear that message. Why carry it around then? Maybe my expectations were too high when I first discovered it. I was reminded of the camera in Fatal Frame for some odd reason. Catching a ghost in its viewfinder usually had the spirit talking to you and telling you of their sadness, or anger. Something similar would have been cool but instead, it’s just that one vague message. Why not just have it on a tape recorder glued to a table so I’m not running all over the goddamned forest seeing if spirits will talk through it? I’m not sure why it bothered me so much, but in the end, that’s what sums up my experience playing S.O.N.; It could have been cool.
At $15 USD S.O.N. is difficult to recommend. There’s less game here than say, “Gone Home”, also on PS4 for the same price and both are dripping with tension and atmosphere.
I really wanted to like S.O.N. and as soon as I started playing I was sure I would. Sadly the game comes off feeling nothing more than a short tech demo you make for friends. The developers did a great job with atmosphere and sound but seemingly forgot to make a game.