Now, it should be very clear that I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft inspired video games. Which means that Moons Of Madness was right up my alley. Developers Rocket Pocket Games, Dreamloop Games, and publisher Funcom originally released it on October 22, 2019 for PC through Steam. The first-person cosmic horror leads players through a secret mission on Mars that slowly begins to go terribly wrong. With its recent port to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, I thought it would be the perfect time to dive in and find out what this is all about.
Heads up there are spoilers ahead and lots of them!
Secret Mission, Mysterious Horrors, and Otherworldly Beings
Moons of Madness wastes no time and jumps right into the suspense. The main protagonist is Shane Newehart, chief engineer stationed at the Invictus outpost on Mars, who is working for the mysterious Orochi group. He awakes one night to find the base has been overrun by this mysterious tentacle plant and black sludge. They’re blocking several paths throughout the station. Shane eventually hears a woman speaking, telling him to come closer and blow out the candles. As he closes in, we get our very first jump scare of the game with the woman spinning him around and lunging towards him.
Of course, this is just a nightmare and Shane reawakens in his cabin to his fellow team members talking over the radio. Things appear to be back to normal. Shane’s main job at the Mars station is to maintain everything until another ship arrives to relieve them of their duties. You know, because everything bad always happens on the very last day. As Shane goes about fixing issues that have popped up overnight, things start to become more ominous.
Moons of Madness does a fantastic job of creating mystery and suspense behind the horror that unfolds throughout the game. Slowly, we watch as Shane delves deeper into the madness going on around him as he tries to figure out what is real and what is only in his head. The game goes to great lengths to keep the player on their toes. Is all of this happening because one scientist has gone mad and created a terrifying plant monster? Does this have to do with aliens on Mars? Maybe this secret organization is behind everything? Or maybe something more cosmic is controlling the events? In the end, the answer is a mixture of everything.
For a game so heavily inspired by Lovecraft’s work, I went in knowing two things: the ending wouldn’t be easy to understand and there wouldn’t be a happy one. A brief explanation is that Shane is connected to cosmic deities known as the Dreamers who are imprisoned on the two moons of Mars. His mother, who’s trapped in between dimensions and has been causing much of the horror throughout the game, wants him to unleash them in order to escape her prison knowing they may bring an end to all existence.
As Shane is left floating in space after trying to escape Mars, players have the choice to either blow up the moons or let the Dreamers awaken. Regardless of what choice you make, whether Shane makes it out alive is left up in the air. The only downside as far as the story goes is that most of the story is told through reading computer logs or papers that have been left around. It’s far too easy to make it halfway through the game and not have an understanding of what’s happening. For a more in-depth explanation I suggest checking out GameSpews’ article.
The Beauty of Radio Silence
Moons of Madness is a piece of art, visually and aurally. The design team did a great job of filling in empty spaces without overly cluttering it. We have realistic things within the Mars station including bathrooms, a place to eat and storage rooms that you can explore. Attention to detail helps make the player feel more immersed in the game, like they’re on the station and experiencing the events first hand. This makes the tentacle monster in the greenhouse all the more horrifying.
During the playthrough of Moons of Madness Shane is completely isolated from the rest of the group. The only contact he has is through his radio, which fails to work at one point, leaving him completely alone. The silence is filled with a mix of the space around him, sounds of lights, machines, and even his footsteps. We hear what he hears. Softly mixed in the background is a haunting otherworldly theme. It felt almost calming at times, which made that unexpected jump scare right after worse.
Just an Average Man Trying to Save The Day
Moons of Madness focuses on investigative gameplay as Shane unlocks the secrets behind the current events of the game and his past. This is coupled with puzzles that players will need to complete in order to progress in the story. The puzzles are not overly hard, but do take some research and time to figure out. Several of the puzzles have the answers either in computer logs or on pieces of paper scattered about. Knowing how these connect makes solving the puzzle far easier. Other puzzles require outside thought and trial and error to understand. The blend of the two helps keep the game fresh throughout the story.
Moons of Madness only has a few instances where Shane fights back against the horror coming after him. The game thrives on the idea that Shane is simply a very smart engineer working at this station to help maintain it. He has no knowledge of what’s going on nor how to effectively deal with it. Instead, when faced with an enemy he either tries to escape or stealthily pass it to the next point in the game. Knowing that Shane doesn’t have the ability to just mow over enemies makes these instances far more frightening.
My only qualm with the mechanical end of Moons Of Madness is how the game handles helping the player understand the objectives and how to find information. Large portions of the story and puzzles are hidden in paragraphs of logs that the player needs to read through. These key things were lost in the bulk of unimportant information and leaves players going in circles trying to figure out how to handle each situation. The biogage, a wrist component that allowed Shane to access cameras, security and other things in and around the station, was good for helping figure out directions. However, overall, it became a crutch to try and combat the vague directions or missing information.
Overall, I found Moons of Madness to be terrifyingly enjoyable to play. The story was intriguing and contained many of the Lovecraftian elements I love the most including the two otherworldly beings. The different mechanics and puzzles were engaging. They kept me playing to learn more and see what the team was able to come up with next. However, the lack of direction was a bit annoying. But it gave me time to experience the game longer and enjoy the story they created. This game is perfect for anyone looking for a cosmic horror story and fans of Lovecraft inspired games.
Moons of Madness is available to play now on PC through Steam, PS4 and the Xbox One.
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