Moons of Madness
Moons of Madness is the story of Shane Newehart, the chief engineer for a scientific expedition tasked with the exploration of Mars. Shane and the rest of his team are employed by the multinational corporation The Orochi Group that is forcing them to keep the mission a secret. A state of the art research outpost, dubbed Trailblazer Alpha, was established on Mars for the mission and as far as Shane is concerned he’s just there to ensure that the lights stay on. Shane spends his days doing routine work on the station while counting down the days until the arrival of a transport ship with a new team that will take over the duties of the old one. What Shane and the rest of his team do not know is that Orochi scientists recorded a mysterious signal emanating from Mars and believing it to be intelligent in origin they are eager to investigate. Orochi also considers this information to be too sensitive for public knowledge, which is why even Shane’s team is kept in the dark. Life on Mars has been no picnic for Shane due to mysterious malfunctions at the station as well as the recurring nightmares experience by the whole team. Unfortunately for Shane, things are about to get a whole lot worse.
The game opens with players experiencing one of Shane’s nightmares firsthand and it’s clear to see why he’s so on edge by these dreams. After waking up, it’s back to business as usual as Shane has to deal with some rather mundane maintenance tasks. These range from aligning solar panel arrays at a remote site to dealing with some flooding in the greenhouse section. However, like all good horrors, things get progressively worse until Shane is not just left fighting for his life, but also his sanity.
Moons of Madness is not quite a “walking simulator” although the cramped setting does mean the game is fairly linear. Since most of the game takes place in the tight corridors of the research station as well as some Martian caves later on the game does have a very claustrophobic feel. Shane also gets to venture out on the surface of Mars at certain points, but having to manage his oxygen supply means you can’t exactly go off and explore the landscape. Even the vehicle used to travel between locations is not directly under your control as the game switches to a cut-scene as soon as you slide behind the controls. These elements can make the game feel restrictive to some players, but since it is so story-driven the linear experience didn’t bother us too much.
At least there’s no backtracking or aimlessly wandering about involved, which can quickly ruin the suspense in horror games. This doesn’t mean that there’s no incentive for exploring a bit as you’ll discover all kinds of interesting documents, notes, and emails that reveal more about the mission, your fellow crew, and The Orochi Group’s motivations.
Moons of Madness still has its fair share of jump scares and some parts are undeniably spooky, but the game never filled us with dread like some other titles. The game is apparently set in the same universe as that of The Secret World by Funcom, but not having any knowledge of the latter isn’t too detrimental to your enjoyment. What we liked is that although Moons of Madness is very clearly influenced by Lovecraft, the game follows its own path instead of constantly name dropping Cthulhu. In fact, you might be left wondering at times if all the cosmic horror elements are real or if the things Shane experiences are just a combination of psychological effects and a botanist who is a little too much into her work.
Stray bullets are one way to quickly turn an expensive Martian research station into a lifeless vacuum, so weapons have wisely been omitted from the mission. Unfortunately, this also means that when you encounter foes your only option is usually running for your life. There is one boss fight later in the game where you can actually retaliate, but this is done via quick-time events. For the rest, you typically try and put as much distance between yourself and whatever is chasing you or solve puzzles to save your hide. Thankfully the game doesn’t require you to hide either, which can be just as annoying in horror games if not done correctly. The stealth section we encountered towards the end of the game already tested our patience, but it was mercifully brief.
Visually the game looks decent and everything is viewed in first person to keep the experience immersive. The developers have also done a great job with the interface and kept it as unobtrusive as possible. Shane wears a wrist-mounted device, called a biogage, which is used to scan the environment and interact with certain equipment. This allows you to soak in the environments without getting distracted by needless interface elements. When you do need to keep an eye on stats, such as your oxygen levels, it can be done by looking down at the screen mounted inside your helmet. The outdoor areas of Mars look great and really convey the vastness as well as the desolation of your surroundings. Inside the research station, things go from pristine to corrupted, which looks just as good. We don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, but you will be dealing with an invasive life-form that is slowly redecorating your surroundings. One thing that we did miss is that your surroundings feel extremely static, which feels a bit restrictive after playing games like Control.
The audio is a highlight of Moons of Madness with an atmospheric soundtrack that never becomes annoying or monotonous. The sound effects are also decent, but a special mention should go to the voice acting. Although there isn’t a large cast, the voice actors and actress all did a great job with their characters. Mona Marshall, in particular, handled a couple of different voices and it wasn’t until the credits rolled that we noticed it was all her. David Stanbra, who voices Shane, also put in a solid performance and hearing his reactions to certain situations added a lot to the experience. Even the radio communication with a fellow team member named Declan sounded natural and hearing tempers flare in tense situations made it feel realistic. Overall, we have a lot of praise for the voice acting, although we know some players prefer their protagonists to be a lot quieter.
Since Moons of Madness is played entirely in first person who made use of the traditional keyboard and mouse layout for controlling Shane. Navigating the environments and interacting with equipment or items for the puzzles was a breeze and we never ran into any issues in this regard. The bulky suit worn by Shane means you are not exactly going to be sprinting around at full tilt, but this adds to the tension. The puzzles are logical for the most part, and involves things like adjusting electrical systems, tuning a transmitter, and whipping up concoctions using a centrifuge. Late in the game, the puzzles become a bit more surreal, but we never encountered anything too obscure. Strangely, there is a certain mechanic that is used in one dream sequence and then never repeated anywhere else again though. We should also mention that the game makes use of a checkpoint save system, so you are not free to save wherever you want. It is also possible to die in the game, which sends you back to the last checkpoint.
We took our time playing Moons of Madness and made sure to search every nook and cranny, which resulted in a playtime of about ten hours. Players who are not interested in reading all the notes and documents in the game will probably be able to finish it much sooner. However, the game didn’t feel too short and neither did it overstay its welcome. It also features two different endings, although players can continue from the last checkpoint to experience the other ending, so there is no need to replay the entire game. This is a good thing as because Moons of Madness is such a story-driven game, it doesn’t have a lot of replay value.
If you are looking for a horror title that is going to scare you witless every few seconds or something where you get to spill the blood of monsters, then Moons of Madness is not for you. However, if you can enjoy a gripping story that slowly descends into madness while making your way through some interesting set pieces then you can’t go wrong with this game. The story kept us hooked all the way through and it features more than enough puzzles and variety to prevent it from feeling like you are just walking through a Martian themed haunted house attraction. Overall, it’s not perfect, but it does a lot of things much better than other Lovecraft inspired titles.
- OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 x64
- Processor: Intel Core i5-760 / AMD Athlon X4 740 or equivalent
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: GeForce GTX 460 or MX150 / Radeon R7 260X
- Storage: 15 GB available space
- OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10 x64
- Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or equivalent
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: GeForce GTX 1060 / Radeon RX 580
- Storage: 15 GB available space