Moons of Madness – Where Mars Exploration Meets Lovecraft
Those who know me, are well aware that I’m a huge fan of the horror genre. Be it movies, video games, tv shows – you name it. The genre has always fascinated me, and I’ve always been drawn to endless battle of “What will scare me?”. The truth is, not much does. When I heard Moons of Madness would be making its way to consoles, I had to immediately get my hands on it. Before I continue, I want to thank the team over at Funcom for providing me a copy of the game in order to review it. I had a few days with the game, and we’ll see just how much it wins me over with this genre.
Moons of Madness is a first-person, story-driven cosmic horror game where the scientific exploration of Mars meets the supernatural dread of Lovecraft. Keep in mind, in this review I will be going completely spoiler free, trust me it’s worth it. If you’re a fan of The Secret World, and even the lore of the game itself (which to this day, I still say that it’s the best written story of all time for any MMORPG), then do yourself a favor and stop reading this, and get the game. Now. But, now that this all cleared up, we can continue.
The game’s description is as follows:
A mysterious signal has been recorded coming from the red planet…
The message confounded Orochi scientists. Their analysts broke it down and determined it was of intelligent origin. Orochi management immediately concluded that the discovery was too sensitive for public knowledge and moved to keep it hidden. In secret, the corporation began construction of Trailblazer Alpha, a state-of-the-art Mars research outpost designed to identify the true nature of the message.
You are Shane Newehart, an engineer stationed at Trailblazer Alpha and your security clearance means you are completely unaware of the existence of the mysterious signal. Your job is simply to keep the lights on until the transport ship Cyrano arrives bringing with it a new team to take over your duties.
Soon you discover strange and unusual setbacks. Crucial systems are malfunctioning, the greenhouse is filled with a strange mist and the rest of your team has yet to return from their EVA mission.
Things are starting to fall apart.
You begin seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. Visions, hallucinations – or is that even what it is? Is this real… or are you slowly descending into madness?
Experience true cosmic horror
With your only hope of rescue hundreds of thousands of miles away, you will be forced to explore the real-world fears of isolation and paranoia, enhanced with supernatural elements and cosmic horror. Terrifying visions and monstrous apparitions will make you question what is real and what is not as the very fabric of reality threatens to tear at the seams.
Explore the darker side of Mars
Navigate a functioning Mars base in a game that uses non-fiction elements to immerse players in a believable setting. Overcome obstacles using computers, electrical systems, rovers, solar panels and more, then go beyond the outpost and explore the darker side of Mars.
Moons of Madness draws upon the rich lore and mythology of Funcom’s Secret World Legends. Both games exist in the same thematic universe, but playing one is not a prerequisite to enjoy the other.
Two Moons Apart
You start the game off, getting right into the action rather quickly. Having played a lot of games of this genre, it usually builds up. Not with MOM (That’s right, for the sake of both the fact that it sounds funny, and that abbreviated Moons of Madness is Mom, we’ll go with that for the rest of the review), it starts you off just right. The crew, all settled in Mars, are all there and founded by Orochi (which, if you follow the lore from The Secret World, it’s a pretty awesome feature!). There’s a mystery going on, and you have to figure it out. Like most games.
You play as Shane Newehart, an engineer – with a famous family, as you come to find out. As I said, you start the game getting right into the action quickly, mostly because this has to do with Shane having a nightmare, and well, it teases what the game has in store for the rest of the experience. Like most of these games, in his nightmares are some things that just couldn’t be possible. They show up and scare the crap of him.
Though as for the game itself, the atmosphere may seem familiar due to the genre – hell, even Deadspace comes to mind – but, the game has a very strong dialogue, voice acting and writing. I have to be honest, in these games, the plot usually gets lost on me and I start losing attention. Not with Moons of Madness, it really was fantastic writing. Though the game did have some troubling moments with me, mostly because I had to get my mathematics books, and become a scientist, as well as a botanist to truly understand what was going on – the game made it easier for me to really get what was happening, without needing a degree in these subjects.
These space boots were made for walking
Now usually in these types of games, you expect to walk endlessly. Hell, in my last horror game review for Infliction, this was something I truly wish had more excitement. Not with Moons of Madness however, though you do have to walk around, everywhere, sometimes for a while, Moons of Madness provides incentive for doing this. The game is an adventure title after all, and does offer a lot of clues in its overall “lore” per se, so it’s forgivable.
Shane, as in most games, has specific quests or missions to complete – which usually is just going from one level to another. You’ll know when things are about to get interesting once a checkpoint marker has appeared on the top left of your screen. These missions or quests are as to be expected of someone on Mars – re-calibrating solar rays, finding power sources to start things up, trying to breathe. The usual. I guess. But it’s not as easy and simple as say, just going outside and getting things done. The game has an interesting mechanic where it really wants you to be immersed. When you want, or need in this case, to go outside, you need to find an airlock, put your helmet on, fill up your suit with oxygen, depressurize the airlock with the button near the exit, then walk out. Failing to do these things may get you killed. Trust me, you don’t want to do that. Especially if your checkpoint was a while ago.
Now, if you thought that was easy, there are an endless amount of puzzles to solve. Which by the way, if you need help with this game, you can check out my walkthrough guide here. Some are easy, some require a little bit of thinking, but almost every single time there will be clues and hints around the area of that specific puzzle in order to help you clear it. I guess you could say they really aren’t that much of a puzzle, since they’re telling you what to do. Though, I must say some of them really had me losing my damn mind. Don’t get me started on the poison-making section of the game.
Hide and Shriek and Seek Cthulhu
The game offers a lot of stealth-like scenarios, but really they don’t feel necessary. From scanning cameras, to crawling under debris or making sure you’re not seen by insane robots – it just feels… unnecessary. It’s not too bad, but still it doesn’t feel like the game really requires you to be stealthy. Apart from this, you don’t really see the danger in the game when it comes to not being stealthy. A great example of this is during one of the camera and robot sections of the game, though you have the option of essentially disabling the cameras, in a way, and waiting until the robots are looking elsewhere, you could really just outrun them. Well, not always, but you get what I mean.
Another few stealth-like sections of the game where I felt it was kind of unnecessary was needing to be on top of a surface, like rocks or something that didn’t touch the sand. Why? Because under the sand lies a monster, or monsters, waiting to eat you up. It doesn’t happen often, but you really don’t see the sense of urgency or panic, given that you can time it perfectly if you just watch the monsters flutter away under the sand. Of course, if they catch you, you die. Moons of Madness doesn’t overuse any of these mechanics really, even when it comes to climbing or needing to jump down locations. Still, it did its job, at least.
In the end it doesn’t even matter
I love Lovecraft, I have a huge book of his stories and hell, I even voice-acted in the action-rogue horror game, Lovecraft’s Untold Stories. So, believe when I say that I’m a huge fan of this overall mythos. Did it scare me? Sometimes. I’ll admit it was due to the jump scares, and sometimes the atmosphere in the game made me want to stop for a moment to take a breath before I really dove in. But, really overall, it isn’t that scary. However, as I said, the storytelling, the puzzles, the voice-acting, the dialogue and overall adventure of the game more than overcompensates for this. The game isn’t that long, about 3-5 hours long depending on how you play the game. But if you’re looking for a game with fantastic graphics – except for when you confront Inna, but we’ll let that one slide for now – with lovecraft-inspired storytelling and a connection to The Secret World’s lore, then this game is for you. One last thing: If there is anything you can take away from this game, is learning to how balance a centrifuge. That entire chapter took me almost an hour to clear. I’m still having nightmares about it.
Release date: March 24th, 2020 (PlayStation 4)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC
Price: $29.99/€29.99 (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One)
Genre: Cosmic Horror
Developer: Rock Pocket Games
Rating: ESRB M, PEGI 16, USK 16