REVIEW: ‘Moons of Madness’ Is a Puzzling Horror Game (PS4)

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Moons of Madness

Moons of Madness is a cosmic horror game that explores the themes of isolation and warped humanity in a world that feels like an H.P. Lovecraft novel come to life. Developed by Rock Pocket Games and published by Funcom, Moons of Madness is a first-person, story-driven game that focuses on linear storytelling and puzzle-solving.

You play as Shane Newehart, an engineer on a Mars research station who isn’t much more than a handyman. Your job is a relatively simple one: keep the lights on until a restock ship arrives with a new team who will then take over from there. However, unbeknownst to you, your presence on Mars is much more than a research mission. Orochi, the corporation funding all of this, recorded a mysterious signal coming from Mars. Believing the signal was of intelligent origin, Orochi funded the construction of the Mars research outpost to identify the message and who was sending it.

However, as time goes on, things begin to change. Crucial systems that once functioned pristinely begin to malfunction every day. You begin to have strange dreams and hallucinations, or so you believe. And you don’t seem to be the only one. What is happening on Mars and why is Orochi trying to cover up this strange signal?

As mentioned, Moons of Madness is very much a story-driven game. It has a very linear plotline allowing for few choices along the way. Although some may not appreciate this style of game, the linearity forces the players to experience the game how the developers want them to. The creators have made a game that builds creepy, odd, and claustrophobic atmospheres effortlessly through not only the sights and sounds you’ll experience but also the minute background details. As the story progresses, the atmosphere changes and becomes more and more demented as you move beyond just fantastical monsters to include human monsters.

Although the story is linear, the puzzles aren’t. I was pleasantly surprised that there were a decent amount of puzzles in this game. They weren’t enough to overshadow the plot but enough to make the puzzler in me happy. But, don’t worry, the puzzles aren’t very hard; many were easy while some of them were a little more challenging but nothing that the average person would have a hard time getting through with a bit of thought.

Moons of Madness

Beyond the fear-inducing atmosphere, the player will run into literal monsters. You can’t truly fight these enemies. There are a few quick-time events, but overall you need to run from them, hide, or puzzle your way around them. This inability to fight back would normally increase the stress of the game, however, the quick-time events are easy and there are many checkpoints so dying isn’t punishing enough to warrant more caution.

The one mechanic I wish the creators did more with was the oxygen levels. Since you’re in space, whenever you go outside the base, you’re required to wear a spacesuit. As such, you’ll need to manage your oxygen levels by airing up at oxygen stations littered around the areas you’ll explore. Although this seemed like a possible challenge in the game, it really wasn’t. The oxygen stations were plentiful and I never at any point went below 70%.

I did notice some interesting mechanics with the oxygen system, however. When you’re in your spacesuit, you have both an oxygen level bar and a heart rate gauge. When your heart rate increases, it seems like your oxygen levels decrease quicker. Shane’s heart rate increases due to several reasons, including running in the game and encountering monsters. In fact, after deranged things occur on-screen, Shane’s movements will become more erratic as his hands begin to shake. He hits buttons multiple times and begins to fumble with the usual animations to open doors or re-oxygenate his suit. This attention to detail made the game that much more immersive, but I think using oxygen as another challenge would have made this game that much more stress-inducing.

More so with the attention to detail, the levels are littered with sticky notes left behind by various characters. I really appreciated these because it gave the station a human touch beyond the clinical, sterile atmosphere that is another creep factor in and of itself. You don’t have many physical interactions with the other people on the base; your interactions are isolated to mostly verbal communication over comms, emails, and those bright yellow sticky notes. This is really where the game begins to isolate you, and the theme becomes more and more apparent as Shane is thrown into more and more irrational situations. As things devolve into chaos, you’re truly alone on Mars with any possible help being hundreds upon thousands of miles away and that’s a scary thought.

Moons Of Madness

A great deal of the story needs to be read through the emails you’ll be able to access at computer terminals. Although you can get through the game with an abbreviated version by listening to Shane and other characters talk, to get any real background or understanding of what Orochi has been up to, you need to read. If you don’t, the story is likely to be very confusing. However, even with reading, the ending personally was still bewildering. This may have been the general intent, but the ending left me wanting more information. The game also breaks its usual mechanics right at the end and lets you have a choice. Although I really enjoy games with multiple possible endings, it seemed an odd choice for a game that was so linear.

Moons of Madness is influenced heavily by Lovecraft’s books. As such, there are objects or ideas in the game that come directly from Lovecraft’s works. Although you don’t have to be familiar with Lovecraft, being familiar with the author’s works may spark more interest in this game. On top of this, if you’ve ever played Funcom’s Secret World of Legends, you may also be interested in this game for the fact that both of these games exist in the same universe. However, even though there are objects and themes that exist in both games, such as the corporation Orochi, playing Secret World of Legends is not required to enjoy Moons of Madness.

In the end, Moons of Madness was an interesting game that certainly fed my psychological horror hunger. The game was great at building chilling atmospheres that play with the themes of isolation and paranoia, but small changes to some of the game mechanics would have made this game even better.

Moons of Madness is available now on PC, PS4, and XboxOne.

Moons of Madness
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

In the end, Moons of Madness was an interesting game that certainly fed my psychological horror hunger. The game was great at building chilling atmospheres that play with the themes of isolation and paranoia, but small changes to some of the game mechanics would have made this game even better.