Moons of Madness
Developer: Rock Pocket Games, Dreamloop Games
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 24/03/2020
A code was kindly provided for review purposes.
If there’s one thing I like, it’s Sci-Fi. If there’s a second thing I like, it’s horror. In the wonderful world of popular culture, there is a Venn diagram where these two circles collide. Moons Of Madness writhes and squirms in the middle of these two worlds, clutching an otherworldly tentacle firmly around each.
Moons Of Madness is a story focused, first-person sci-fi horror released across Playstation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows in October of 2019. The game is technically a spin-off; as it shares a thematic universe with The Secret World, another game from Publisher and Developers Funcom.
We play as Shane Newehart, a likeable everyman, who also happens to be a “space engineer” stationed at the Invictus Mars base. Its business as usual for Shane, driving the Mars buggy around the featureless red planet, fixing space pipes and aligning antenna dishes. You know, standard space monkey stuff.
But then command of the mission is handed over to someone with a serious H. P. Lovecraft obsession, and a whole mess of demonic squirmy things and insanity-inducing nightmares turn up to wreck the whole base. The work never stops for Shane Newehart!
While we are on the subject of demonic squirmy things, some of the in-game descriptions and names of the unspeakable evil consuming the base are pretty fantastic. A couple of my favourites were “The sizzling, celestial syphilis eats holes in reality” and “Blackworm jism”, I’m sure you’d agree both of which have a certain ring to them.
There are some great elements at play in Moons of Madness for any fans of sci-fi or Lovecraftian horror. The game has a great atmosphere, mixing the lonely and desolate plains of Mars with mind-bendingly surreal hellscapes. The mix of sci-fi and horror is well balanced, and some very effective jump scares pop up across the five to ten hour run time.
I’m a fan of a good puzzle. I’m happy to spend half an hour moving tiles around or scribbling down patterns on scraps of paper, even breaking a calculator out, whatever it takes. I love it when a game not only has good puzzles, but when they are organically worked into the story and gameplay. Moons of Madness certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Its puzzles are nicely varied and sit perfectly with the game’s internal logic.
A couple of the better elements of the game are sadly somewhat underused. The game’s sound design is good but not quite prominent enough throughout. Much of the game is spent quietly exploring alone, the background sound design, although good just lacks a little something to keep us on our toes.
Moons of Madness utilises floating text as chapter headings, and the technique is very reminiscent of What Remains of Edith Finch but sadly does not work as well here. Maybe the regularity of the chapter headings is so low that they simply slip between the cracks, perhaps the choice of font used is just too dull and straightforward to be visually appealing. I’d be interested to see what difference changing the font to some sort of creepy Cthulhu style would have made.
The final third of Moons of Madness contains the most visually impressive environments of the game. This section is pretty fast-paced and story-heavy, which comes as a bit of a shame because it robs you of the chance to explore these rich and interesting locations leisurely. Gameplay also starts to take second place to story beats, leaving these latter sections a little weaker overall.
Movement speed and flow is also a bit of an issue throughout the game; it is not objectively bad but leaves some room for improvement. Shepherding Shane around the Invictus base is a little too slow and rigid to feel natural or fluid. In a game chock full of mechanics, clunky movement can be understood if not condoned, but in a title where movement is 70% of the game, come on guys, get it right.
Another slight let down I can’t help but lay on Moons of Madness is the poor loading screen design. We are all used to the tricks in modern games: a narrow pass a character must slowly traverse, a long elevator ride, a lengthy in-game conversation. We all know these hide background loading, as gamers we are happy to buy into these deceits to maintain as much submersion as we can. The various chapters of Moons of Madness are often capped by a small journey in the Mars buggy from one location to another. We don’t ever take control of the buggy and only see a few seconds of the journey before a simple loading screen slumps into view.
Would it have really been that hard to replace those loading screens with an equal length of featureless red expanse viewed from the buggy’s window? Doing so would have kept us with our hero, not broken the submersion and given a much more cinematic quality to the game.
On the UK PSN Store, it states that Moons of Madness “uses non-fiction elements to immerse players in a believable setting”. Well, I’m sorry, but this game is about as believable as Matt Damon ironmaning it out of Mars’ orbit in The Martian (it’s a much better use of your time though).
Moons of Madness is a sweet feast for any Lovecraft fan and a tasty treat for Sci-Fi and horror fans alike. Do as Shane does, persevere and see things through to the end, you’ll be treated to quite a show and one of the most seamless credit sequences I’ve seen in ages.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Moons of Madness from the PlayStation Store.