Review – Moons of Madness
Cosmic horror has been making a huge return over the years in gaming and I couldn’t be any happier, thanks in part to games like Call of Cthulhu and The Sinking City being major releases in the past year. Moons of Madness by Funcom Games is the latest game to have its shot at the genre and might possibly be my favourite title of its kind so far.
You play as Shane Newehart, an engineer for the Trailblazer Alpha Mars base owned by the Orochi Corporation. After a nightmare sequence that has the base overrun by tentacles and a mysterious figure roaming around, you wake up with everything seemingly fine. When you wake up, you head out on a routine mission to re-align some solar panels and prepare for the arrival of the new crew. Things start to go wrong and the nightmares everyone is having become reality, with the infestation getting rapidly worse. In a desperate battle for survival, Shane must find a way to stop the infestation and discover the truth behind the nightmares before it’s too late.
The story here is brilliant, with a strong emphasis on world building and a deeper lore that gets revealed as the game progresses. As the cosmic events start changing things, conflict arises in the crew as they start questioning what is real and what is not. Some of the twists are rather predictable and some aren’t, but the execution and storytelling was always solid. I was hooked onto the cosmic horror aspect of the game from the getgo, and that was easily the strongest part of the experience. Even though you do have a crew with you on your Mars base you will rarely see them, as they are off doing their own jobs by the time the game starts. So even though you aren’t truly alone, with semi-regular dialogue through the radio, there is a strong sense of isolation and loneliness.
Moons of Madness shares a universe with another Funcom game known as The Secret World, and is full of Easter eggs and discoveries that should please fans of that title. Orochi, a corporation in the Secret World universe, is the same on that owns the Mars base, for instance. As someone who has never played (or even heard) of that game before, I found Moons of Madness relatively easy to get into but most of the plot threads featuring Orochi ended up feeling slightly confusing.
The easiest comparison to make of what Moons of Madness is or looks like, is to compare it to SOMA. You walk around an environment with a trusty gadget that can scan the environment and interact with all sorts of things, solving small puzzles or interacting with computers to gather information and indulge yourself into the world that is set up, occasionally coming face to face with terrifying threats. For the most part though, the core gameplay will revolve around exploration. There isn’t any combat in Moons of Madness, at least not in the traditional sense. A dull mid-game boss fight that was comprised of annoying quick-time events is the only time the game comes really close to having any sort of combat.
The horror element of Moons of Madness is split into two major components: the physical threats and the cosmic entities that twist reality. One of the first monsters you’ll encounter, simply known as the “Thing in the Mist”, was laughably bad after you start briskly walking away from it. It was a poor introduction to an awesome monster, but thankfully the other monsters fare a little bit better, even though they aren’t really challenging.
So is Moons of Madness actually scary? Well, sort of. Whilst their is a slight over-reliance on jump scares and loud noises, it also knows how the pace itself and let the tension rise with some solid pay-offs and the occasional actually well-done jump scare. The moments it delves into Lovecraftian horror are the best in the game, as it twists reality in creative ways and allows you to delve into your character’s back story. It’s not the scariest game ever made but it did keep me on edge throughout my playthrough.
You will occasionally need to solve some puzzles, and for the most part these are relatively straightforward. Simple tasks such as finding mixing chemicals, moving solar panels or tuning a transmitter to contact the rest of your crew are the sort of things you can expect to do in here, with clues and solutions scattered throughout the vicinity. None of the puzzles are head scratchers though, and I wish they were just a little bit more challenging. Still a decent change of pace which added a little bit more variety to the game.
The sound department is, for the most part, a strong point in here, with some excellent voice acting and environmental sounds when it’s not overly throwing loud noises at you to signify a jump scare. Graphics are also great in here, with a Mars base that is both detailed and believable, with tons of environmental details. Then as the game progresses, the infestation gets even worse taking over more of the base, making everything look gross and unsettling. It’s visually effective and does a good job overall, even though it’s not always perfect, with some poor textures rearing their ugly heads every so often.
Moons of Madness lasts for around seven to eight hours, with a ton of exploration and lore entries to find before the end credits. There are a few moments in which the pacing stumbles a bit, but it doesn’t take long for it to pick right back up. Thankfully, those dull moments are short, few and far between. There are also two endings but you only need to restart the last checkpoint to see them both.
Moons of Madness is a successful cosmic horror game with strong storytelling, world building and characters worth caring about. Even though the gameplay does stumble with the occasional overreliance on jump scares, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game.
Whilst not the most visually striking game out there, it does a great job of immersing you into the unsettling experience.
For the most part Moons of Madness is a walking simulator and oddly when the game is at its best. The monster encounters can be rather dull, and puzzle solving is easy and simplistic.
The cast does a great job of progressing the story and the overall sound design pushes the atmosphere. Though there is an overreliance on loud noises and jump scares.
Moons of Madness is a thrilling and engaging cosmic horror experience that I would recommend to any horror fan out there.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Moons of Madness is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Moons of Madness was provided by the publisher.