A manned expedition to Mars in search of extraterrestrial life takes an unexpected turn as astronaut Shane Newehart faces his worst fears trying to unravel the truth behind the horrific events unfolding in his mission in Lovecraftian horror — Moons of Madness.
Moons of Madness is a first-person horror adventure game set on the planet Mars. As Shane Newehart, you must explore the Orochi Mars Base and its various abandoned pods. Fans of Lovecraftian horror stories will certainly feel at home as Newehart confronts his worst fears from the initial prologue nightmare to the steady realisation that Shane isn’t crazy and his world rather quickly turns to a horror infused chaos.
After the initial prologue, Shane wakes on Mars within his bunk in the science station of the Orochi base. Its environment is very reminiscent of recent sci-fi outings in both game and film, as sterile white walls and doors are strewn with equipment for what looks like a previously moderately inhabited hub for the astronauts. No longer is that the case however as most locations do their best to help you feel abandoned and alone. It’s eerily quiet with the creaks of the buildings substructure in the harsh martian wasteland adding to the already building tension of Newehart’s surroundings as the intermittent radio chatter of Shane’s colleagues guide you to your next objective.
Moons of Madness is interlaced with a story you can take at face value as it unfolds in action but sprinting through the game from objective to objective will have players missing one of its key strengths, its narrative. Whether it’s Shane’s commentary on the locations, items and situations he encounters or the silent additions of the logs, reports or personal emails you can read as you progress through each of the environments; the story comes together beautifully by filling out the supporting characters and their roles in the overall plot.
Mars is represented as the barren red rock we have come to know and love and exploration outside of the base is accompanied by the added complication of breathing. Exiting the facility requires oxygen. Although this seems like it could add some urgency to his movements and a mechanic that could be played upon later in the game, it’s surprising how often you see and find additional oxygen refill points scattered around the area essentially demoting what could have been a situation changing mechanic to something of a menial task.
Puzzles within Moons of Madness are a mix of “Find the Part” and “Solve the Jigsaw” where Newehart’s Biogage comes into play. A wrist-mounted computer that can interface with machinery and computers via its scan facility. The Biogage can also scan the area for items and, depending on settings, view a brief pathway that shows which direction to go. This setting needs to be actively checked in the options menu, but also makes it much easier to identify objects that can be interacted with.
As things take a turn for the worse for the protagonist it is disappointing that the enemy encounters are nothing to write home about. The main enemies encountered either seem to disperse at the sight of Shane, cower away if you focus on them or lumber slowly toward you giving you ample time to run circles around them or backtrack if you made a wrong turn making them less than threatening. With a lack of weaponry and some light implementation of stealth mechanics it never quite makes it into Alien: Isolation territory and instead skirts around the edge, being neither action or stealth orientated and instead some unhappy medium.
Moons of Madness is definitely an experience which is meant to be played once, the jump scares just don’t have the same effect on the player the second time around and at this point you’ve seen the big plot set pieces. The music, which did such a great job of setting the tension level the first time around doesn’t have anywhere near the same unnerving effect.
In addition, the knowledge that you will know how enemies appear in specific set pieces makes the background sounds on the abandoned base irrelevant. The linear story, unfortunately, will only attract speedrun enthusiasts as there’s no reason to go back through for an alternative experience.
Moons of Madness mixes action style sequences with some fairly straightforward puzzle-solving whilst throwing in some stealth mechanics for a varied albeit linear experience. Shane’s descent into the madness that surrounds both Mars and his past is a story-heavy one but one that can’t settle long enough on what genre it wants to be recognised for.