Hello everyone! I hope you are all being safe and taking care of yourselves in these turbulent times.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a game! I am actually playing through another game currently but it is being released in episodes so I am waiting to properly finish it before reviewing it. In the meantime, while I was waiting for the last episode to be released, I played through Moons of Madness. The first part of this review will not have spoilers, but then I will deep-dive into certain plot parts.
Don’t worry, I’ll mark out where the spoiler-free review ends so you can avoid it should, you wish.
Moons of Madness is a first-person, story-driven cosmic horror survival game set on Mars, developed by Rock Pocket Games and Dreamloop Gamesby, published by Funcom, and available on Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
I didn’t know this before I played the game, but apparently this is a spin-off game based on Funcom’s Secret World Legends (known also as The Secret World). Both games exist in the same thematic universe, though the Moons of Madness website claims you do not need to have played the previous game to enjoy this one.
The Secret World – as a basic overview — is a multiplayer online role-playing video game set in a modern world, which is under attack from occult forces. As a player, you join one of the secret organizations that is set to try and control or mitigate Lovecraftian influences that threaten the world.
You are Shane Newehart, a technician stationed at the Invictus 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. The security system is on lockdown, the greenhouse is flooded, and there is Martian dust leaking into the infirmary. 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? – Moons of Madness website
The game definitely had a strong atmosphere and sense of tension. And I’ll admit, a couple of jump scares got me. The game’s setting was so powerful. The developers went for a realistic look, which resulted in a haunting and beautiful experience as you travel around on Mars. I also liked the themes of mental illness and cosmic horror. I also really enjoyed and appreciated the nods to Lovecraft’s works.
Unfortunately, overall, the game fell flat for me. The plot didn’t mesh very well and it felt like the developers threw a lot of things at the wall, hoping something would stick. Maybe I missed a lot of underlying themes because I was not familiar with The Secret World, however the Moons of Madness website did claim you wouldn’t need to have played it to play their game. I’ll deep-dive the specifics of the plot in the spoiler part of this review, don’t worry.
Also, the whole game felt very shallow because it didn’t really develop its plot themes as much as I think it should have. The game itself is very short, surprisingly so. I would be willing to forgive that if the game itself had a developed plot and interesting gameplay, but Moons of Madness did not.
Most of the storytelling comes from computer entries you read through. There are some documents but they don’t really have any substance. There are a few other characters but you never actually encounter them as they are at a different location and communicate through the radio.
One really cool part of the game is that you have a mini-hacking tool on your wrist, allowing you to connect to other machines and control them.
Unfortunately, you don’t really get to use it that much. You have to solve a few very simple puzzles with it, but that’s about it. I was super disappointed because I thought it was so cool. I wanted to hack everything.
There were other puzzles in the game, but they weren’t very complex. For example, often you just had to find a component, add it to the puzzle block, maybe rotate it, and done. Again, it felt like a very shallow application of the game and wasn’t very engaging.
Let’s talk about the threats in this game. Like Amnesia, Moons of Madness deprives you of weapons so you have to sneak or run when you encounter the games very rarely appearing threats. There was one serious chase scene, and one serious sneaking encounter, but that was about it. Everything else was more jump scares. One threat you could chase away just by staring at it, so that wasn’t very frightening.
Overall, this game felt more like a rather short movie that had been broken up by slow-moving gameplay and a confusing plot. I just really wish they had developed their main plot points more, added more tension and encounters, and added more places where the player could actually play the game.
I did really want to love this game, because you know I love atmospheric and Lovecraftian games, but Moons of Madness left me in the cold.
Stop here if you don’t want to read any spoilers!
—- SPOILER ALERT —-
One of my biggest issues with Moons of Madness was the plot. Or plots???
The main plot (I think) was that the Orochi company sent this team of people to Mars because they wanted to get their hands on some secret Mars technology.
Then there’s a sub-plot of them allowing one scientist to use the eldritch alien “substance” (I was never clear as to what it was, just that it was called Filth and reminded me much of SOMA’s black structure gel) in her plant experiments. This resulted in a malevolent plant creature that attacks, but that you only see the once (where does it go after that, only the game developers know). Then you find out the scientist became part of the plant, so you kill her (why doesn’t the plant creature try and protect it? I, too, don’t know). That plot story then ends.
An evil Mars witch appears from time to time and seems to have an interest in your character. Turns out she’s your mom. She was an expert on interdimensional travel and the Orochi company tried to recruit her, then she just disappeared. This is explained partially through your character’s flashbacks later in the game. She had an alter in the basement, seems to have suffered from mental illness, and had a version of the Necronomicon on hand. The company then recruited your character to see if they could find his mom eventually, somehow, in a way that isn’t explained.
Another spooky thing that happens are these infected spacemen from the spaceship that crashed earlier in the game. It is implied that they got infected by the eldritch alien influence on Mars (How? Who knows, that also isn’t explained). I really wanted to see more of them because they looked creepy, but they only appear a few times and never really pose a threat.
As you explore the station, it is then revealed that there’s secret levels. Because of course. Turns out the base is also creating killer robots. This is never explained. Who is building these robots? There are five people on base and only the plant scientist had access to those levels. Maybe they managed to evacuate? Or they all died? Either way, there are killer robots, I guess. A lot of the story you find indicates that maybe there was a staff down there and maybe they were evacuated, but you never find any escape pod sections or any hint of how these people got off Mars.
In the secret levels, you also find a cloning lab where it is implied that the company is willing to kill the crew and replace them with these clones. This plot point is not explored further.
The game ends in you going to the strange Martian structure, guided by your Mom who speaks to you in your head. She claims that you need to stabilize the Martian tech because it prevents Mars’ twin moons from awakening because – surprise surprise – they are actually two Lovecraftian elder gods called the Dreamers.
In the end, the game failed to fully develop its various plots. It felt disjointed and shallow. In my opinion, they should have stuck with the two connected plots and then expanded on that. So disappointing.
x P.L. McMillan