Moons of Madness is a Lovecraftian-horror game developed by Rock Pocket Games. Welcome to Mars. You’re an unimportant low-level engineer working on a research outpost. As you go about your daily chores, you start to see things you shouldn’t. Unnatural things; monsters, tentacles, organisms. This is just the beginning of a spiral into insanity. Or is it? Moons of Madness has a lot of potential, but is ultimately squandered by its overall organization.
Trailblazer Alpha is where you’ve been stationed on Mars. Get ready because you’ll be spending a lot of time here. Waking up, you’re instantly tasked with performing your janitorial duties. First, you have to escape your locked room. The bedroom your in is full of objects to look at, read and use. There is clearly a lot of detail put into making the station feel interactable.
A task like leaving a locked room is a great way to welcome a player into a game’s general mechanics. This is what I thought the purpose of this exercise was. I was wrong. You’ll be performing these meaningless puzzles over and over. “Puzzle” may not be the right word though, that implies challenge. This is more like running back and forth doing busy work. The entire first hour of the game follows this pattern.
At this point, I had forgotten I was playing a horror game after turning on lights and rotating objects for so long. You can drive a Mars rover, make yourself a cup of coffee, and you have a fancy wristwatch that can manipulate the tech at your station. Gameplay mechanics are very present and in abundance but it felt like there was simply no reason for them. When the first scary event finally occurred, I was too busy looking for the next switch to press to notice.
A monster had formed and began to chase me. I was so happy and ready to begin the game. Then I turned a corner and looked back… it was standing in place. I couldn’t tell if it was a bug or it wasn’t meant to catch me. Naturally, I taunted the still monstrosity in front of me by crouching on the ground over and over, then strolled into the next phase of the game.
The Descent Into Madness
I was excited to finally explore the darker side of Mars but it wasn’t what I was greeted with for the remainder of the game. As someone who has trotted through an excess of horror narratives and worlds, I’m pretty aware of the cliches. Moons of Madness is no stranger to this.
Allow me to give a quick rundown of environments in the game. You’ve got access to a space station, a small cave where you use your super-powered hand to solve puzzles (you will not use these powers again by the way), a basement from your past, you eventually return back to the station (which will be overrun by plants), and a secret laboratory where you’ll spend a good chunk of time, finishing off with another cave. It constantly seemed as though I was replaying a portion of a game I’ve already played before. Nothing feels original besides the fact that we’re on Mars.
The need to fit in with every horror setting basically led to the story becoming more and more entangled. If you read every paper and looked deeper past the general idea of the plot, the details surrounding it become very convoluted and strung together as the game progresses. When I completed the game, I couldn’t tell if the story was just hypocritical or I was too bored to notice important events. I definitely did descend into madness. Just not from fear.
What I Liked
While I could rant on about my grievances in Moons of Madness, let’s talk about what made it somewhat enjoyable. Every area I explored, even if they felt unauthentic, looked beautiful. The artists behind the game deserve some praise. Walking around Trailblazer Alpha was somehow the worst and best part of the journey. Each steel beam looked carefully placed, the lone coffee machine looked gorgeous and intricately modeled, the rooms I explored had an amazing composition; I felt as if I was actually inside a space facility. In addition, a lived-in space facility.
Also, the monsters themselves looked pretty sweet. Every enemy looked vastly different, yet fitting to the scene; each being fleshy or grotesque in some way. To boot, the tentacles and corruption that plagued the station were very satisfying to look at. Witnessing these while hearing the mention of the dreaming ones was able to send a chill down my nerdy spine. The dreaming ones, for those who don’t know, is a staple in Lovecraft lore. These elements were what melded the most original part of the game. The Lovecraft of it all gave the only concrete structure in a mass of ever-changing landscapes and plotlines.
If there was one thing that was able to creep me out, it was the sound design. No matter what I was doing, there was always a feeling of eerie dread in the background. Then, the accompaniment of the utter silence of space makes the perfect atmosphere for what could have been. It made the pivotal moments of the game actually feel somewhat intense.
The actual puzzles littered throughout the game weren’t half bad either. As in you actually had to think pretty hard on some. Sure, most felt a little pointless, but still pretty entertaining. They’re like fun little minigames sprinkled here and there.
I could go on and on about the little parts that made this game enjoyable because there is quite a lot. In conclusion, Moons of Madness took the best parts from successful horror games. And yeah, this is what made everything feel lackluster, but along with the misses, there were a good amount of hits. The creative ideas are here, just overshadowed.
I wanted to mention the good after the bad in this review to highlight Moons of Madness’s biggest problem. The developers are clearly highly skilled. The idea is a goldmine. It’s beautiful. The environments would be a treat if used in a better context but this all stems from poor execution. Moons of Madness had such hard work behind it, just no plan. I never felt as if I knew what the game was trying to achieve, other than being a game.
That’s why I simply cannot recommend this game. Once you’ve played all of the great horror games out there and are really craving a new one, give it a try, it’s only five hours long. There’s a lot to love around the mess. Moons of Madness, however, is just that – a mess.
Moons of Madness is developed by Rock Pocket Games and published by Funcom. It released on Steam on October 22, you can pick it up now for $24.99 USD.
If you’re looking for more games to play, check out our Wrath: Aeon of Ruin review or our Vampire: The Masquerade – Cotteries of New York review. Please feel free to tell us what you thought of the article down in the comments! Thanks for reading Culture of Gaming!
If you want more reviews on Moons of Madness, check out Open Critic.
- THE GOOD
- Wonderful Art
- Great Basis and Idea
- Immersive Sound Design
- Original Lovecraftian Atmosphere
- THE BAD
- Very Messy
- Weak Plot
- Needless Tasks To Keep Player Busy
- Poor AI
- Lack of Direction