Have you been checking out every new game that has the potential to spark joy similar to the original Dead Space game? It seems like I’ve spent the last decade chasing that dragon. When I first saw the trailer for Moons of Madness I thought, “Finally! This might be it!” Thinking about a Lovecraft-inspired horror game set on Mars got my adrenaline pumping. But would this adventure fill the hole in my heart? Let’s find out together.
The Whisperer in Darkness
The Invictus is a Martian high tech research base owned and operated by a secretive private company. Your character, Shane Newehart, is the base’s technician. On the eve of his birthday, Shane’s sleep is interrupted and he leaves his room to discover strange vines growing throughout the base. At the end of his nightmare is a birthday cake and a frightening figure, a precursor to the horrors Shane will discover come morning. If he can just make it to the resupply ship en route to Mars, maybe, just maybe, Shane can escape.
Using your wits and items found about Invictus, Moons of Madness is one part exploration and two parts puzzle-solving. A good deal of the story is tucked away as computer entries, but you’ll get the gist from Shane’s monologues and interactions with the rest of Invictus’ crew members. And the story is a decent one, even if a bit predictable. Horror fans will instinctively feel the story beats, knowing when the jumps are coming as well as the lulls.
The Lurking Fear
A good bit of Moons of Madness is spent solving puzzles, whether those be tuning the correct frequencies or figuring out the right path through a maze. Of these puzzles, almost every one of them is fairly easy to solve; reading logs or just looking around the room tends to provide any answers you need; nothing that really makes you have to think too hard. Hell, even the circuitry puzzles can be solved by randomly rotating squares until the right connections are made.
My biggest gripe has to do with Shane’s movement speed. While you may not need to run often, when you do, it feels like the developers unnecessarily reduced what you would consider a proper run speed in order to fit their suspense-focused agenda. Running isn’t running; it’s walking just fast enough so that you make it to the bathroom before you crap your pants. Or in less crass terms, mall-walking speed. There is no real sense of urgency when Shane “runs” aside from the tendrils that curl around the edge of the screen and that really puts a damper on the overall experience.
What the Moons Bring
Moons of Madness also suffers from checkpoint-only saves. There is no manual save option at all, which can hamper your progress and willingness to continue at certain points. I learned this the hard way when I solved all the puzzles in a room and chose to log out before walking outside. I wanted to resume playing from a point where I knew I would be relatively safe. Unfortunately, the checkpoint didn’t trigger when I successfully completed the puzzles and listened to the important dialogue; it would have happened as soon as I walked outside. So when I logged back in I had to run through the puzzles all over again. A minor annoyance compared to other aspects of the game, sure, but detrimental to my overall experience.
I’m not one of those people who wants to jet off into space and attempt to colonize or explore another planet. I’ve seen the Alien movies. Moons of Madness promised a fictitious version of Mars from the comfort of home, with all of the suspense and jump-scares a girl could want, but unfortunately fails to deliver. As much as I wanted this horror fantasy, I can’t bring myself to go back to Mars. My patience has worn thin. Every time I hover over the graphic on my PS4 I audibly groan. Perhaps I’ll find the energy to return to it at some point, but much like the game itself, I’m not in a rush.
Moons of Madness review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.