Anytime I am offered a new entry into the horror genre I am down, which is why I was over the moon to hear and see Moons Of Madness announced and then released. Some of you may remember that it was launched back in October for the PC, but some of us had to wait a bit for it to finally hit the PS4 and Xbox One. I was one of those people and it hurt a bit to have to wait. Now that Rock Pocket Games has been able to release Moons Of Madness on the consoles, I was lucky enough to sit down and give it a bit of a go. With it showing signs of being like other great horror games in the same vein, does it actually hold up? That is why we are back with our review of how the game plays and if it is worth your time and money.
In Moons Of Madness, we take on the role of Shane Newehart. He is your basic technician that is working for a "shadowy" company as they work towards colonizing Mars. Not that we have not seen that go wrong in the past, but here it looks like things could look up. That is until some of the darkness seeps in and Shane starts to stray down a dark path. Could it all be in his mind or are there really horrible creatures and tentacles out to get him? I guess you will have to find out for yourself to see if he will survive the descent into some form of madness. That or just go back to work as nothing happened.
So, obviously, the bigger draw to Moons Of Madness here had to be the horror elements that we all knew were coming. It is kind right there in the name of it all. Hells, I was excited for it to see what craziness could come about given the usual horror that Lovecraftian stories hold. Unfortunately, it all felt about the same cookie-cutter that we normally get in titles like this. That is not to say that any of the horror elements were that bad, but it felt like a paint-by-numbers kind of ordeal behind it all. The only real fright I had during it all was within the opening minutes of the game as I was hoping Moons Of Madness would subvert my expectations. Sadly, right after that, it became too easy to spot when jumps were going to happen and the horror was going to creep back in. I can chalk part of this up to the level of a horror fan I am, so it could work for those more on the casual side of it all.
Part of the above could also stem from a bit on the lackluster control scheme that we have to work with in Moons Of Madness too and how it was implemented. One of the bigger culprits being in the movement controls, this is more of a walking-simulator in a horror setting, and that it always felt forced to add to the tension. Sure, when we are moving around on the surface of Mars in a bulky spacesuit I am not expecting to be able to run a marathon, but inside a facility being chased by a monster I do expect some kind of speed there. It never seemed to match up and it was more frustrating to experience in Moons Of Madness than it added to the tension. Even if it was lifted in scenes when there was no tension to be had it may have aided instead of detracted here. I felt forced already with the basic story progression that it would have been nice to mix it up and not force us here too.
This was only made worse by other control schemes in Moons Of Madness that never felt polished here. This could be a translation from PC to console game issue more than anything, but it always felt like a pixel hunt to find out how to manipulate objects or even to pick them up to read. This too pulled me out of the game immersion, and thus the horror, as I moved from document to document trying to get the story along the way but always seemed to be met with the issue of not looking or aiming directly at an object to be able to select it. Couple this with how some of it was presented with the character's head looking way off to a side when it normally would have snapped- to so we knew what was of importance once we selected something. It always felt off and a bit clunky for me, and thus was another detractor from the overall experience.
Even though it felt like they were few and far between, Moons Of Madness had quite a few instances where tension was built up and used extremely well to bring us the horror instead of relying on just jumpscares or weird body horror elements. One of my favorite instances in the game had to be a section where absolutely nothing happens but the entire time there are elements that make you think something is about to jump at any time. This kind of fear and horror always seems to be left to the side in these kinds of games and I was glad to see that Moons Of Madness had a few elements like this mixed in to keep us on our toes. Even if there were only a few times like this, for me, each time was something memorable and felt like the team was trying to push the bounds of the genre more than just a monster of the minute. The true horror lays within us is usually the story here and the areas in the game that focused on it definitely will shine for us all.
Another interesting bit that I truly enjoyed in Moons Of Madness had to come down to some of the puzzle elements that were mixed in for progression. Something that the genre usually throws in to add a few more jumps or reasons to face off against other horrors that many would normally just want to skip. Some of them are the most convoluted and outside of a video game setting would make no sense. Here, while none of them were terribly difficult, they all added to the story and setting in great ways. Some would lead to dark places that would build more of its own horror than just a jump scare while others would force us to work with an environment that was out to end us. Never did I feel like it did not make sense, although sometimes it was not until I finished the puzzle that the true sense was shown. Moons Of Madness is not a puzzle game, but it used those elements to the best, which added into me wanting to keep pressing forward.
While I did mention that things were more or less paint-by-numbers for the story, Moons Of Madness does a great job at making sure the player knows about what is going through various documents, set pieces, or just Shane's monologues and conversations. When I saw the number of things to pick up and read in the game I was a bit off-put thinking that was going to be the way it all flowed out there. Do not get me wrong, you do get more of the story and other elements by digging into all of that and looking at everything in the world, but you are not required to just to understand what is up. There have been too many games where missing one written document can make things feel off, but Moons Of Madness never felt like it was the case. Something that I hope to see in many future titles out there.
Moons Of Madness is not the horror game that many may be looking for it to be. It had some great potential to do so but then went back to play it safe when elements could have been pressed upon. Do not read that as this is a horrible title and not worth your time. Just know that if you are a horror fan you will soon see the same beats to the story and progression and few things will be jarring. If that is how you are starting to feel when playing Moons Of Madness, take in all of the surroundings and see how the world is subtly working its way in and other hidden details. It will be needed during those times when you are forced to play by specific rules that logic would dictate otherwise. If anything, it is good for at least one go but others might be more of a drag than most would be willing to subject themselves to.
I give Moons Of Madness 4 Glowing Orbs on the Glowing Orb scale.
Moons Of Madness — Launch Trailer
Moons Of Madness was developed by Rock Pocket Games and published by Funcom for the PS4 and Xbox One on March 24th, 2020. The PC version launched on October 22nd 2019. A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.