Are you slowly descending into madness?
It's a question worth asking, as it might explain the hallucinations,
or the dreams, or whatever they are. Or might it all be real – you
aren't alone in your experiences.
You play as Shane Newehart, a technician on a Martian research station.
Not everything is within his pay grade and security classification, but
he knows what he needs to in order to keep the lights on and the
satellite dishes aligned. Which need tending to, so onto the surface you
But not before a glimpse behind the curtain. The station appears
abandoned, the greenhouse is flooded, and the strange plant life is
taking over. But then the vision passes and the "real" and
mundane world returns.
Pacing is one of the many high points in this game. It starts slowly,
settling you into the controls and the events, but promising a fair bit
more. Which comes, and then recedes, and then comes back again. The
events can and probably will kill you, but the game is never
overwhelming. Frustrating here and there perhaps, as you grapple with
how to proceed, but it walks a nice line between the broader and more
prevalent exploration and puzzling, and the action.
With respect to the latter, there is more running away or avoiding
than there is outright confrontation. Stealth plays a part in some
sequences as does hacking – taking control of security cameras and
moving them can enable you to pass by without triggering the security
bots – and staying off the sand as much as possible strongly
diminishes the chance of being eaten by a Dune-like sandworm. In another
area, a large black tentacle-thing will halt its advances if looked at,
and retreat if advanced upon, making proceeding through that part far
less problematic than it could otherwise be. In the same vein, retreat
when the tendrils start to literally scratch at your faceplate, and
think again. Observe the path of security bots and move to avoid them.
Even the out and out action is designed to be "managed". A
chase sequence for example gives you plenty of time to reach a safe
place to draw breath. Taking the wrong exit point from there will get
you killed every time, whereas the right one will again give you time to
move on. The most direct battle, one involving a sentient tree and a
crowbar, is dependent on finding the right sequence of weak points to
hit. You will die doing so, definitely more than once but knowing that
it isn't a bludge fest (and the game gives you feedback to that effect)
just means try again but do something different.
There are even encounters which are not really encounters. A
squidlike thing that you run away from early on will cross your path on
a number of future occasions, but you won't have to actually do
anything. The game manages the "interaction" for you.
Which is not to diminish the action elements, rather to paint a
picture of how they work, especially if these things aren't usually your
stock in trade.
You can't save at will, but the save checkpoints are fairly generous,
including within the action sequences. This ensures that e.g. the chase
sequence referred to above doesn't have to be done from the very start
if you get killed along the way.
With respect to the puzzling, I was well pleased. There are a range
of different types, some deceptively clever in their simplicity, and
none obtuse or opaque. Reading notes and emails will assist with many,
clues (or answers) being scattered throughout. It's a fairly linear
game, and you don't do a lot of backtracking (although you will return
throughout the game to some locations more than once), so most of what
you need will be in the immediate environment.
Then there is the horror element. The game is self-described as being
"where the scientific exploration of Mars meets the supernatural
dread of Lovecraft", and Mars is a pretty good place for Lovecraft-ness
to flourish. While there are occasional jump scares (and jump I did) it
isn't terribly scary, the horror being more of the slow building tension
and freakiness kind. Which it does well, building an atmosphere in which
something untoward might be just around the corner.
The emails and notes I referred to will help detail the backstory, as
will the scrawls and scribbles on the walls and whiteboards, along with
your radio conversations with other team members. The plot is over the
top as you would expect, not terribly sensible but so what. The
experience is the thing.
Which I liked a lot. The look, the sound, the weirdness – it ticked
a lot of my boxes.
The more mundane exploration I particularly liked. The planetary
surface and the station environments are impressively detailed, and the
soundscape helps build a realistic feel to those elements. Not that I
have ever been to Mars of course.
It's a solitary first person endeavour, save for your radio
interactions and the visitations from … whatever. The keyboard is used
to move around, as well as to navigate within various of the puzzles.
You steer with the mouse. The left mouse is used to interact with the
game world, and the right mouse will also scan your local environment,
allowing you to connect to all manner of things through your wrist
"communicator". This is how you hack cameras and interact with
machinery. It is also an essential part of destroying toxic plant life.
Pressing "O" will remind you of your objective, and
indicate whereabouts it is (and how far away). Having items in your
inventory will allow them to be used through a context cursor. There is
no inventory management in the traditional sense.
Looking down while wearing your spacesuit helmet enables you to read
your vital statistics but more importantly see how much oxygen you have
left. Filling stations are prevalent, and oxygen was never an issue, but
I did keep it topped-up as much as possible. Nice little touches such as
an increasing heart rate, breathlessness and your hands shaking added to
the realism of the exertion.
There are two endings based on a choice you make just before the
finish. Either was fine by me given what had come before.
Moons of Madness took me about 8 hours, and I liked every one of
them, and all of them together.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700k 3.7 GHz