Moons of Madness is no stranger to PC gamers, considering the game released on Steam back on October 22, 2019. Console gamers, however, had to wait their turn, as the game is only now releasing on PS4 and Xbox One. The experience is exactly the same, except for some minor differences in terms of resolution and frame-rate, but the content is identical. It's a first-person exploration game, bordering on the style of the so-called "walking simulator", albeit with more interactions than you'll find in other, similar games.
Moons of Madness is a reference to Phobos and Deimos, the twin moons of Mars, and they fuel a horror plot that mixes Lovecraft and science fiction. The narrative takes place on a station on the Red Planet, as the player takes on the role of Shane Newehart, an engineer who has the job of keeping the base ticking over. Fun fact: Moons of Madness takes place in the same universe as The Secret World, Funcom's MMORPG released in 2012, although this information is not at all essential to enjoy the story.
As you might expect, the situation gradually starts to get complicated at the base, which forces Shane - and the player - to move to various areas of the base to solve problems. The base is divided into different sections, which Shane visits using his vehicle, although the player never gets to drive it. The gameplay, therefore, boils down to a series of trivial actions, such as turning valves, putting and taking off helmets (for when you need to visit the outside of the station), and solving some basic puzzles. These mostly come down to boring gameplay sequences, with tasks that add nothing to the gameplay experience other than making the game longer.
Like other games of the same genre, Moons of Madness mainly uses core plot devices to tell its story, with radio conversations between the protagonist and other characters, and texts in the form of emails and documents. We enjoyed the performance of the actors, in particular the relationship between Shane and Declan Delaporte, as they manage to have credible conversations with each other - also kudos to the writing.
Eventually, however, Lovecraft's influences begin to emerge, as the science fiction background gives way to supernatural elements. There are some interesting sequences, particularly regarding Shane's flashbacks, and also some effective scares, but the game never manages to create a particularly intense atmosphere. Grotesque and detailed, perhaps, but not that scary or tense.
Even if Moons of Madness' atmosphere is not very effective, especially compared to other horror and mystery games, the station itself was built with an appreciable level of detail, and benefits from quality sound effects and the way they recreate the station's mechanisms, the absence of oxygen, and other similar details. There are also creatures, which we are not going to talk about in detail, however, Moons of Madness does not include any kind of combat, and they also seem to have learned from Soma, as these enemies rarely become a real hindrance.
Regarding the plot, it ends up having some interesting ideas, mostly if you enjoy both Lovecraft and sci-fi in general. Dementia is naturally a big part of the plot and the experience, and there are some unexpected twists, but we didn't think that it had the same sort of impact as games that explore similar territory.
Whether on PC or console, Moons of Madness is an unimpressive game, and one that is not particularly memorable, but it does have its moments. We wouldn't recommend it to everyone, but if you enjoyed games like Conarium or Soma, you are likely to get a decent experience from Moons of Madness, even if it doesn't quite measure up.
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