When I first stepped into the shoes of Shane Newehart, an engineer stationed on Mars I felt the sense of Déjà vu. Had I been here before? Could I have played this very game not long ago and forgot? Of course that didn’t happen but the all too familiar feeling was there for a reason. Yes, we’ve seen a fair share of Lovecraft style games come to life in recent years but this did feel a little different. The question is, was roaming around on Mars with Shane isolated from everyone else a good or bad thing?
Starting off things go awry pretty quick in Moons of Madness. You don’t know if Shane is crazy or just having odd hallucinations from being in space for a long period of time. Then you start to read and boy do you read a lot in this game. I like to read so it wasn’t a big deal but the pacing of it felt out of place in certain situations. I didn’t like being in a tense moment but halted by pages of reading. However, the game is built around this mystery and the only way to find out is investigating. Well…that and solving puzzles.
The puzzle solving in the game is very well thought out and in some cases crazy difficult. From using math skills to get the correct percentage of flow into a fuse to redirecting a current around blown fuses it will take some time to figure some of them out. Of course, if you are like me and over think things then you might find yourself stuck on a few. As you make your way through the space station you will need to solve a puzzle in order to move forward or you may be forced into scenario number two of being chased by horrific creatures. I found the chase scenario way more exhilarating but that’s just me.
While it might appear you are stranded on this space station alone that isn’t the case. At certain points during the game the other astronauts will chime in on your radio. Don’t expect them to come to your rescue though as you truly are alone in this one. Shane definitely knows his way around the space station but if you can’t find your way then you can ping a waypoint by using your biogage. One of my favorite parts was actually venturing outside and into the rover. The developers didn’t just make Moons of Madness appear amazing with lighting and great scenery but the attention to detail is awesome as well. When leaving the station you of course need your helmet but you also need to make sure that it is charged up with oxygen. Then before you can leave you have to decompress the chamber. That might not sound all that amazing but upon returning if you forget to decompress the chamber and you take off your helmet then, well let’s say it leads to a really bad day for Shane. Did you say that isn’t impressive? Ok. How about when Shane is facing a tense situation it will take him more time to perform such tasks because his hands are shaking. Now that is something I thought was wicked cool. Seeing Shane freaked out and shaking as he tried to enter the rover in a hurry made me feel tense and scared myself. That isn’t easy to pull off in horror games but it is done very well in certain situations with Moons of Madness.
Even with the excellent puzzles, tense situations and great attention to detail, the game falls a little flat. Why though? Remember when I said something about Déjà vu? That is how I felt for the majority of the game. To put Moons of Madness in the simplest way would be to say it was like playing SOMA but in a little bit of a different setting. The problem here is that there is not enough to keep you in suspense or keep you interested in the character. I never felt for Shane. I never worried about Shane or his well-being. If you are going to have a character that is isolated by themselves you need to find out more about that character from the beginning. You learn very little about him and before you know it you are being flooded with information about others. This takes you away from actually giving a damn about Shane and it hurt the overall experience.
Don’t expect to be able to fight back in this one as well. When danger does poke its head out the only option is to run or find a way around it. This will occur more towards the second act of the game as the first portion kind of drags on with you walking around trying to figure out what is going on. I think the game really shines the best when you leave the space station and venture out in the rover to fix things. Its automated so don’t get too excited. The red planet looks fantastic and I loved traversing up the cliffs in order to get to the next location. Watching your air percentage was never a problem for me because I filled up at every point I came across even if I didn’t need it. They come in handy so stay fresh with a little pump of air.
Everything in the game worked really well. Climbing, putting on your helmet, running, ducking and even using the hack into systems biogage on your wrist. I say hack into systems because that is basically what you are doing remotely. Most of the puzzles in the game require you to connect via your arm biogage. That is where the developers got a little too creative in some situations and let me tell you I was not happy when I finally figured it out. Let’s just say, don’t over think it and look at your surroundings. Unfortunately, you can’t have this type of thing when it slows you down that much because the game is already slow paced as it is. Getting to the second half of the game felt like a chore at times but once you get there it really takes off, you just have to get there if you can.
Moons of Madness was a decent venture back into the world of Lovecraft with some cool puzzles and horrifying situations. I loved the look of Mars and for the game itself the controls worked fine in all aspects. The sad part is that it falls flat with no character development especially for Shane. Even if you put together creative puzzles, scary creatures and wonderful backdrop it won’t matter if you don’t care about the characters. Making it to the second half of the game was worth it though as it really did pick up. I enjoyed the tense moments and horrific scenes towards the end. It would have been a highly recommended game if it had that much substance throughout the entire game but sadly I would wait and find this one on sale. The game is worth a play if you enjoy the genre and you could probably finish it within 8 hours.
A review copy of the game was provided for the PS4.