There has been a hell of a lot of Lovecraft inspired gaming in recent times. The Sinking City, Gun, Love & Tentacles and Call of Cthulhu are just a few of the games that feature tentacles, cephalopods, Eldritch gods and questionable sanity. Moons of Madness is another game with roots in H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional universe.
Unlike most other Cthulhu-mythos games, Moons of Madness is set on Mars, much closer to the Great Old Ones. Like other Lovecraftian narratives though, Moons of Madness is more about the personal journey into and through insanity than it is about its actual physical location.
The walking simulator genre and the Cthulhu-mythos go together really well and Moons of Madness is mostly successful. However, it does overstay its welcome and not all of its elements come together successfully.
Moons of Madness Review
Playing as Engineer Shane Newheart, the opening moments of the game are the most affecting. Players wake up in the Martian base where Newheart works but see things rapidly deteriorate. Oily black growths cover the walls and floor, strange whispers fill Newheart’s head and he can’t make contact with his crew.
Then, he wakes up.
And while the ‘it was all a dream’ trope is often a mistake, here, it works perfectly in setting the tone. Newheart and the handful of crew members with him on Mars are far from any other humans. The isolation and loneliness have been getting to them and dreams like this one are common.
As Newheart actually gets out of bed and begins his day, a series of escalating malfunctions, errors and situations unfold. What starts as a simple engineering issue, gradually becomes a matter of life and death. Not just for Newheart, but potentially for the entire universe.
As a walking simulator, gameplay mechanics in Moons of Madness are pretty restricted. Aside from exploration, you can interact with a number of objects, read notes, solve puzzles and use your wrist-mounted PDA to scan the environment.
Aside from walking, this scanning mechanic is the main one. You’ll be scanning terminals, machinery, security cameras and more and accessing them through your PDA. When you do, you might need to solve a simple puzzle, turn the power on or off, rotate machinery and the like.
Most of the activities you participate in through your PDA are simple enough, but by and large, they’re engaging enough thanks to the narrative and setting. Unfortunately, like a lot of walking sims, Moons of Madness sticks around just a bit too long. By the game’s conclusion, I had mentally checked out.
Like many other walkings sims with a horror theme, you have no means to defend yourself in Moons of Madness. That means running whenever you’re confronted with some nasty beat that wants to eat your face. For the most part, this works well enough and these sections can be properly terrifying.
However, there are numerous, instant-death scenarios in Moons of Madness and there were many times I was forced to replay sections of the game simply because of one tricky moment. When I was forced to replay these sections, it really took the shine off what was an otherwise decent game.
Visually, Moons of Madness is a treat with the Unreal Engine bringing the martian surface to stunning, desolate life. The clean, bright whites of the station stand in stark contrast with the red of the planet and the whole design is reminiscent of Alien and other sci-fi from that period. The audio design is also top-notch and I’d recommend playing with headphones. It’s pretty spooky.
Overall, Moons of Madness is a good, if overly long walking simulator that dives headfirst into the Cthulhu-mythos. It delivers an interesting story about the powers, dangers and fragility of the human mind and certainly ends with a bang.
Sci-fi and Lovecraft fans will get a big kick out of Moons of Madness even if it drags on just a little too long.
Moons of Madness was reviewed on PS4 Pro using a digital copy provided by Funcom.
Game Title: Moons of Madness
- Great environmental design and tension - 8/108/10
- Mindbending, Lovecraftian narrative - 8.4/108.4/10
- Overstays its welcome - 4/104/10
- Not quit ethe sum of its parts - 5/105/10