There have been a lot of Lovecraftian-themed games in the last few years. Games like Call of Cthulhu and The Sinking City are a more literal representation of the stories of the Old Ones. Even though I do love those games, I like it when developers use the themes of Lovecraft but take them to new places…like Mars. Such is the case with MOONS OF MADNESS, which just finally hit consoles after being on PC since the end of 2019. I couldn’t wait to explore the far reaches of the solar system and the mind with this game.
MOONS OF MADNESS was developed by Rock Pocket Games and published by Funcom. You play as Shane Newehart, a technician stationed on the Invictus One Mars. Finally, more supplies are headed in and your family doesn’t even know you’re off the planet when all of a sudden everything starts to get really bizarre. The greenhouse inexplicably floods and as you maneuver to fix it, you find weird things are growing through the facility. People are acting strange and you are beginning to see things that aren’t there. Has something infiltrated the base or are you just losing your mind on the red sands of Mars?
Losing your marbles is a common theme in all Lovecraftian games. The idea of “is it real or is it just in my head” is the most common trope and leaves a lot of space for creativity. Whether it be the monsters, the memories of the hallucinations, the idea of reality not being what it seems is one of the easiest ways to offer some “out there” creativity. Add in the idea of doing it in space and you really have a lot of material to work with. After playing through the 3-4 hour game, I wish they just picked a singular theme.
I love alien themes in games and games like Prey and Alien: Isolation proves that it really works to scare players. MOONS OF MADNESS combines the madness of eldritch horrors with that of alien life and I just don’t think it works. Singularly, these ideas are great and make for scary games but together it makes for a game that’s cluttered, confusing and unsatisfying. There are some really good moments in the story that make you jump and build tension but then they are punctuated with moments that are so out there, it takes you out of the moment. When you are on Mars and then all of a sudden end up in a basement, it surpasses psychological and scoots its way right into confusing. The story had potential but lost its way halfway in.
The graphics are good for an indie game: the environmental ones more than the facial graphics. While the surface of Mars and the base looks incredible, the faces of the people talking leave something to be desired and are sometimes more unsettling than the monsters. One thing that drove me crazy nearly the entire time was the speed in which Shane moves. There is a run button and you move no faster than an old lady speed walking in the mall. Your walking speed is so slow that you might as well be moving backward. On more than one occasion, I found myself shouting “JUST GO” at the TV when my character practically crawled around the map. Your character feels like he weighs a ton as he slogs through the game.
On a positive note, there is a lot of attention to detail in MOONS OF MADNESS. When Shane is scared, his actions become chaotic. Any usual movement like refilling his air tank becomes shaky and frantic. Instead of pressing a button, he slaps at it several times in a very honest action. I appreciate that level of realism in a narrative game. MOONS OF MADNESS is first person, so you don’t really get to understand the emotion of the protagonist aside from movements and voice acting and small things like that to help get the point across. The voice acting is also REALLY good, at least for Shane’s character. The anger and fear comes across extremely well and that isn’t something you see often in indie games.
Overall, I did enjoy MOONS OF MADNESS. While the story was very confusing and ended with no catharsis to speak of, it had a lot of potential and some good moments. Had they stuck with one solid theme, this could have been an extraordinary game. If you like moderately short narrative games with a sci-fi/Lovecraftian theme, then MOONS OF MADNESS is worth a try. It’s not the best alien game and it’s not the best Lovecraft game but it’s a pretty good game. MOONS OF MADNESS is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and Windows.