Moons of Madness by Rock Pocket Games and published by Funcom is a tense psychological trip through the unknown; a gripping first-person tale of a man teetering on the edge of sanity a million miles from home. While horror games are a dime a dozen, Moons of Madness’s emotional look at a fractured man is unique enough to stand out amongst the rather crowded genre.
It is the year 2063 and you are Shane Newehart, an engineer on a secretive expedition to Mars, part of Trailblazer Alpha and living on Invictus, a state of the art Mars research station. Newehart works for the Orochi Group, who headed to Mars after intercepting a strange signal, hoping to find signs of life. Newehart and crew are unaware of the Orochi Group’s ulterior motives behind their time on mars, instead just handling their daily duties of sustaining a research station until a relief crew aboard a ship named Cryrano arrives.
The crews’ time on Mars has been difficult. Sleep problems plague the employees, each having been haunted by nightmares in which a witch torments them. Months of isolation has led to the crew slowly losing their sanity. As time passes, the research station begins to become unraveled – along with the crew.
After waking from a nightmare, Newehart is tasked by Declan – his only friend stationed aboard Invictus – and Commander Wilcox to look into some power issues. What begins as a simple trek across Mars to fix solar panels soon turns into a battle against forces beyond Newehart’s understanding.
Each employee is given a state of the art wrist computer, which becomes your main source of help throughout the entire game. Your wrist computer provides information on the objects around you, shows the quickest path to your next objective, remotely hacks into security cameras and computers to open doors or provide pathways through an area while remaining unseen, and even helps destroy obstacles in your path. Without it, Shane would be helpless.
Unlike many games, Shane is human. He gets scared, he isn’t a fighter, and he doesn’t have superhuman abilities. He is exactly what anybody in his situation would be – a scared and confused human desperate for answers and safety.
Moons of Madness prides itself on being realistic, at least in the sense of a human in terrifying situations. Shane must watch his oxygen when outside and continuously refill when running low. His heartbeat monitor shows the extreme jumps in his BPM when he gets scared – causing him to use more oxygen and to become clumsy. These small details help Shane feel real and help the player identify with him.
Throughout the five hour story Shane encounters many computers, notes, and random messages which tell the story of his various co-workers and the Orochi Group. While reading everything is optional, many items contain information helpful to progressing, including sticky notes, emails, and white boards with passcodes or diagrams drawn on them.
The core of the gameplay is puzzle based. There are few enemies to speak of, and even fewer ways to die. Most of your time is spent delving into Shane’s psyche and unlocking the mystery of what occurred – both to Invictus and in Shane’s past. This isn’t to say the game doesn’t provide moments of adrenaline or terror – quite the contrary. The lack of enemies makes the moments when you do encounter one all the more terrifying. Knowing Shane can’t hold his own in a fight adds a layer of fear normally absent from modern games. You must use either the environment or other means to outwit and defeat your opponent. These setpieces are both terrifying and exhilarating.
The puzzles can be quite challenging. They won’t take most players long to figure out, but they are harder than what they appear at first glance and even when you know what is necessary to progress, figuring out how to make it happen can be stressful. I appreciated the puzzles and how they tied into the various areas you explore. Puzzles never repeat theirselves and constantly switch things up, ensuring that the gameplay does not become stale.
To say more of the story or the things you encounter would spoil Moons of Madness. Do yourself a favor and pick this beautifully crafted experience if you’re looking for a quick horror-themed story to fill a weekend.
Moons of Madness is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC for $29.99. Thanks to Rock Pocket Games and Funcom for providing Fan Fest News with a review code.