Moons of Madness Review – PC
+ Ties to Secret World
+ Lovecraft inspiration
+ Great graphics
+ Chilling audio
+ Fun puzzles
+ Authentic science
- More experience than game
- Not very scary
- 1080p limit
Moons of Madness arrives at the perfect time, when the Halloween season sparks that inexplicable interest in spooky games and movies. Blending sci-fi themes with Lovecraft horror then seamlessly tying it all into Funcom’s Secret World franchise, prepare for several hours of classic first-person adventure, exploration, and puzzle-solving as you dive into this rich narrative experience exploring the dark mysteries of Mars and your own mind.
You’ll be playing as Shane Newehart, an engineer and caretaker at Trailblazer Alpha where your main goal is to keep the place running until the next shuttle arrives with fresh personnel. Plagued with personal nightmares and a variety of system malfunctions, Shane will quickly discover not all is as it seems on the Red Planet. You’ll need to explore the station and beyond, gathering clues and information as well as repairing various systems just to stay alive.
I was particularly impressed with the commitment to world-building in Moons of Madness. Early in the game I found a URL in an email, so I went to that website in real-life and found a fairly convincing shell of a corporate website that played perfectly into the fiction of the game. Admittedly, the design started to fall apart if you went too deep, but it was still an admirable effort to create a site that only a small few would likely visit. Even more impressive, later in the game I found an email about reporting security concerns to Invictus Security. In true role-playing fashion I composed a quick email about a possible password violation and sent it to the email address provided and within minutes I received a very convincing email from Invictus Security acknowledging my concern and to “maintain normal duties”. I realize this was just an auto-responder sending out a form letter email, but it was still impressive to see Funcom’s commitment to player immersion beyond the actual game.
The first thing you’ll notice in Moons of Madness is the quality of the design, both artistically and in maintaining roots in believable near-future science. You’ll interact with computers and machinery, navigate airlocks, wear an EVA suit, and even drive a rover to distant substations. Much of the first hour of the game will have you feeling like a real astronaut on an actual Martian outpost, especially the first time you take off your helmet without pressurizing the airlock – true story!
Despite being limited to 1080p the graphics are quite stunning with detailed textures, realistic architecture, loads of detail like personal possessions and clutter scattered about, and an abundance of Post-It notes that are actually quite legible, some even useful. Computer screens and terminals are interactive and loaded with useful information and there are some great lighting, shadows, and special effects all brining added immersion to the game. Putting on the helmet will give you that slightly claustrophobic feeling when going outside with the added pressure of watching that depleting O2 meter.
Things get truly dark when you take a deep dive into this twisted realm of your own mind several hours into the game. All sorts of odd and evil creatures rise from the shadows as you explore the maze of your mind solving a few simple puzzles and unlocking clues to advance the story. Expect a lot of tension and uneasiness in this part; especially with these giant snake-like creatures that keep trying to sneak up on you when your back is turned.
What I particularly enjoyed was how Moons of Madness works on multiple levels. I was taking turns playing the game with another reviewer who was a Secret World fan and he was instantly picking up on all these references that were going right over my head, but that didn’t make the game any less enjoyable for me; just more enjoyable for him. In addition to the multi-layered narrative Funcom has kept the gameplay simple and fun; accessible to gamers of all ages and skill levels. Whether playing with controller or mouse and keyboard, the interaction with the environment is intuitive and I enjoyed the wrist device that allowed for remote control of certain objects. Puzzles were neither too obvious nor mind-melting. The game was just fun and fluid with constant and satisfying progression.
If I had any complaint about Moons of Madness it would be a lack of genuine horror. Yes, the game has its moments of tension, suspense, sinister locales, chilling music, and even a few cheap jump scares, but that level of evil you expect from a Lovecraft-inspired game is lacking. The entire game is 4-6 hours and achievement hunters can lock down most of them on a single pass, although there is a split near the end that leads to two different endings, each with its own achievement.
As someone who had no real knowledge of The Secret World prior to this game, I didn’t feel I was missing out on anything, and for those who are familiar with that lore, you’ll likely appreciate Moons of Madness on multiple levels. Admittedly, this is more of an interactive narrative experience than a conventional game, but there are still plenty of moments of free exploration and creative puzzle-solving rooted in realistic science. The added immersion of a compelling story, great voice acting and sound design, and impressive visuals all make Moons of Madness a game fans of the genre won’t want to skip.