Reminiscent of Alien: Isolation, but with tentacle monsters and ghost kids.
What’s worse than being stranded on Mars in a malfunctioning research station? Being stranded on Mars in a malfunctioning research station… with monsters. This is the simple yet very effective premise of Moons of Madness, the sci-fi/Lovecraft-themed horror adventure from Rock Pocket games.
My recent demo at E3 2019 took me through what is essentially the first hour of Moons of Madness’s story, and did an excellent job proving two things:
- The team has done a great job blending these two distinct horror genres
- I am still a huge wimp when it comes to horror games.
You’ll play as Shane Newhart, Chief Engineer for the Invictus Mission – a topper-than-top secret mission to explore the potential for humanity to colonize Mars. The mission, funded by the corporate conglomerate Orochi Group (if that sounds familiar, it’s because Moons of Madness is set in the universe of Funcom’s The Secret World), is entirely privatized and wholly off the books – it seems that not even NASA’s top brass knows you’re up there. Learning this, by reading through various notes, emails and NDAs that Shane has signed, adds another welcome layer of anxiety-inducing world-building – if this goes south, no one is coming to help you.
Except, of course for the shift-change relief and resupply shuttle that is due to arrive today. Moons of Madness begins in darkness, with Shane exploring the dark and deathly-silent halls of the Invictus Base after something has gone horribly awry. Mounds of strange organic matter pile in corners and hang from ceilings, tendrils of it creeping out of vents and air ducts. Creatures stalk you from the darkness and something is coming for you.
Of course, it turns out this initial nightmare is just that – a dream. Shane wakes up, checks in with his friend Orson and goes about his day fixing issues around the station while waiting for the shuttle that will bring him and his fellow crewmembers home. But it’s not a dream he – or I, for that matter, will forget any time soon. While there were a few solid jump scares throughout this opening, the real strength of Moons is in the lighting and sound design. The light hum of oxygenerators pumping air through the base is the only constant sound aside from its soft and ominous score and the light rasp of Shane’s breathing. Lights flicker on for seconds at a time – just long enough to make you wonder if the shape you saw scuttling into the shadows was real or just your imagination.
This opening sequence also does a sound job of making you feel unsafe in any surrounding, even when you return to the “normal” version of things. Coming around a corner to see something as simple as an airlock caused a pit to drop into my stomach as I remembered the plusing fleshy mass that I’d seen trying to pry its way through just moments before. Moons seems to delight in these little touches, even playing with them a bit for narrative’s sake. While dreaming, I opened a cabinet to find a crowbar, only to have it and several other items fall out and onto the floor. It was unsettling, to say the least, to find them already in that same position on the ground when I went looking for it after I’d woken up.
I’m curious to see how the rest of Shane’s story will play out. How, exactly, does the research base go from B to A, like in his dream, and why is this happening in the first place? Obviously, there’s likely a larger conspiracy to be discovered, especially with Orochi at the helm, and I’m glad that I don’t have to wait much longer to find out. Though I don’t think I’ll be playing with the lights out.