Moons of Madness Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
In these uncertain times, there is no greater fear than complete isolation with no apparent escape. It is a reality for many of us. Moons of Madness taps into that fear to the extreme, trapping you in a nightmare over thirty million miles from home.
The game opens with a short, sharp shock and then settles into something far more grounded and sedate to build us back up to the genuine scares. The opening scene feels like a proof of concept that says ‘we will scare the hell out of you, so stick with us.’
At this point, Moons of Madness spends a solid stretch of time putting you into the life of an astronaut. You travel the base, you perform maintenance on the site. There are procedures you have to follow. You have to maintain your oxygen levels when you move outside, you must depressurise when moving from outside to inside and vice versa. The puzzles are all rooted in science and all enjoyably challenging.
You sink into a routine. It feels akin to Firewatch, you are alone, all your colleagues are in different parts of the base, to keep yourself sane you go through the motions, you do your job. You get into the mindset of an astronaut so you have certain skills in place by the time things get squirmy and terrifying.
This whole section of the game is incredibly compelling, the survival element of the game is strong enough to build an entire game around even without the horror genre creeping in.
And creep it does. The abominable terrors start to slowly manifest around you while you accomplish your tasks, the intensity grows before exploding into full Eldritch terror. The scares are very effective with unimaginable things doing unimaginable things to you, feeding into that deep-set fear of the unknown. Tentacles everywhere, reality upending itself. Make no mistake, this game does not simply flirt with Cthulhu lore, it takes it out for dinner and buys it a ring.
The writing is strong throughout, there is a lot of deeply weird lore to sink your teeth into, supplemental materials help flesh out that lore and add to the sinister atmosphere. The performances are similarly strong with some dedicated turns that help keep you locked into the tone of any given moment.
The monster encounters are scripted rather than the AI-driven sort you would find in titles like Alien: Isolation, but that allows for some very deliberately considered frights. The set pieces all have a nice variety to them while adhering to an internal sort of logic, or as logical as Lovecraftian hellscapes can be, so you never feel like you are repeating yourself. This is not a long game but the challenges will keep you hooked and the diversity of locations and scares ensure every second is unique and engaging.
All the while you need to be conscious of your oxygen levels. Even without the wriggling abyss that threatens to consume you, your very environment is a constant threat and forgetting to replenish your o2 or forgetting to depressurise a chamber before removing your helmet with your rattled nerves is entirely possible. It is a game that very much requires you to keep your shit together even as your grasp of the universe collapses around you. There are subtle changes in your character’s animation to convey their fear and stress, opening doors are more frantic, refilling oxygen tanks are fumbled with shaky hands, it is such a small detail but it adds so much to the character and your own sense of unease.
And at the core of it all is the isolation. Your colleagues are nowhere to be seen, your family is on the other side of the solar system, and there is simply no hope of escape. Maybe this idea is going to be too much for some people, it is hardly the ideal escapism that people seek right now, but if you are looking for a seriously good scare then there are few better options right now. Moons of Madness might be the best pure horror indie to come out since Outlast 2.