Dark Light

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

For centuries, perhaps millennia, mankind has feared and worshiped all that which is beyond its comprehension, and yet when faced with such a delirious possibility that such things exist out there in the vast expanse of the cosmos, he is driven mad by its sheer magnitude. The thought of being under constant gaze from up above in the stars makes us feel so insignificant in the grand scale of things that we begin doubting our mere existence. What is our purpose in this universe if we’re no better than a speck of space-dust? What if those eyes of the Outer Gods are actual celestial bodies present in our Solar System? Let’s find out in this review of the Lovecraftian space-horror, Moons of Madness.

Story and Narrative

I’ll try my best to keep this section spoiler-free because there are so many dark secrets in the narrative that could be spoiled. This goes without saying that the engaging story is the strongest point in Moons of Madness. To begin with, a strange signal is intercepted from Mars by the mega-corporation Manticore Orochi, whose scientists decrypt it as one originating from an intelligent lifeform. Fearing it would cause mass hysteria among the populace, the information is kept hidden and the private corporation scrambles to study it.

Orochi top management gives the go-ahead to the construction of Trailblazer Alpha, a state-of-the-art research outpost on Mars and a team comprising of a scientist, botanist, engineer and mathematician is dispatched under the cover of an Antarctican expedition (they even had green screens and cameras to make the world believe that they are studying bacterial growth in the harsh Antarctican climate). You play as Shane Newehart, the engineer from Miskatonic University (more Lovecraft references up ahead) whose job is just to keep the lights on till the arrival of another team of scientists from earth aboard the Cyrano. 

Your security clearance is just enough to keep you at bay from the morbid secrets hidden underneath Trailblazer, until you wake up to a nightmare concerning your mother’s mysterious disappearance on earth when you were a child. There’s a marking on your right hand – two intersecting circles (that make up for the game’s logo), and yet you are unaware of how and when you got that. And then begins the series of unfortunate events – setbacks after setbacks like misalignment of solar panels, sudden loss of electricity, and a strange mist filling the greenhouse.

You realize things are going down south when you notice the tentacle-like mangrove roots your team was studying, grown out of control and spread rapidly across the outpost. You start seeing things that are not there, start hearing things that never chime, visions, hallucinations – or is that even what it is? Is this real… or are you slowly descending into madness? Your deepest, darkest fears spawn in the form of Eldritch abominations, encompassing your senses cold as you slowly discover the true purpose of Trailblazer Alpha, the ancient civilization whose message Orochi intercepted, and the Immortal Engine/ Immaculate Machine that kept the moons of Mars – Phobos and Deimos in a deep slumber to prevent the collapse of our very reality.

Gameplay and Mechanics

Moons of Madness is a narrative-driven, walking-sim-like with more creepier and mind-bogglingly disturbing elements than jumpscare horrors. What I mean to say is, it is closer to Soma and The Observer than Amnesia or Outlast. So don’t expect any more jumpscares than what the narrative demands, because the inability to do anything sane as you see your dread approaching slowly is perhaps what the developers intended to conjure. The so-called horror in Moons of Madness is more symbolic and metaphysical because the narrative itself is quite… cryptic, which, honestly I don’t think will appeal to many gamers who desire is the quickening of pulse in any horror game.

But sometimes this so-called horror blows in your face because of Shane’s terrible movement speed. No, I’m not talking about moving outside on the red planet’s surface where gravity is less, I’m talking about movements within the research facility. In fact, you might break your shift key while trying to sprint from one room to another because there’s a lot of backtracking to older areas as per the narrative’s demands. This not only defuses fear but replaces it with frustration and you’ll probably end up screaming at whatever is chasing you for good reason. Wait, did I mention that there are already very few chase sequences, to begin with? (twice exactly and that too involving slow-moving monsters) There is a stealth sequence too, yeah only one. It is as if the developers of Moons of Madness were going for a movie-like experience rather than an 8-hour long videogame-y experience. Like I said earlier, it might not be of everyone’s appeal.

The puzzles in Moons of Madness are good in the sense that most of them are tough, not only because their placement is logical as per the environment you’ve ventured into, but mostly because they require common sense to solve. Puzzles range from aligning solar panels via the tiny computer in your hand called the Biogage, to mixing chemicals in a centrifuge, to guessing the correct pitch and yaw of a satellite dish from the emails that you can read on personnel computers, and to destroying an ancient alien machine by guessing the rune patterns engraved on its walls. In fact, the puzzles in Moons of Madness can be considered as its second plus point after the horrendously easy puzzles I’ve encountered in newer Resident Evil and Tomb Raider games.

Now apart from puzzles if you consider the difficulty in Moons of Madness in terms of survival, it’s not there, or maybe the developers never intended it to be a difficult game. Like I mentioned earlier, the enemies are slow, there are few jump-scares and even lesser chase sequences, but even during the times you spend outside the building on the martian sand wearing your EVA suit, the O2 refill stations are in abundance. You won’t ever run out of oxygen unless your puzzle solving is taking some sweet time or you’ve left the game unpaused and gone for a shower within which Shane would have been asphyxiated. And with that comes the bothersome hurdle of loading checkpoints. For some reason, Moons of Madness autosaves before a cutscene is played out when you enter an area rather than after, and if you die in that area (mostly because of a misstep and rarely because of the enemy catching you), you’ve to watch the same cutscene again. And in those areas where there is no cutscene, the game makes sure to throw you way back from the point where you die.

Visuals and Performance

The visuals are strikingly beautiful and no environmental object feels overly detailed or out-of-place like a lot of sci-fi games tend to be. The colours used here are so realistic that you’ll feel as if they rightfully belong where they are, contributing to the build-up of strong immersion. And same goes for the research station as a whole. There are just so many tropes like photo-frames, workstations, merit certificates, coffee machines, funny sticky notes, some textbooks including the ones written by Shane’s mother (she was a world-famous mathematician researching in quantum physics and trans-dimensions), Orochi brochures, all these evoking a sense of the life and not abandonment contrary to Moons of Madness’ theme. Have you ever seen such immersion in a game based on the Lovecraftian mythos and that too in a sci-fi setting? Because most of H.P. Lovecraft’s theme of cosmic, bottomless horror relies more on the popular Cthulhu and its adventures on the sinful earth, and that too in a post WWI era.

Speaking of performance issues, I didn’t encounter a single bug but there are many regions where the frame-rates dropped from 60 to 45. Else, it stayed at 60 for most parts.

Sound Design 

Moons of Madness has this brooding ambient track eliciting the dread of unfathomable descent into madness, and that just rakes up the immersion factor. That, plus the voice-acting makes in for awesome sound design, but it’s not without its flaws. Shane’s voice-acting will make you relate with the horror he’s witnessing, true, but most of his voices are also weirdly timed. e.g when Shane has a hallucination and witnesses ‘ stuff’ (such as the tendrils that follow him as soon as his back is turned to them), he reacts as if they are a mild inconvenience. Sometimes, his voice feels very drab despite the atrocity he witnessed like 6 minutes ago, and this quickly breaks the immersion. At other times, Shane instantly points out to important information in notes and emails the moment you open it, which is not humanly possible at all! Why didn’t the devs think of this? Just add the scripted dialogue till the player scrolls to the end of the email or the last page of the notebook!


Moons of Madness is a passionate project and despite some of the flaws, it’s delivered right. The narrative, visuals, sound, pacing (though a bit slow initially) nails it completely. Though after completing Moons of Madness you’ll have many unanswered questions because of the things literally thrown at your face like mysticism, occultism, spaces between dreams, cloning, secret experiments, mind-control etc. (does anything in the Lovecraftian mythos ever has a proper explanation), you won’t regret this 8-hour long descent into madness because of the way in which it is delivered. If you’re a fan of cryptic horrors like Soma or The Observer, then add Moons of Madness to your list.

1 comment
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts