STAFF REVIEW of Moons of Madness (Xbox One)

Saturday, June 6, 2020.
by Josh Morgan

Moons of Madness Box art Moons of Madness is a first person story driven game that has small puzzle elements with a horror theme. It’s like Firewatch but set on Mars, but instead of a very engaging story that leaves you in the dark until the end, you get 3 different storylines that are never really the main focus, and in the end you are left wondering what happened. Let's find out if that mystery is a good or bad thing.

There’s not much to talk about when it comes to gameplay, you have to move your character from point A to point B and can hold the left trigger to get there faster by sprinting. There is no HUD to reference but you do have limited stamina and you’ll hear your character huff and puff when you run too long. Early on you will get a wrist computer that you can use to scan and hack equipment to solve puzzles. Some of the puzzles are pretty easy, one example is rotating solar panels to a certain power percentage to bring a remote base online. Some of the more complicated puzzles involve mixing chemicals by using a centrifuge to create a toxin for an early on enemy. The puzzles are pretty clever and deliver some of the more memorable moments of the game for me.

Developer Rock Pocket has crafted some great environments for Moons of Madness. There’s not much you can do with Mars as a setting. It’s red, it’s cold, it’s dusty and there are mountains everywhere, but they switch up the setting enough that you never feel any of the backdrops outstay their welcome. You’ll spend most of the game on the Mars surface and in the hallways of the space station, but later in the game you will be lurking in the shadows of the secret facility miles below the Mars surface. If you didn’t think that the Orochi Group was hiding a more sinister plan in a secret facility then you haven’t played many games. It’s a tried and true formula that has been redone countless times in movies and games, and its one aspect of the game that I wish was left out. There really is no payout for the storyline, and it seems more like filler to pad a short game.

One area where Moons of Madness shines are the animations of your character Shane. Throughout the six or so hours of the game you will perform countless menial tasks such as, filling a cup of coffee, turning a crank, pulling an energy cell in and out of an empty port, removing your helmet, and attaching a hose to an air tank to refill for a trek on the Mars surface. Most of these animations change slightly when Shane is in a tense situation. After being chased by an enemy my character fumbled with the push button to open the escape hatch, and then as he refilled his air tank, he fumbled with connecting the hoses together. This adds a lot of realism, and I really felt like the character was escaping for his life. I know if I was being chased by a tentacle monster on Mars I wouldn’t be calm, cool, and collected, I’d be swearing up a storm and then trying to connect two hoses together would be similar to fumbling with a USB port in the dark. After about the fifth flip of the cable and it still won’t fit, I would just stand there and accept my fate.

Speaking of air hoses, I did encounter one glitch in the game that almost broke it for me. Immediately after a chase sequence inside one of the space stations I was on the Mars surface trying to hurry to the rover. Before I left the space station, I filled up my oxygen tank and exited the hatch. After some traversal of the Mars surface, I ended up falling off a rather large cliff to my death and loaded at a checkpoint near the halfway point to the rover. Except, my oxygen level was at 9% when it still should have been near 70%. This actually happened to me twice throughout the game, where a checkpoint loaded me with barely enough oxygen to get me to my destination. When I finally reached the rover, my oxygen was at 0% and my character was gasping for air and the screen was completely red. I feel like any longer and I would have died. I wonder if I had died, would it have loaded me at the last checkpoint with the same amount of oxygen making it impossible to make the trek safely. Would that have caused a death loop that broke the game? I was pretty far into the game, I don’t know how I would have felt being forced to start over.

There are multiple storylines going on here and none of them really take center stage, which makes the overall story muddy and confusing. There is the first story you encounter, a woman scientist (who I suspected right away as a villain due to her thick Russian accent) that was doing experiments with plant life on Mars and came across an organism that takes control of the plants and spreads like a virus. Then there is the evil Orochi Group that you work for, and their hidden agenda with the research that is happening across the space stations. THEN, there is the family story line about your mother, and her ties to the Orochi group and how your character Shane seems destined to be at this location at this time as the moons of Mars align. It’s just all too much, and dropping one of these storylines and focusing on flushing out the other two would have been a better choice. There are some cut scenes, but most of the story is told through dialog while you are walking, or through emails and data logs you find as you log into scattered computers around the station. But none of it was very interesting to follow, so after an hour or so I stopped looking at the computers entirely and just concentrated on the objective at hand.

The achievements in Moons of Madness are story related except two that require you to perform a special task at a certain point. There is no chapter select so you’ll have to do a second play through to unlock these if you missed them in the story. The ending has two achievements tied to it for good and bad depending on your choice, but you can pause and revert to the last checkpoint to get them both without playing through a second time. I was able to get all the achievements in the game in one play through and it took me about six hours. If you used a guide to finish it you can probably knock it out a lot faster.

There are moments in Moons of Madness that are fun and interesting, but they are spread pretty far apart by backtracking, menial tasks and simple puzzles. The voice acting, the environments and your characters animations are great, but the story is all over the place and after its six hour campaign it is very easy to forget.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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