The TL;DR at the start: Good for what it is, even though the focus should be narrower.
So I picked up the newly released Moons of Madness game basically sight-unseen. First I knew about it, it'd popped into my Steam Homepage and described as "Sci-Fi meets Lovecraft" and it was only $20. SOLD!
I know what you are thinking "A fool and his money..." but I blew through the game in eight hours, and I was satisfied. Satisfied enough I'm actually thinking of another run through the game.
So what IS Moons of Madness? Well, it's a fairly linear walking simulator with some puzzles attached to it. And I know when you boil a game down to the term "Walking Simulator" a lot of people lose interest. Well, keep in mind Alien: Isolation would also classify itself as a Walking Simulator with some puzzles and a crafting system. Moons of Madness keeps things interesting and even incorporates a boss fight into the game so I never felt like "This is it?" That being said, I'm also a 36 year old man who is coming to the horrifying conclusion that modern, cutting edge gaming isn't geared for my aging reflexes and reaction speeds...so maybe "Walking Simulators" just appeal to me a bit.
So what is Moons of Madness about? It's a secret manned mission on Mars, working for a company known as the Orochi Group. Huh, that sounds familiar, but I can't place it. Anyway, you play the role of a repair tech named Shane Newhart and after a nightmare, you need to help out to get your base up to snuff as another crew in inbound (As replacements? Reinforcements? It's never specified). Things...go awry from there.
I don't want to spoil the story in any great detail, but I had my suspicions when I saw it was a Funcom published game. Moons of Madness is a stand alone tie-in game with Funcom's Maintenance-Mode MMO The Secret World (Now rebranded as The Secret World Legends). Thankfully, knowledge of the setting isn't required though it does get a bit infuriating for those, like me, who played TSW but not to any kind of completion thus references felt only half-understood.
But I feel the game itself would lend that air even if I was well versed in TSW's lore. Moons of Madness tries to be a lot over its five to eight hour run time. It tries to be a scifi take on the classic Lovecraft story "The Mountains of Madness", the most obvious reference. It tries to be a Secret World story. It tries to be a cautionary tale about science unbound by morality. It tries to be a supernatural tale. It tries. It tries.
The problem is the game wants to be too many things at once. This is a game where the Necronomicon exists alongside cloning facilities and battle androids. And typing that out it sounds awesome. Again, I'm considering after writing this to dive back into a second run at the game so there's something to be said that the premise works...but it's busy. It's very, very busy. And that causes the game to suffer, tonally. That's increased by the decision to have your character comment on everything. You won't be entering a room or area in this game without Shane having something to say about it.
Which is fine, since let's face it...we all narrate our own experiences for the audience of ourselves and in stressful situations I can't really blame a person in the midst of it to comment on things if only to keep their own sanity. But the problem comes from Shane's insistent and nigh-hysterical "WHAT WAS THAT?!" moments combined with a tense moment of the score and the obvious visual accompaniment. The writing calls attention to itself at points where the audio and visual storytelling ought to be really driving the focus. There were a lot of times in the game where in Shane remarked upon something that I, the player, hadn't actually SEEN yet...thus the game sort of ruined its own surprises in a way.
Overall, Moons of Madness is a fun romp, and definitely a worthwhile look at during this Halloween season. It just didn't trust itself when it ought to, and tried to do more, storywise, then it really should have. I'm still going to play it again, though.