E3 2019: Get Lost in Space with Horror Adventure Game Moons of MadnessPutting the "cosmic" in cosmic horror.06.22.19 - 5:37 PM
Moons of Madness is a graphic adventure, published by Funcom and developed by Rock Pocket Games, that takes inspiration from the rich history of space exploration in other graphic adventures and Lovecraftian cosmic horror stories. It's directly related to Secret World Legends, another one of their titles, but either can be enjoyed without playing the other. As our story begins, the secretive Orochi corporation happens to be the first entity to intercept some signals from Mars of apparent intelligent origin. The player takes on the role of Shane Newehart, a technician meant to keep the Mars station running until Orochi's team can land and take over. But odd setbacks arise, and Shane is haunted by terrifying dreams where the entire station is overrun by evil, incomprehensible tentacled forces and there's no way to leave.
The demo that was available at E3 2019 highlighted this juxtaposition of dark visions with daily space station maintenance tasks, starting with a dream sequence and moving through Shane's normal day. You awaken the first time to a downright spooky scene — there's darkness everywhere, many of the station's systems are failing, and desperate messages are scrawled all over the walls. Leading with this immediately cranks the tension sky high as Shane follows a creepy silhouette and makes his way to the greenhouse area, only to find many of the aforementioned tentacles. This alone would qualify as the mission going horribly awry, but suddenly, there's that same creepy presence again and a makeshift shrine on top of a destroyed control panel. Finally speaking, the figure tells you to blow out the candles, then you abruptly awaken for a second time in a functioning, normal Martian station. Time to get your ID card, gather your supplies, and start working!
One can imagine how disorienting it was to play through that. It effectively had me questioning myself. Was that actually a dream? Was the threat real? Did anyone else know about it? The typical graphic adventure gameplay really worked to enhance this feeling, too. Item collection, investigation, and puzzle solving mechanics that seem harmless when you're trying to navigate your room in the station become a lot more ominous when you're slowly fumbling through the dark with only a flashlight and no clear objective. I am extremely eager to see how Rock Pocket Games uses and develops this conceit throughout the game as a whole.
The gameplay experience was smooth, and I appreciated the little bits of information the user interface gave when picking up objects or examining an area of the station. Touches like this orient you without giving you an overload of information, and the same can be said for the story-related objects around the station. There was enough information there to begin to create a detailed backdrop, and there's potential for this to be a rich world with interesting characters. For example, a letter I found gave a lot of narrative context around how the mission was secret, not even Shane's immediate family actually knew where he was, and how he'd made several attempts to write and tell them, to no avail.
From previous information about the game, there will also be more Martian exploration-oriented parts of Moons of Madness, but unfortunately, this was not on display as much for this demo. Hopefully, it will all tie together into seamless gameplay; I will say that based on what I saw, I'm glad knowing that the intensive graphic adventure style will be tempered with more exploration. One thing is absolutely clear with the visuals, and it's that we're getting a mix of decently well-executed nightmare fodder and gorgeous external space environments. Sound design is on point to tie together space exploration and cosmic horror, too. It's minimalistic, but it works.
Moons of Madness releases for Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on Halloween of 2019, so steel yourselves for some horror in space.