Forget the physical challenges involved with a manned mission to Mars, which are immense. If human beings ever trek to the Red Planet, could they survive years of social isolation, or would they go mad?
While man has survived in space for extended periods of time – one such astronaut, Mark Kelly, spent a year on the International Space Station – the prospect is no less daunting. And to be sure, these past few weeks during the pandemic lockdown have given me pause. Even though I am safe and firmly on the ground, the desire to leave the house and meet up with friends is strong. It’s just not a responsible decision at the moment.
The astronauts in Moons of Madness have no such luxury. Even after spending months in space just to reach that distant planet, they’re now stuck on Mars with nowhere to go. To put the isolation in perspective, the closest approach to Earth was 33 million miles back in 2003. If that’s not a terrifying prospect, I don’t know what is.
Of course, astronauts are professionals with years of specialized training under their spacesuits. But extensive training and simulations can only prepare you so much. A mission to Mars is uncharted territory, at least for human explorers. Only rovers have landed on the surface to date.
In Moons of Madness, a small research colony has already been established on the Martian surface. You play as the chief engineer of the research facility. It’s your job is to make sure that the systems run optimally. Basically, your crews’ lives are in your hands. No pressure!
Moons of Madness combines elements from several genres. It’s at times a slow-moving adventure heavy on text and backstory. Other moments involve light puzzle-solving and exploration. And then there are faster-paced survival segments where your character can actually die.
The game’s biggest strength is the setting. As someone who enjoys a good sci-fi flick, this game checks a lot of boxes. You get to wander around inside of a research facility and venture out onto the surface of Mars. There’s an unknown, potentially evil presence that your character is anxious about.
Even with the stage properly set, Moons of Madness ultimately fails to reel you in and demand your attention. It has a pretty high production value, and the setting is interesting. However, I never felt any sort of attachment to the main character and ultimately cared more about the otherworldly environment.
The bottom line is that this game could have been much more. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s also not the video game version of Alien.