Secret World Legends developer Funcom dives into the ready-made well of creativity of H.P Lovecraft in Moons of Madness, a single-player cosmic horror title using modern generic tropes. Unsurprisingly, it takes similar thematic and aesthetic cues to last year’s Conarium, though in its mission to become the cosmos’ answer to Outlast, it never settles on what exactly it is; a scare-a-minute thriller or a pondering, existential nightmare? What transpires is an unsatisfactory blend of the two, loosely glued together by a poorly paced narrative.
It’s disappointing, as the premise is immediately intriguing. You play as Shane, a technician on a Mars research station, tasked with navigating its cramped halls which have been infested by otherworldly eldritch flora. As your comrades lose their minds, a mythological book and Shane’s forgotten past may be key to unravelling the enigmatic happenings. Regrettably, after a compelling prologue, the game slows to a maddening halt for the next hour or so and never recovers. Through some misguided attempt at realism, gameplay consists of lethargic space-chores that neither excite nor incite tension. They’re just filler.
Of course, when the beasties arrive your mission quickly adapts to surviving, but even chase sequences lack stakes, partly due to consistent frame rate issues and partly because their horror is so reliant on lazy jump scares. One creative assailant channels Doctor Who's Weeping Angels, but its potential for fright is squandered by how easily it’s defeated (not to mention how oddly cute it is).
The visuals are far and away the most impressive part of this boring journey around Mars, as multiple camera angles and well-crafted Lovecraftian tentacle monsters give the game a cinematic aesthetic that draws to mind the first Alien film. There is something engaging here, but it’s marred by weak scares and, less forgivably, dull as dishwater gameplay.