It only took a few minutes for me to understand the tone Moons of Madness is aiming for. The beginning of the 30-minute demo at E3 2019 was set within a gloomy space station where inky black vines crawl across the walls. Your character is hyperventilating; he's stressed by the confusion of his whereabouts while being drawn into horrible memories, haunted with ghostly apparitions that jump out from the dark for an effective scare. This dream didn't last long, but it was effective at setting the tone for this Lovecraft-inspired horror on the surface of Mars.
You're on a journey to the red planet with a small crew, inhabiting a sterile and labyrinth laboratory on its surface. Moons of Madness plays similar to adventure games like Tacoma and Firewatch, incorporating the sharply detailed items from the former and introducing dialogue as interactive scenes like the latter. You move around your room and the branching hallways slowly, which is meant to let you take in all the small details they contain and interactive objects waiting for you to examine. I solved a straight forward puzzle to get a password for my desktop and read through a handful of emails, vaguely detailing both the secretive mission to Mars and the target the corporation you work for is hunting.
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As I walked through the ship, I quickly noticed many areas that reminded me of the dream sequence at the start of the demo, which isn't lost on the main character either. Speaking over a radio to another character fueled a growing sense of paranoia, punctuated by visually effective flashes of pain from an associated migraine. You use a button press to manually respond over the radio, giving you time to ponder your scripted response or just forgo it entirely. You choose both the pace and even existence of conversations in Moons of Madness, letting you take in as much of it as you want.
Considering how great the writing is in general, you'll likely appreciate the opportunity to fully absorb it all. It was easy to become enraptured by both the nightmarish horrors and the urgency with which Moons of Madness' characters are thrust into survival mode. There are also smaller stories at play too, which touch on an uneasy relationship with your parents back on Earth and a romantic complication with a high-ranking crew member. These beats were all presented naturally with some great corresponding writing, which made me excited about the potential to explore them further when Moons of Madness is eventually released.
Naturally, the demo ends with a heavy tease of what's to come throughout the rest of the game, which is said to be around 8 hours in length (depending on how much time you spend soaking in the world and dialogue). The closing moments put me in the path of a ghastly creature making its way into the ship, blending my characters' nightmares and reality. Moons of Madness' evocative visuals and strong world-building are spinning a mystery that I've only just begun to unravel. With a release date of Halloween this year, I thankfully won't have to wait too long before my questions are answered.