The depths of the void around you.
The horizon stretches away far into the distance, a grey shadow of the world your only reminder of home.
Here, humanity is long since lost, leaving nothing but endless, ethereal silence.
Darkness, shadows, and silence.
Then the bright light flashes out of the inky depths that surround this place, blasting you without sound, killing you without remorse.
Hollow Moon is the terrifying tale of a lone astronaut, disconnected with the world he calls home and lost on the surface of the moon, desperate to survive when no one answers his calls. After a long hike across a desert almost entirely without landmark, he comes to a seeming abandoned station, sitting forlorn in this alien place. Still no one answers his calls, yet he manages to force his way inside...
Only to find a corpse in the entrance.
This, my friends, is Hollow Moon.
While this is true of all things, I feel I must make this point upfront: Not everyone is going to enjoy Hollow Moon. If you are looking for a new multiplayer frag fest, for amazingly intricate game play and the most detailed story to ever hit the gaming community, then you better look elsewhere. Some will be easily bored by Hollow Moon's pacing, while some may find it to be a artsy three level demo of little worth.
But for those of you who turn out the lights, settled down in the silence of a cool winter evening and settled in to play this game, you'll be in for quite a ride.
Hollow Moon is a haunting descent into the depths of isolation and survival, constantly reminding you that you are in a stark black and white world where your death is always just a footstep away. Every aspect of this mod has been tuned to create an evocative and ethereal experience unlike any other I have played during my long time in the gaming community. While some games, like Monolith's F.E.A.R. try hard to create an experience that is genuinely scary, often times these attempts fall on their face and offer little more than cheap thrills amidst the typical run-n-gun game play first person shooter fans are accustomed to.
But Hollow Moon is different, subscribing to the "less is more" line of rationalization that makes this mod so unnerving.
Stylistically, Hollow Moon has an amazing sense of presentation, from beginning to end leaving you feeling helpless and alone in this strange landscape in which you find yourself. As you can already tell from the many screen shots, the entire game is done in black and white, putting the entire game world in shadows and steamy depths that are both simple and frightening at the same time. Few games to my knowledge have ever used this technique, which makes those of us used to games in full vibrant color to feel much more disconnected from reality and alien within this world.
Since you play as an astronaut in the game, you see the game world from the visor of your helmet, which also includes your HUD. The helmet is a neat device, constantly reminding you of your environment and playing against your surroundings well. The visor has a certain amount of grain and smudges on it, slightly obscuring your view when you look around in certain spots, while the visor itself will glare up when looking towards a bright object, such as the sun or the headlamps of an abandoned but still running vehicle.
But it is the use of sound in this game that truly stands out above any and all else. Or should I say, the complete and utter lack of sound.
Hollow Moon features no sound effects once so ever, instead immersing you within an environment completely devoid of audio clues, overlaying everything with a steady stream of music that creates a level of atmosphere I've never felt since my original viewing of John Carpenter's The Thing. Your suit, the only thing that keeps you from experience a violent and quick death within the vacuum of space, blocks out the sounds of your environment and leaves you solely dependant on your vision to survive. When enemies are creeping up behind you, setting up an ambush, or shooting you from behind, you will have no idea until you see the light flare and your suit energy meter start to blink rapidly. Because of the long standing reliance players have become accustomed to in regards to enemy sound, a complete and total lack of it to rely on makes the world feel that much more sinister and frightening, as you will have no idea what is about to get you until it is almost too late.
But what truly makes this audio trick work is the music, which constantly plays its disconnected chords and melody in an endless stream as you play, never once stopping and constantly shifting the scene around you. The music is not dynamic, yet it grows faster and heavier in sudden bursts, picking up speed and making you glance around frantically for an attack that you are sure is about to erupt around you.....yet nothing is there. Then the music dips back down into its slow and quiet beats, unnerving you with its presence, always waiting to leap back up when you you've forgotten about it and aren't prepared to handle it. If nothing else, the music is what makes this game the most disconcerting of all.
The graphics within the game also impress with the sheer breadth of the vistas you come across. When the game begins, players will find themselves standing deep out in the lunar desert with no true indication of where to go or what to do. Part of the dislocation of the game comes just from the lack of clear objectives, forcing you to wander around blindly and lost, never sure where to go or what to do. Yet if you wander far enough, you'll find the beginnings of a huge superstructure looming out of the ground, impossibly big yet seemingly plausible in this strange place you have found yourself.
From sweeping exteriors to huge, shadowy corridors, this game never fails to impress in its level design. Steam hisses out of vents, spaceships hang lifeless from their mechanical cradles, lights blink endlessly on and off along steal corridors that mankind was never supposed to live within. The world of Hollow Moon creates the same tension of Doom 3's UAC space station and even System Shock 2s UAC Von Braun & Rickenbacker, just on a smaller and more simplistic scale.
Yet while the sweeping vistas of the game are spectacular, the black and white colors an excellent flourish, and the decided lack of audio clues a great touch on an otherwise fabulous game, there are some problems here that are worthy of note.
The pacing in this game is purposefully slow, giving you large areas in which to loose yourself and get lost, furthering your sense of dislocation and slowly building terror. Yet for some, this will simply be seen as boring. With only a single enemy to fight in the demo, a single weapon to use, and a huge environment to wander around it, Hollow Moon might be too little for some gamers that want their games to constantly evolve and mix up the situations for them. With the demo being only three levels, we can hope that this is what the developers have planned for later, possibly introducing greater threats to the player and more harrowing situations as time goes on.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that a lot of the switches in the game are revealed by a text message on the screen that appears when you are right next to them. However, you have to literally be pressed up against this switch or control mechanism in order to get the message, which means you could literally be wandering around some of these larger environments with no idea where to go when you simply didn't get close enough to the button you had to press half a mile back in the other direction.
Still, this is just an early preview of a larger whole that is hopefully coming soon. Either way, Hollow Moon is well worth your time, if for nothing else than to simply try something that dares to be different and succeeds amidst an ever-growing gulf of titles that simply do nothing new in a sea of the "been there, done that's".