The Moon Sliver is an exploration/horror game rooted firmly in isolation. It heavily emphasises the importance of good narrative, distrust and despair shrouded in mystery. It’s a short evocative tale that only solidifies my opinion of the worst horrors being the ones you don’t understand at all - and the ones you deal with alone.
Over the course of a rapidly darkening day, you reveal to yourself the story behind the disappearance of the island’s other inhabitants and the lurking terror in the dark. You start alone in a hut, not knowing who or where you are, and with not much direction as to what you’re doing there. Once the basic movement and flashlight instructions are out of the way, you’re left to your own devices to figure the rest out for yourself.
Created by developer Jefequeso and available as a direct download, it’s a short narrative driven experience that walks a line between a puzzle solving exploration and a lonely psychological horror.
Stories in Small Spaces
The Moon Sliver plays off the remoteness of your situation as a strong main theme, and it works well. The environment is small and fairly empty, and I was worried at the beginning that there wouldn’t be enough in it to hold my attention. I don’t have a problem admitting I was wrong – while the tiny environment puzzled me at first, it wasn’t long before I was feeling trapped. The desolate, cloying space was exactly what the story needed. The more I walked backwards and forwards trying to discover its secrets, the more hopelessly oppressing it felt, and the more I questioned the sunken areas beyond my reach, the scattered objects, the candles and flashlights still illuminating empty spaces.
My island prison seemed smaller with each circuit. As the feeling of entrapment grew, so did the sense of unavoidable loneliness. The absence of any other living being (there aren’t any creatures around, even the few trees are dying) really added to the discomfort of the situation. You’re alone, you know very little, and the island is abandoned and seemingly ever shrinking.
As you explore what little there is, certain areas or items you find trigger narration – sections of text describing past events and inhabitants. It’s a good method of revealing the story of your situation, as it comes to you piecemeal but doesn’t rely on being revealed in a certain order – the events you recover and your sense of confusion only add to the realism of the scenario.
Having the story sections be triggered by areas or items is also a good method to get around the lack of characters to interact with and negates the need for a narrator while still ensuring you can access information about the events that have taken place. It’s a fitting way to ensure the loneliness evoked by the environment isn’t broken by any form of human interaction or companionship.
Just moving around will reveal fragments of narration, a multi-layered storyline that rewards deliberate non-linear exploration as well as multiple playthroughs, and evoke a lonely atmosphere.
There are little niggles with this mechanic: the screen can occasionally get too cluttered when you’re standing between two story areas with long texts and it shows you both at once. However it can help add to the feeling of confusion, and sort of fits with the notion of being overwhelmed by memories, so I won’t consider it completely immersion breaking.
Tone vs Tools
The visual effects and audio were equally as well used as the narrative technique. The changes in lighting and visibility between the different sections work well to introduce a progressively more menacing atmosphere without feeling too much like a horror game trope. While there were occasions when I found the music slightly intrusive, that was only in terms of volume level. Beyond that it was well used to introduce some slight hysteria when visually there was little to cause me worry.
The Moon Sliver fell very firmly into the “interactive narrative” mould, as the narrative and artistic style are strong and effective, though there’s little actual gameplay involved. Discovering sections of narrative is the primary drive, and exploration is the only way to get them. There isn’t any requirement for puzzle solving techniques, and there are no difficult to reach areas.
There is a caveat that your flashlight can run out and must be charged at one of the various outlets dotted on the island, but this didn’t feel like an element of gameplay as I rarely needed to do so. However, when I was wandering the subterranean tunnels of the island I did find it flickering. I didn’t feel the pressure above ground, though below ground it did add a sense of panic when the power started running low, and I found myself panicking about being stuck down in the dark. While I wouldn’t consider the game to be heavy on actual game mechanics, the one that it does have doesn’t feel intrusive or difficult, more an enhancement of your difficult situation.
The play time of The Moon Sliver runs at just around an hour, depending on how exploratory you’re feeling. It’s entirely plausible you can reach the ‘end’ before that, although you may not have read everything there was to offer. That’s not to say I don’t approve – I think there’s a big potential for shorter, cheaper game experiences such as this one. Not everything has to have 60 hours of play time and I like the idea of these snapshot style storylines. It allows for a more experimental style of storytelling, and made me feel uncomfortable and panicked for just the right amount of time.
The setting, the visuals, the sounds, everything worked well together to pull me into this tiny, divided world of paranoia, mistrust and solitude. Without outstaying its welcome The Moon Sliver provided me with an enjoyable (albeit unsettling) experience, and told me just enough to keep me wondering well after I’d finished playing it.
- Evocative atmosphere with a well designed environment
- Good narrative theme
- Well priced for the playtime
- Music can get a little intrusive in places
- Narrative might be a little too open ended if you enjoy a watertight conclusion