Review – MADiSON
It’s hard to believe it’s already been eight years since Hideo Kojima‘s Silent Hills demo simply known as P.T.. Since then it has become one of the most influential games in the horror genre since 2010’s horror masterpiece Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Since the release of these two games, the psychological horror genre has made a striking comeback.
However here we are years later with plenty of attempts to recapture the magic. Some have been wonderfully terrifying successes, ranging from the fantastic Visage to the original concept of Outlast. Others have been much less successful, such as Evil Inside. We are arguably back in the golden age of the horror genre. MADiSON is the latest attempt from indie newcomers BLOODIOUS GAMES, a horror experience that could very well be just one of the scariest yet.
MADiSON starts with you awakening in a room; there’s banging on the door and you are left with no explanation other than a box with pictures of a severed arm and leg in it. All you know is that you have to escape. There is a box with pictures of a severed arm and leg in it. As you escape you quickly discover there is much more happening. You play as Luca, who has been possessed by a demon and forced to carry out a ritual involving the mutilation of bodies. You quickly discover the best way to get rid of the demon is to play along and give it what it wants.
At the start, the story is intentionally very vague as to what is happening. At least initially. It begins with an interesting opening that leaves you with so many questions. As you go on, you will uncover some terrifying personal stories of other people who have encountered the demon, known as Madison. It’s a bit cliché and a lot of the elements have been explored before, but I was also interested in some of these stories and how it ties gameplay mechanics to them.
Much like games of this P.T. subgenre of horror, most of MADiSON is spent in the relatively large family house. There is a constant sense of dread as you move through the terrifying mansion. Scares are randomised dynamically to what’s happening. The usual horror tropes are present: closing of doors, thunder outside, visions of demons appearing in front of you, etc. Although, the entire game is not contained within the house. Major chapters will occasionally take you to some unique locations. I won’t spoil what they are or how you get there because there are some terrifying surprises. MADiSON also gives you very little direction of what to do. Rough drawings and dialogue do clue you in on where to go, but beyond that it’s all on you.
Solving environmental puzzles is a very large part of the core gameplay loop. Much like Visage, you will be exploring the map to find key items to help you solve puzzles and progress even further through the nightmare. These can range from simple and logical, to the obtuse and vague. Some sections will Rely entirely on vague environmental hints to guide you to your objective. For the most part these puzzles are well designed to not keep you stuck for too long, but one instance I missed an object that was just hidden away with no real indication to its location, which lead to some annoyance.
To help you on your journey through the demon infested house, you will need to make use of the Polaroid camera, which adds a slight Fatal Frame twist to things. Taking pictures of certain objects may unlock hidden clues or shift the environments around. Sometimes, it even messes with the timeline of the entire area. Not only that, the momentary flash can help guide you through the darkest areas of the game. The camera is MADiSON’s biggest trick and is something used to its absolute fullest throughout the game. If you are playing on normal difficulty, make sure to keep an eye out for instant photos scattering the area; these tell you where camera events can be.
Whilst it is primarily an exploration puzzle and horror game, you will encounter some demons. Some just want to scare the pants off you, whilst the most violent demons actively want to murder you. Thankfully, MADiSON largely avoids falling into the trap of becoming a hide-and-seek horror game. The threatening monsters are left primarily to scripted sequences scattered sparsely throughout the story. It helps keep MADiSON feeling fresh, exciting, and most importantly, scary. The apprehension of what is just around the next corner is ever present and haunts every aspect of the game. Every time you start to feel relatively comfortable and safe, something happens to bring that sense of dread and anxiety crashing back down onto you.
However, for those who finds jumpscares and loud noises too much of a cheap ploy, then unfortunately MADiSON does rely on this a little too much. It often times barrages you with a relentless number of jumpscares, in admittedly terrifying sequences, to the point that I had to to take a breather from pushing forward (maybe my horror tolerance is wearing down). Regardless, MADiSON is incredibly effective in providing a terrifying thrill. There’s plenty of flashing imagery and insanely loud noises that had me scrambling to safety despite being confident that it was nothing.
MADiSON is also a pretty damn good looking game. Luca’s family home is packed with tons of detail in each room and every corridor, and it is incredibly effective in bringing a tense atmosphere throughout the whole game. Entire areas are shrouded in darkness, with the only light being that of the flash of your camera. The demons you encounter are all fairly well designed, even if you only see them for split seconds at a time. There is a lack of first-person animations, and not all areas are treated equally, but regardless it’s effective for what it’s trying to do.
However, and this is the biggest problem with MADiSON’s presentation and maybe even the game as a whole; there is an infuriating amount of head bobbing almost to a nauseous degree and this could very much be a deal-breaker for some. It’s almost like the character is drunk and not simply terrified about what is happening. Whilst I assume it’s there to push a sense of anxiety within the character, it became an annoyance I was hoping I could turn off in the graphics menu. For those wondering, no, you can’t switch it off.
Sound design is for the most part also very good here. MADiSON has stunning 3D audio that really helps push the immersion to the absolute max. That being said, it is a little too overreliant on those loud noises and the voice acting, especially for Luca, is weak. Other than that, it has some solid sound design overall. Playing with a decent pair of headphones is highly recommended here.
MADiSON is one of the most terrifying horror games I have played in the past few years. Unfortunately, it is held back from true greatness by some of its presentation and tedious sections. I can understand that for many it might rely a little too heavily on jumpscares, but I would argue that many of them are still very effective. MADiSON provides a relentless barrage of horror that few games can really compete with.
MADiSON looks great with some creative designs and plenty of detail, despite the awful head bobbing, which for some reason plagues every section of this game.
Armed with nothing but a camera, Luca descends into a nightmare world full of puzzles and a hell of a lot of jumpscares.
Terrible voice acting from the main character aside, the sound design does a phenomenal job of building up the tension. It needs to calm down on the loud noises though.
MADiSON remains a compelling and terrifying experience throughout.
Final Verdict: 8.0
MADiSON is available now on PC (Via Steam and GOG), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Game installed on SSD
A copy of MADiSON was provided by the publisher.