Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
July 8, 2022
In 2014, P.T. took the video game world by storm as a demo for Silent Hills that featured a haunted house, some mild puzzling and some serious fright value. It was terrifying, and was at least part of the inspiration for a whole new generation of horror games, focused on psychological spooks. MADiSON began its development way back in 2016, and it doesn’t take long before you notice its P.T. inspirations. While that infamous haunted hallway might be a jumping off point, MADiSON combines this with the kind of puzzle-solving made famous in classic titles like Resident Evil. With a demonic presence always breathing down your neck and other threats that go bump in the night, this indie horror might not offer anything particularly original, but it did make me squeal in terror more than once – so buckle your seatbelts and pack a spare pair of undies, horror lovers.
Waking up in a room with a TV showing static and photos of some body parts scattered about, you quickly find yourself in your grandfathers old house, long abandoned after your grandparents passing. Unfortunately for main character Luca, the house is haunted by an angry spectral spirit called Madison, an evil murderer who may or may not have been involved in something far more sinister than just killing for the sake of it. I wasn’t particularly fond of Luca, as he over-reacted to every slightly weird thing that happened and threw in some obvious dialogue like “The room! It’s changed!” among other eye-roll worthy quick explanations.
Still, Luca has good reason to over-react, as this house is constantly creaking, bumping, banging, whispering and just generally creeping you out from start to finish. The atmosphere remains intense at all times, which is something the team at BLOODIOUS GAMES have really nailed. I can’t recall a horror game in recent memory where I genuinely felt like I was about to have a jump scare take place at any given moment, whether it’s the glimpse of something foreboding at the end of the hallway, a chair randomly sliding across the floor, picture frames falling from the wall or, quite literally, being grabbed by something evil. When it comes to sending shivers down your spine, BLOODIOUS GAMES understood the assignment.
Adding to the creepy vibes in MADiSON is the fact that you don’t have any weapons to protect yourself with, other than a polaroid camera which can flash to stun anything that gets too close to you. However, the camera itself is used as a way to provide an effective jump scare, more than anything else. One scene in particular, you don’t have any other light sources to work with, so the flash from taking photos is the only option you’ve got to wade through the darkness. This allows for some effective visual tricks, and is used in this way sparingly enough that it doesn’t get repetitive, but always keeps you on your toes.
“When it comes to sending shivers down your spine, BLOODIOUS GAMES understood the assignment.”
The camera is also used as a puzzle-solving device; because you shake the polaroid to develop it within seconds, there are objects that look one way in the real world but appear differently when a photo is taken; scattered polaroids in the area let you know that it’s probably worth taking a photo of something nearby, but those visual cues can be turned off if you want more of a challenge or wish to really channel your inner paparazzi.
Puzzles make up the majority of MADiSON, taking from the old school survival horror style where you’ll encounter numerous objects and items early on that won’t be solvable until much later in the game. There will be doors with strange locks, floorboards that need to be pried open, clocks with missing parts all over the house and combination lock safes that are begging to be opened. You’ll accrue pockets full of items that won’t mean much on their own, until you find the perfect spot for them somewhere in the house; somewhat frustratingly, you’re only able to carry up to eight items at once, and three of those slots are taken up by your camera, your pictures, and your notebook, which all need to be carried at all times. It feels like unnecessary juggling and padding to have to go back to an item safe to grab things from storage.
While the puzzles are mostly clever and well-explained, there are also obvious examples of puzzle elements that only trigger at very obscure moments, like when you go back to a room that you’ve already been in, or when you’ve witnessed a specific spooky moment that doesn’t feel tied to anything specific. It can result in a lot of time wandering around the house, unsure of exactly what you need to do to activate the next step. As you walk at a relatively slow pace (and even the “sprint” just speeds this up slightly), going back and forth from one end of the house to the other until the adventure arbitrarily nudges you in the right direction can prove tiresome.
Although the story is told through some fairly standard horror exposition like cutouts of newspaper articles and cassette tapes that you’ll come across, MADiSON does an admirable job of telling a demonic story that hits some familiar horror beats, but still remains engrossing throughout. What happened to Madison herself, why it happened, how it haunted the inhabitants of the house itself, the psychological impact of what went on and how it’s impacting Luca themselves are entertaining mysteries to solve.
Eventually it ties together to a reasonably satisfying conclusion, but on the journey to get there you’ll be whisked away to other clever locations outside of the house, via dream-like sequences and one detour that will have you travelling through different time periods to uncover a sordid, dangerous history. Despite mostly being set in the one location, some clever narrative beats mean that you’re not just roaming the same halls over and over, although you will still retread your steps quite a bit as you unlock more rooms and make more discoveries. It’s just varied enough that you’ll never get bored, even if some of the jump scares wear out their welcome, popping up often in the same ways when you’re lost and confused, hoping to stumble into the next solution.
- Genuinely spooky atmosphere with effective jump scares
- Some clever puzzles and interesting camera mechanics
- Solid horror visuals and tense soundtrack throughout
- Doesn't offer a lot of originality to the genre
- Some puzzles are solved in arbitrary ways
- Retreading the same steps, slowly, can be tiresome
Even though some of the puzzles outstay their welcome and can throw the pace off a bit, MADiSON doesn’t linger too long overall and the horrific atmosphere makes it a haunted house ride more than worth the price of admission. There’s plenty of moments that had me screaming and then laughing, my heart racing and palms sweating as I dreaded turning another corner, knowing that something awful was likely waiting for me. The soundtrack is particularly effective in making you feel tense at all times, with loud noises blaring at just the right moments, as shadowy figures loom just out the corner of your eye and a puzzle solution lies just out of reach. While MADiSON doesn’t tread a lot of new ground, its creators clearly have a love of horror and know what makes the genre tick, resulting in a solid spook-fest that will haunt your thoughts.