MADiSON Review – Lights, Camera, Horror
JThe lights begin to flicker in the small, decrepit room you find yourself in. The door leading to the outer hall slowly creaks open, and outside the door you see absolute darkness. You walk outside, your hair on end, and you can hear strange noises just around the corner – something maybe walking near you, or the hissing of a piece of cloth dragging against the wall, or the noise of an empty can rolling along the wall. Wooden floor. Either way, you know there’s something out there, but in absolute darkness, you can’t be sure. You pull out your Polaroid camera, point it forward and click an image, illuminating the scene in front of you for the briefest moments with the flash. You think you see something, but when the image appears and you shake it to make it clearer, you don’t see anything wrong. You know there’s something out there, but it’s the only way to go, so you arm yourself and walk into the Maw of Darkness.
It’s classic psychological horror, and it’s something that MADISON excels in. Bloodious Games’ first-person horror title shows an excellent understanding of fear, pacing and tension from the moment it kicks off, and from that moment until the last, it ramps things up from expertly, constantly making you feel like that shadow looming behind you is getting bigger and closer. If you are a horror fan and looking to get really scary, this game is for you. MADISONdespite some gameplay issues, knows exactly when and how to scare you.
“If you’re a horror fan and looking to get really scary, this is the game for you. MADISONdespite some gameplay issues, knows exactly when and how to scare you.”
The story here fits into many very familiar horror tropes – demonic possession, family trauma, rituals gone wrong, an old serial killer – but MADISON proves that tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing by default. It’s the execution that counts, and this game uses those tropes very well for its story. You’re dropped into the depths from the get-go, and slowly but surely you’re peeling back the layers to better understand what’s going on. It’s constantly unnerving, and the things you find out are sure to make you deeply uneasy at best and downright terrified at worst.
Pace is crucial in any horror story, and MADISON knows that. It reveals just the right amount at the right time, so you never feel like you’re stalling or just don’t know enough to be scared, and also never have to sit down for dumps. too long exposures that end up explaining things so deeply that there is nothing more to fear. It’s a tough balance to strike, as horror games (and horror stories in general) have proven that time and time again over the years, so to see it hit so well here is heartening to say the least. gender fans.
How MADISON chooses to scare you also deserves props. Being constantly terrifying and opposite is a mistake that horror stories often make, but the team at Bloodious Games clearly understood that this could only desensitize the player. Sure, there are loud and scary moments here, as well as some good old-fashioned jump scares, but MADISON knows that something that can be just as effective, if not more so, is this constant tension, this constant palpable fear, this slow buildup of knowing that something awful is happening to you – you just don’t know when or from where . The game plays with your mind excellently and ends up being genuinely unnerving, which, after all, is the true hallmark of good psychological horror.
“The story here draws on many very familiar horror tropes – demonic possession, family trauma, rituals gone wrong, an old serial killer – but MADISON proves that tropes aren’t necessarily a bad thing by default. It’s the execution that counts, and this game uses those tropes very well for its story.”
The atmosphere that the game creates also has a huge role to play in this regard. Dark rooms and hallways, changing landscapes and environments, ambient noises to make you jump and wonder what’s around the corner – these are all classic ways to create constant atmospheric terror in a horror game, and MADISON use them very well. It helps that the game is visually solid, with highly detailed environments that look crisp, decrepit, and ramshackle in every way they’re meant to. Add to that the excellent implementation of the PS5’s 3D audio engine, and you have a game that uses audiovisual cues to ramp up the tension to great effect.
Things are slightly less consistent from a gameplay standpoint. There is no fight in MADISON, with most of the experience focused on exploration, paying attention to your surroundings, finding items and objects, and solving puzzles. For the most part, it’s a solid gameplay loop. Combined with the constant ambient tension and terror in the background, the exploration can be quite engaging and the puzzles are pretty well designed most of the time. Using your camera is, of course, central to many puzzles, and cleverly executing this particular mechanic elevates the game to new heights time and time again.
The problem, however, is one of consistency. MADISON is designed around the “show, don’t tell” ethos, which is great for the most part, and personally my favorite style of game design and puzzle design. Sometimes, however, it goes too far and the puzzles end up feeling too obscure. A very particular item may need to be used in a very specific location, and you could end up wasting long minutes going through everything in your environment, going back and browsing through your inventory while you try to figure out how. move forward, only to blindly stumble upon the solution by sheer luck. This happens often enough for it to be a problem, especially in a game as puzzle-focused as MADISON is.
“MADISON is designed around the “show, don’t tell” ethos, which is great for the most part, and personally my favorite style of game design and puzzle design. Sometimes, however, it goes too far and the puzzles end up looking too obscure.”
There are also a few technical issues to report. The frame rate, for example, can be a bit choppy at times, with the game slowing down dramatically and noticeably for no apparent reason every now and then. During my time with the game I also experienced a few crashes, which kicked me out of the game completely, which is made worse by the fact that autosaves in MADISON are not overly generous, which, in turn, leads to a good deal of lost progress. And while that’s not a technical issue per se, the constant camera sway is also a bit annoying. Sure, it’s a stylistic choice, but it can sometimes be more than a little awkward.
Even with the few problems he has though, MADISON is a great game. 2014 PT was a watershed moment for survival horror games, and in the years since, we’ve had countless games that have attempted to replicate his mastery of first-person psychological horror. Few have succeeded, but MADISON surely comes closer than most. It has a great understanding of the key tenets of any good horror experience – pacing, atmosphere, tension, knowing when to be held back and when to let go – which more than makes up for some of its more frustrating gameplay and technical issues. If you’re a fan of psychological horror, or horror in general, this is a game you absolutely need to check out.
This game was tested on the PlayStation 5.