MADiSON Review – Lights, Camera, Horror

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Posted By | On 08th, Jul. 2022

MADiSON Review – Lights, Camera, Horror

The lights begin flashing in the small, decrepit room you’re in. The door leading to the hallway outside slowly creaks open, and outside the doorway, you glimpse absolute darkness. You step outside, your hackles rising, and you can hear strange noises right around the corner- something walking by you maybe, or the hissing noise of a piece of cloth dragging against the wall, or the clattering noise of an empty can rolling along the wooden floor. Whatever it is, you know there’s something there, but in the absolute darkness, you can’t be sure. You pull out your Polaroid camera, point it forward, and click a picture, lighting the scene in front of you for the briefest of moments with the flash. You think you see something, but when the picture comes out and you shake it into clarity, you see nothing out of the ordinary. You know there’s something there- but it’s the only path forward, so you steel yourself, and walk into the maw of the darkness.

That’s classic psychological horror, and it’s something that MADiSON excels at. Bloodious Games’ first person horror title exhibits an excellent understanding of fear, pacing, and tension from the moment it kicks off, and from that moment until its last, it ramps things up expertly, constantly making you feel like that looming shadow behind you is expanding and getting closer. If you’re a fan of horror and are looking to be genuinely scared, this is the game for you. MADiSON, in spite of some gameplay-related issues, knows exactly when and how to scare you.

"If you’re a fan of horror and are looking to be genuinely scared, this is the game for you. MADiSON, in spite of some gameplay-related issues, knows exactly when and how to scare you."

The story here ropes in a lot of very familiar horror tropes – demon 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 makes use of those tropes for its story very well. You’re thrown into the deep end right off the bat, and slowly but surely, you peel back the layers to get a deeper understanding of what’s going on. It’s constantly unnerving, and the things that you discover are sure to make you deeply uncomfortable at best and downright terrified at worst.

Pacing is crucial in any horror story, and MADiSON knows that. It reveals just the right amount at just the right time, so that you never feel like you’re stalling or simply don’t know enough to be scared, but also never have to sit through overly long exposition dumps that end up explaining things so deeply that there’s nothing left to be afraid of anymore. That’s a difficult balance to strike, as horror games (and horror stories in general) have proven time and again over the years, so to see it struck so well here is heartening for genre fans, to say the very least.

How MADiSON chooses to scare you also deserves props. Being constantly terrifying and in-your-face is a mistake that horror stories make often, but the team at Bloodious Games clearly understood that that can just desensitize the player. Sure, there are some loud, scary moments in here, and some good old-fashioned jump scares as well, but MADiSON knows that something that can be just as effective, if not more so, is that constant tension, that constant palpable dread, that slow build-up of knowing that something horrific is coming for you- you just don’t know when and from where. The game plays with your mind in excellent ways and ends up being genuinely unnerving- which, after all, is the true hallmark of good psychological horror.

madison

"The story here ropes in a lot of very familiar horror tropes – demon 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 makes use of those tropes for its story very well."

The atmosphere that the game builds up also has a huge role to play in that. Dark rooms and hallways, shifting sceneries and environments, ambient noises to make you jump out of your skin and wonder what’s around the next corner- these are all classic ways to build up a constant atmospheric dread in a horror game, and MADiSON uses them very well. It helps that the game is a visually solid one, with greatly detailed environments that look sharp and decrepit and run-down in all the ways they’re supposed to. Add to that the excellent implementation of the PS5’s 3D audio engine, and what you get is a game that uses audio-visual cues to ramp up the tension to great effect.

Things are slightly less consistent from a gameplay perspective. There is no combat in MADiSON, with the bulk of the experience focusing on exploring, paying attention to your surroundings, finding items and objects, and solving puzzles. For the most part, that’s a solid gameplay loop. Combined with the constant ambient tension and background dread, exploration can be quite engaging, and the puzzles are designed rather well most of the times. Using your camera is, of course, a core component for a lot of the puzzles, and the smart execution of that particular mechanic elevates the game to new heights on multiple occasions.

The issue, however, is with consistency. MADiSON is designed around the “show, don’t tell” ethos, which is great for the most part, and personally, my preferred style of game design and puzzle design. Sometimes, however, it takes things too far, and puzzles end up feeling too obscure. A very particular object might need to be used at a very specific spot, and you could end up wasting long minutes scouring through everything in your surroundings, backtracking, and looking through your inventory as you try and understand how to move forward, only to eventually blindly stumble upon the solution through sheer dumb luck. It happens often enough for it to be an issue, especially in a game that’s as focused on puzzles as MADiSON is.

madison

"MADiSON is designed around the “show, don’t tell” ethos, which is great for the most part, and personally, my preferred style of game design and puzzle design. Sometimes, however, it takes things too far, and puzzles end up feeling too obscure."

There are some technical issues to speak of as well. The frame rate, for instance, can be a little choppy at times, with the game slowing down significantly and noticeably for no apparent reason every once in a while. In my time with the game, I’ve experience a couple of crashes as well, which have kicked me out of the game altogether, which is made worse by the fact that autosaves in MADiSON aren’t too generous, which, in turn, leads to a healthy chunk of lost progress. And though this might not be a technical issue per se, the constant swaying of the camera is also a bit of a nuisance. Sure, it’s a stylistic choice, but it can be more than a little distracting at times.

Even with the few issues it does have though, MADiSON is a great game. 2014’s P.T. was a watershed moment for survival horror games, and in the years since then, we’ve had countless games that have tried to replicate its first person psychological horror mastery. Not many 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 restrained and when to let loose – which more than makes up for some of its more frustrating gameplay and technical issues. If you’re a fan of psychological horror, or of horror in general, this is a game that you definitely need to check out.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Captivating, well-told story; Constant tension and incredible atmosphere; Genuinely scary and unnerving; Exploration and puzzles are engaging, for the most part; Looks and sounds great.

THE BAD

Puzzles can be a bit too obtuse at times; Excessive camera sway; Some technical issues.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
MADiSON is a must-play psychological horror game that'll have you on the edge of your seat from the first second right until the credits roll.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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