MADiSON review: A snapshot of real terror
MADiSON is perhaps just one of the best horror games I’ve ever played. It has everything I love about a horror game: creepy suspense, a disturbing story and lore, a fear of jumping, and a monster you will think of when you walk down a dark corridor. When it comes to the first games, the developer Bloodious Games has delivered a scary experience.
MADiSON begins as any good horror game should: with mystery, bloody hands and no way to defend yourself against the nightmares. As the game progresses, you will slowly pull the veil and get a glimpse of the truth behind the terror (there is more terror).
The story in MADiSON is one of the key areas the game differs from other titles in the genre. It has all the features of a great horror story: murder and mutilation, ancient rituals and rituals, family break-ups, a troubled mind and a haunted house.
While the main story focuses on the main character Luca as they try to escape the house and find out what happened to them and their family, there is another narrative arc that bubbles beneath the surface. This secondary narrative focuses on the doctrine of MADiSON, a serial killer and a supernatural entity.
As the games have evolved, we have come to expect better stories, and the authors of MADiSON have delivered. There is almost a folklore-like respect for the mythology of the universe on which the events of the game take place. The reasons for the device are outlined and make sense, which increases the credibility and fear that is derived from what the player experiences. If the player can believe that something like this can happen, it makes the fear all the more frightening.
You can not talk about a horror story without picking up the pace. MADiSON never falls into the trap of unusual exhibition. The bulk of the information is presented via cassette tapes and voicemail messages, both of which are evenly distributed throughout the game. But there are also moments where the main character sees or hears things and comments on them. There is a consistency in the game’s story as it unfolds that never leaves you hungry for more or wanting less.
Bump at night
Not only was I terrified of the deeply disturbing story, but the gameplay made me breathless. Although there is a fear of jumping, there is a threatening silence in parts of the game. I often praise Amnesia: The Dark Descent for the use of atmosphere and silence in the dark as a panacea, and the same can be said about MADiSON. When you are not intimidated by a monster, the atmospheric sounds create a creeping fear that tickles the back of your neck. You will be on edge and waiting for a scare that never comes.
As for the monster in MADiSON, the team at Bloodious understood the mission. A monster makes or destroys a horror game or movie. If it is not done properly, it will be cheap or poorly thought out. What is worse is when the explanation of the monster does not fit, or nothing has been done to give the monster knowledge and appreciation. In MADiSON, the rich mythology the team has woven into the monster makes it a truly terrifying beast that also makes sense for the environment.
Visually, the game is impeccable. The monster is actively uncomfortable to look at. I was constantly crawling away from my screen as I desperately asked down the hallways. To make matters worse, the game will sometimes force you to go against your fears, since that is the only way to go. It is also a oppressive darkness that devours the boundaries of space, and even when it is light, it is sick and grotesque and offers little comfort.
Fear is the little death
When it comes to gaming, MADiSON focuses exclusively on solving puzzles and moving around in this clearly haunted house. Although the camera oscillation is excessive, it is at least stylized and increases the nervous stress by trying to solve puzzles while the logical part of your brain tries to break control from your fight-or-flight instincts.
For me, the game element in horror titles I think is the most appealing search. Whether it’s a search for a key to a locked door, the discovery of a safe combination or the solution to an object – based puzzle, these are the parts I find amusing. All of these are here in MADiSON and are present throughout the experience. Even towards the end of the game, where things get a little more confrontational, you will still solve puzzles.
When it comes to the challenge aspect, there were only a few times where the solution to the riddle was not as clear as I would have liked. This problem was exacerbated by a lot of running back and forth between locations. At some point I would search the entire house and try to find the next place to continue the story only to randomly interact with something from early in the game that would initiate progression.
Apart from this outlier, the rest of the puzzles had a logical cadence. A key that was discovered would clearly belong to a door that had passed by. A candle was needed to go with the corresponding painting. The pictures had to be placed in the correct order. It was just hard enough to make me scratch my head without causing frustration.
You can’t really talk about MADiSON without mentioning its biggest game mechanic, the Polaroid camera. This device is your primary way of interacting with the environment. It is not just for solving puzzles, as it can also be used to illuminate the darkness. It is extremely disturbing to use as a means of illuminating the road. I was in a constant state of fear of what the flash would reveal to the short pictures I could see.
MADiSON is consistent, and that is one of the key factors in a great horror game. Many matches tend to struggle with a slow second act after an incredible opening or fall off in the last act, but that does not happen here. The puzzles are still a joy to solve, the excitement never decreases, and just when you think you are safe, a light will flicker, and you get a glimpse of the monster and you have to change pants. Beyond this, the story and lore are disturbing on a true criminal level and manage to maintain the pace. Suffice it to say that MADiSON is a nerve-wracking, disturbing and truly frightening experience.
This review is based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. MADiSON is available July 8, 2022 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X / S and Nintendo Switch.