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Madison review: entertaining horror that is a little too clever for its own good

Madison review: entertaining horror that is a little too clever for its own good

Madison is a fun game to write about. It’s a horror game that takes place in your traditional haunted house, aiming for a PT or Layers Of Fear mood down the viewfinder of a Polaroid camera. This camera was a used gift for Lucas’ (it’s you!) 16th birthday. It is also possessed by a demon, this is where the fun comes in, “fun” here means jumping fear and hallucinatory bells. Let it be a lesson for anyone thinking of giving their son something that was proof of a murder as a gift. This is one of many bad choices characters in Madison have made. They are mostly dead now.

The game itself sometimes makes very good choices, although it’s about 50/50 that it gets a little too weird and ends up being silly. This provides an exciting mix, especially with a complicated story of murder and neglect that spans decades, and in the end I was extremely fond of the way the sublime and the ridiculous sat side by side. The biggest downfall is not that Madison sometimes makes you giggle by accident, but that the multi-step tasks become so slow that you stop jumping on scary angels and scary violin howls. You have numbers to write down and candles to move on, and you do not have time for any demonic antics right now, Oh my God.

Part of Madison is what you would expect: a scary building that plays thunder or thunders every 60-300. second to keep you on your toes, a hidden diary that falls into barely readable scribbles, and statues that suddenly appear or move when you turn back. Like many other horror games, there are a bunch of perversions of Catholic-like images knocking around, which can be used to scare both Catholics and Protestants.

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Every other scare actually scared me, and the rest made me laugh. I found a toilet, chained closed, with NO USE on it. In a flooded basement, I almost got wet from a monster that suddenly appeared in the dark, which was undercut when a bunch of limbs that looked like they were too big for the scale began to soar out of the water. In a series of dark corridors, I was again terrified by demonic jumping fears, until I noticed that the beast in a way looked like it was wearing a diaper. My favorite was to discover that a priest had sent the father of my character a very urgent message on three separate cassettes, because he could not find out the new-fashioned e-mail. The very first tape told that the easiest way to get rid of a demon is to let it get what it wants. Father! That is obviously terrible advice! Where did you go to seminary?

A screenshot of a scary chair surrounded by candles and Polaroid images in Madison
Camera shake
It is worth mentioning that the camera sways a lot. Luca walks like a teenager who is thrown out of a Hungerford Wetherspoons after falling three snake bites without anyone noticing. If you’re one of those people who gets travel sick from first person games, then hoooooo mom, watch out for this one. It’s worse if you run too.

The biggest and most unique part of the game is the camera. Much credit to the developers for using it in a way that feels far more transformative and interesting than in something like Outlast, where your little handycam is mostly a pair of night vision goggles, or Martha Is Dead, where your camera is mostly a camera . In Madison, in addition to the flash that lights up dark corners, there is both a scare machine and the key to solving many mysteries. Taking pictures of things will reveal scary scribbles on the film where the wall in front of you is shiny, which is an effective and cool way to evoke insects. Sometimes taking a snap will cause a frame to crack, a door to open or a demon to appear. If you’m stuck in Madison, something will usually shake loose if you take enough pictures.

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You will probably be stuck. Madison’s setting is a semi-abandoned house, and you gradually unlock more and more of it, gaining access to the master bedroom, kitchen, attic and so on. You have to go back quite a bit to solve puzzles in previous rooms, while in the process you uncover a millefeuille of tragedy that goes back decades, and including a mass murder that ended in tears at bedtime and chopped limbs. I liked the show-not-tell complexity in it enough to be disappointed with the ending, which felt more predictable and edgy than the rest (and which would require a similar content warning to The Suicide Of Rachel Foster, if you keep track).

The riddles are the piece I have more of a leg to pick with. Some rooms in the house become gateways to hallucinations such as blurred time and space. The attic, for example, opens a doorway to a cathedral that exists in several different time periods. I enjoyed this (albeit unexpectedly confessing to a woman who murdered her Nazi husband, an inclusion whose purpose I am still unaware of) until I encountered another of what are a few frustrating puzzles in the game. The cathedral has weird art mazes in different colors, which require you to put color-coded candles on the right plinths in the right pieces and aaarghhhh.

The main character in Madison goes through a hallway full of crucifixes, some of them the other way around

I was stopped in the house by spending way too long looking for a secure code, while I actually should have been in the same attic and moved around and done some math. None of these puzzles will stop you forever, but they will block you long enough that you will end up running up and down the house, in search of what you missed, until the scary music stings and threatening angel statues do not phases you at all. “Yes, yes,” I mumbled, as the lights flickered and a door slammed shut. “But I have to get up again now, so can we move it on?”

That way, Madison is a little too smart for her own good. Despite the fact that it can be a bit ridiculous (in an engaging way, that is) it does some genuinely great things, and really benefits from everything the camera in the game has to offer. But at least an hour of six-ish in the hellhouse will be that you sting back and forth in anger and interact with things you have already found, until you stumble across the solution you need. This undermines the pace enormously, to the point that the well-designed scary and monstrous monsters cease to be equally effective. I would still recommend it to a horrorficionado, but the recen is not as full throat as it could have been. If the puzzle was a little easier, Madison’s horror pieces would shine properly.

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