In the current renaissance of horror gaming, there’s no shortage of choices for the average gamer. Thankfully, MADiSON tries its damnedest to stand out in the crowd.
Created by BLOODIOUS GAMES, it’s a game made with lots of effort that mostly hits its mark. In many ways, it’s a pretty unnerving game, while in others, it feels like horror’s greatest hits. But that isn’t all bad, because there’s a reason why those are the greatest hits to this day.
The only question is whether or not MADiSON is able to rise above the label of greatest hits and dance to its own tune. Are we listening to played-out tunes or is this a fresh new sound for horror games? Let’s find out.
The house that Satan built
MADiSON is a pretty game. Full stop. Every part of the environment is really impressive to look at. You’re in a house for about 60 percent of the game but everything inside it looks so damned pretty. The art design of the game is simplistic, opting for a grounded environment that can feel somewhat familiar.
Think Resident Evil 7’s Baker House mixed with pieces of Silent Hill 3; you’ll see other environments aside from the house and they all look fantastic. Most of them are ordinary places that feel uncanny, and unsafe even though they look mostly normal.
Sound is most definitely one of the strongest elements MADiSON has to offer, for better or worse. Rain constantly hits the windows throughout the entire game while the ambient music floats around.
This is usually punctuated by the creaking of the house, which can get to you the first couple of times you listen. Loud noises are used to punctuate certain scares which feel played out but are expected at least once or twice in a horror game.
The constant unease is helped along by the rather cute RNG element to some of the horrors in the game. You’ll hear noises constantly while you’re trying to solve a puzzle or figure out what the gimmick in a room is.
Sometimes it’s an object being thrown while other times it’s a door being opened or closed. Other times, you might see an object that wasn’t there before in the room with you. The first couple of times it’ll be decently creepy but after a while, you’ll become accustomed to the game messing with you.
The music is mainly ambient or stereotypically horror. Like, the music is ever-escalating strings that get progressively louder. Not too unique as far as horror soundtracks go, but it’s held up by the ambient noise that occasionally sneaks up on you.
There are one or two tracks that have vocals but they can be hit or miss. The ending theme that plays over the credits is probably the better of the two. The other exists for a horror segment and can grate on your ears a little.
To cap off the sound, the voice acting is very solid. Everyone is giving 100% and it definitely shows in most of the performances. The odd line here and there is a bit awkward but it’s never too egregious.
Chills, thrills, and puzzles
You’re not a Ghostbuster, devil hunter, or exorcist in MADiSON. You’re just a normal guy having the worst day of his life. Your goal is to solve puzzles to unravel the mystery of the horror pursuing you throughout the house. And without a doubt, the puzzles are some definite brain teasers.
You might get stuck once or twice figuring out some of them but just keep at it and you’ll make it through. They take a lot after classic survival horror; find keys, and objects, all while you look at clues in the environment. Figuring out the solutions does feel satisfying and can lead to some pretty creepy moments when you finally figure them out.
To help along with the puzzle-solving, you’ll be given a camera that can reveal clues and resolve puzzles. You can take pictures and hold them in your inventory for future reference. Sometimes the pictures might even reveal some spooky imagery that wasn’t there. It’s the one item in your inventory that you don’t want to stick in the item box.
You can only hold eight items at a time, necessitating some degree of item management. Thankfully, the puzzles are in close proximity to the item box you currently have on hand, so it’s never Resident Evil levels of item management. But there might be one or two moments where you’ll have to drop something off to pick up something new.
It’s more of an excuse to have you experience more spooky noises and occasionally be harassed by some scary monster. Most of the game isn’t getting jump scared by monsters but there are one or two moments where something will be following you. MADiSON is really good at ratcheting up the tension when something is actively on the hunt.
The first time it happens, you’ll feel some legitimate dread. By the time you hit the endgame, you’ll be actively repelling the horror as it follows you around. For horror aficionados, this won’t be unfamiliar territory, but it is pretty well done the first time you see it. All of the horror setpieces can be appreciated for their earnest attempts to scare you.
They do use jumpscares as their main source of horror but there are quieter moments where the scare is nerve-wracking. One part involving a hand radio is pretty stressful and is probably the only time the dread actually got to me.
The un-Luca-iest boy around
Story is probably the one area where MADiSON does falter a bit. Your main character, Luca, is probably one of the unluckiest guys in video games, right next to Otacon from Metal Gear Solid. He wakes up to find his house ransacked, his family gone, and a malevolent presence tormenting him. He has to escape.
You do end up feeling bad for the guy but unfortunately, he never evolves past “scared guy.” We don’t learn too much about him as a person or ever feel like he’s more than just the object whom all the misery in the game revolves around. The other characters feel much more fleshed out in comparison; they all get backstories that feel comparatively more satisfying.
However, this feels like a double-edged sword at times.
Without giving too much away, every other character’s plight feels much easier to sympathize with in comparison. Luca, while having the worst time throughout the game, doesn’t feel as fleshed out as everyone else. He mostly serves as a mouthpiece to occasionally say, “Wow, this is scary. I have to get out of here.”
Nothing else defines his character and that can make the story drag a bit by the midpoint. It all culminates with an ending that just feels unsatisfying. Once you’re almost done, everything builds up to an ending where the game just stops. This is not to say that every single thing needs to be neatly resolved and answered, but the ending we get just feels far too abrupt for its own good.
BLOODIOUS GAMES obviously loves horror. They have reverence for the genre and wear their influences on their sleeves. Without a doubt, MADiSON is an honest attempt at something truly special. Even though it falls a bit flat at the end, the ride up until then is at the very least entertaining.
If you’re hankering for a decent horror experience that will give you the willies and challenge your puzzle-solving skills, then MADiSON is for you. If you’re sick of jumpscares in horror games, then consider taking a break cause they’re not going anywhere. If you don’t play horror games and wanna prove to your friend that you’re indeed a hardcore gamer, well…
I’d say you might have your work cut out for you.