MADiSON Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

MADiSON game

By Paul Hunter

What a year for horror games! We're just over half way through 2022 and already we've had FOBIA, The Quarry, Ghostwire: Tokyo, and Dying Light 2 to name some of the bigger titles. Next up is MADiSON, the indie horror debut title from developer Bloodious Games and publisher Perp Games. Available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PC, MADiSON is a first-person psychological horror game created by a two-man team out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

MADiSON sets you in the role of Luca Maxwell, a 16-year-old boy who wakes up scared and alone in a shockingly terrifying version of his grandparents house. His situation gets much worse as Luca learns that the polaroid camera he was gifted on his birthday belongs to a serial killer witch, who's now attempting to possess his body. It's a freaky setup but does MADiSON ultimately deliver the scares? Let's head on into the Maxwell household, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Spine-Chilling Atmosphere

MADiSON, which was developed in Unity over the span of six years, fully embraces its psychological horror approach pioneered by classics like P.T. and Layers of Fear. It has photorealistic graphics, claustrophobic corridors, jump scares galore, spine-tingling audio, and gruesome lore focused on a horrific family murder. While it's not the most original framework, the game's phenomenal presentation does a superb job of drawing you into its unsettling setting.

If you're like me and still thinking about how creepy awesome P.T. is, then you'll surely enjoy the disturbing visuals in MADiSON that clearly wears its Kojima influence on its sleeves. The Maxwell household looks incredibly lifelike with its high-quality textures that brings realism to all the filth and squalor that blankets the floors and furniture. Nonsensical walls scribbles, scratch marks that look non-human, floors stains that make you go "hmm" and a general state of dilapidation further accentuates that terrible things are afoot in this home.

The lighting is also fantastic with objects casting dark shadows that give you pause or sharp green or red glows around corners that make you think twice about advancing closer. Strange or creepy objects are often highlighted in rooms but for what purpose it often makes you wonder. Visually, in many ways, the game is eerily similar to Kojima's terrifying masterpiece.

Liked: The Descent Into Madness

Most of the game takes place in the grandfather's home, with Luca having to explore increasingly more precarious places like the basement and attic as the story advances forward. You'll eventually wander into other locations like a pitch-black cemetery and a sprawling cathedral from the 1980s, but sooner or later all roads lead back to that disturbing home.

Again much like P.T., the haunted house gets more battered and bizarre as time moves on, with furniture randomly getting knocked over, objects shifting positions (making you double take or second guess yourself), and hallways getting more sinister as you move deeper into the story.

Not only is it cool and terrifying to see the house devolve into decay, I appreciated how it mirrors Luca's descent into madness. Over time, the evil spirit takes over more of Luca's mind and you start to wonder if what you're seeing is real or a mere reflection of his downward spiral. I also thought the Luca voice actor did a believable job of articulation the character's sheer terror in the moment, as you can feel the shaking and pure dread in his voice.

Liked: The Instant Camera

The polaroid-like camera that Luca acquires at the beginning of the game plays a fundamental role during the journey. Not only can taking photos cause interactions—like blowing the stone lid off of a well—but it can also protect you from poltergeist attacks. The camera also helps you solve puzzles: taking photos can reveal hidden numbers or clues on the wall that would otherwise be unseen to the naked eye. It's a neat mechanic and I also appreciated how your character shakes out the polaroid photos over a few dramatic seconds to amp up the tension (it works!).

While it's not always clear what you should snap photos of, I do like that when you snap a photo of a key spot the PS5 DualSense controller shakes violently as if to say yep, you got it. There's one particular location where you take photos to jump between eras and I thought that was the best use of the camera in the game.

All photos you snap get saved into a library that you can access anytime in the menus. It's a useful system since that means you don't need to make memos of codes or clues—you can simply refer back to your photo library. It's sort of a double-edged sword though because that means you'll need to flip through all the miscellaneous photos you've taken. There should have been a way to delete or sort photos since that certainly would have saved some time during puzzles.

Didn't Like: Repetitive Audio and Jump Scares

Let's get one thing straight: MADiSON, overall, is a pretty scary game. Just being in that demonic house is unsettling and the extremely detailed graphics make the whole experience that much more terrifying. But especially in the latter half of the story, I'm unimpressed with how frequently the game relies on cheap jump scares as its main horror tactic. I much prefer the approach to horror that games like FOBIA or Outlast take where tension is built up through macabre audio effects or devious environments that escalate the terrors ahead. The first few hours of MADiSON actually achieves a good balance of scare tactics, which makes the mid-game hard pivot to jump scares even more disappointing.

Audio likewise initially impresses: the creepy house has a looping audio track of creaks, sudden door slams and ethereal voices that are sure to raise hairs on the back of your neck. Unfortunately though, as soon as you realize it's an audio loop that has no impact on what's coming next, the tension completely evaporates. Towards the end I even started to get annoyed by the strange voices and random slams knowing it's all meaningless noise that's nothing to be concerned of.

Didn't Like: Flawed Puzzles and Nonsensical Story

Some puzzles in MADiSON are clever—and I commend the developers for that—but others are obtuse if not downright aggravating. The game asks you often to revisit rooms you've completely cleared through of items and puzzles, and yet randomly later in the game a new key item or interaction spot appears. There's no rhyme or reason for this, which means you either need to re-inspect rooms often or follow an online guide to not waste your time. Either way, it's not ideal.

It's also annoying how you have eight inventory slots and three of them are taken up by mandatory items. All this does is force you to waste time depositing or retrieving items in your safe, and there's no reason for this except to pad the game time. But really though, why give you eight slots and then you automatically lose three of them? It's like a slap in the face.

Regarding the story, here again MADiSON starts out strong but then spirals out of control. I liked the whole murderous witch and demonic body possession intro, it was interesting and hooked me. But then as you play there's a total lack of connecting tissues between the game's three demons: Madison Hale, Hans Gouring and Blue Knees. The demons are barely explained too, Hans for example is a WW2 Nazi that ran a gas chamber and yeah, how that relates to the main story I couldn't tell you. Blue Knees is a children's story book demon that loves eyeballs for some reason or another. The main Madison Hale demon tells a neat story, but the other demons just convolute the narrative.

The Verdict

MADiSON starts out strong with pristine graphics, scary audio, an intriguing story, great level design and interesting puzzles. It's a shame then that the latter half unravels to a degree as you recognize that the creaks and shrieks are a harmless audio loop, a few puzzles become obtuse and the narrative gets messy with poorly explained demons. Overall, I did enjoy the game though, perhaps because it so closely scratched that P.T. itch.

I hope down the road that Bloodious Games revisits this franchise with a sequel because the first half is seriously great. They just need to keep consistent over the entire journey—tone down the late game jump scares, less backtracking and make sure the audio actually impacts the gameplay. All that said, given MADiSON's budget price I think it's worth the price of admission for diehard horror fans.

Final Score: 7/10 - Good

MADiSON details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Bloodious Games
Publisher: Perp Games
Genre: First-Person Horror
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.