The horror genre is replete with staple conventions baked in the DNA of the genre. One such convention is the camera that takes pictures, revealing horrific things not seen by the naked eye. MADiSON takes the camera conceit and puts a slight twist on it.
MADiSON – from indie Game Developer, Bloodious Games – takes a lot of cues from other games and demos. P.T., Layers of Fear, and Fatal Frame are a few that come to mind. MADiSON – which refers to the demon hiding inside your camera – is pushing you to complete a ritual started long ago that spans years.
Another convention MADiSON embraces is the locked room mystery. Much of the game requires you to solve puzzles to unlock a door to further progress the game. MADiSON starts in a locked room with someone furiously trying to break and get you. The twist is the person in question is your father. Once you escape the room, you must stay out of his reach.
The mystery deepens when you realize the house you are in belongs to your grandfather. Navigating about the house is difficult because objects move around or hide. The only way to advance is through the use of your trusty Polaroid camera. Not only does the camera capture hidden items, but it also releases them so you can pick them up.
The horror of MADiSON pivots on possession of you. So the environment is constantly changing around you. Doors appear and then disappear. This dynamic is used to drive the puzzles in the game. And the puzzles will ultimately make or break the game for you.
Most of the puzzles are fair, but some are quite opaque because of the morphing environment. Some puzzles require you to follow a certain sequence of events which can be difficult to carry out because of changing surroundings. A few require backtracking, which may turn you off.
On the plus side, the game ramps up the scares the further you get into the game. However, how much you enjoy them depends on how much you enjoy jump scares. Overall, the sound design – always so important in a horror game – is very good. It definitely adds to the creep factor, but a few flaws surface. Some sounds seem to be used indiscriminately. There are creaks and moans that never end up being tied to anything in the game or being tied to your surroundings.
As you progress through the game, more of the story is revealed through tapes, newspaper headlines, and photos. You will come across the remnants of ritualistic events comprising symbols drawn on the floor with lots of candles. There are also many Catholic-style Virgin Mary statues. Naturally, they move around a la the Angels from the Doctor Who episode – Blink.
Puzzles Versus Pacing
MADiSON throws a lot of different scares at you. Some of them land and some of them don’t. Again, how well they work will be on a per-person basis. Ironically, the thing working against them staying scary comes from the puzzles. Obscure puzzles will have you traipsing back and forth about the house looking for solutions. The more you have to do so, the less scary the horror bits become.
One big caveat about the camera has to be mentioned – camera sway. Warning – if you are motion sick sensitive. The protagonist of the game you play is a teenager named Luca. He walks with an exaggerated swagger that will send some reaching for a barf bag. And if he runs – forget it. There is no option on the PS4 version to turn off camera sway either.
MADiSON is a solid, polished indie horror game. It struggles with pacing because of the mechanics involved with the puzzles. For collectors and completionists, you may find some replay value as you can collect camera skins and special photos.
*** PS4 Code provided by the publisher ***
Camera mechanics are unique
Good use of shadows
Some obtuse puzzles
Too much backtracking
Scares are hit and miss