Cameras and horror have a long and fascinating history. The camera has the ability to increase the sense of fear through its limited field of view, but it is not just about that. Depending on the game you are playing, the camera can be just an indicator that something evil and disturbing is looking for or chasing you (Outlast) or the camera can be your weapon (Fatal Frame).
The horror title MADiSON is the latest in a series of games, from Fatal Frame to Visage, that evokes horror and fear in the player through a photographic lens. Welcome to MADiSON, a horror game that tries to combine all the good things from the horror games we have had the chance to play so far with the camera as the main ‘weapon’, with some new elements. How the game succeeded in this, read below in the review.
Not Everything Is as It Seems
A lot of the stuff that might frighten someone in the MADiSON game, like the fabled P.T. demo from 2014, originate from items that move or shift within the unsettling house, even if you are not actively dealing with those. A ghostly statue of Mary might appear at the end of the hall, but if you turn around and look back, it is gone. Another possibility is that the door may entirely vanish while you looking at it, which will cause you to really question whether your perception of it was an illusion or not. This is undoubtedly one of the game’s perks.
You will explore the house, collect items, and use them to solve puzzles similar to the ones you encountered if you played the old Resident Evil games (all the way up to Resident Evil 4) and Resident Evil 2 Remake, requiring you to carefully inspect all items, like a lit candle or a framed picture, and place them in the right place to progress. Additionally, you will have a pretty good Polaroid camera at your disposal, which provides much-needed light and gives you access to photos, which are used to solve some of the game’s puzzles.
The First Goal of the Game – To Scare the Players
Given there is no combat in the game, there is no doubt that MADiSON is designed to scare players first and foremost. Like Outlast or Layers of Fear, there really is not any combat in MADiSON. Some will say that if a game does not have combat in it, that means there is no way you can lose, which again means it is not a game in the full sense of the word. While it is true that MADiSON is not a game in the style of Silent Hill or Resident Evil, within the first few minutes it will become clear to you that the game is designed to strike fear into the player. The game is essentially based on exploring the abandoned and mysterious Madison mansion. In that regard, MADiSON is exceptional, with a truly terrifying atmosphere that kept us awake and engaged as far as the game itself was concerned, even in the parts of the game that were not so good. And there were such parts, because even this game, like none other, is not perfect.
One of the game’s best moments comes after a lengthy puzzle-solving section, which requires you to move between different time periods in order to change the present. It takes place inside a church, where the mutterings of an apparently possessed person can be heard from a nearby confessional. After solving the puzzle, you will receive a key that unlocks the confessional. Now, honestly, it is not like we really wanted to go there and see what was waiting for us, but we went. And there was a lot to see there. What exactly we saw, we will not share here, because we do not want to spoil the feeling of discovery and believe us, that is also one of the pluses of these kinds of games: discovering new things, parts of the story, puzzles, and everything else that points you to what exactly happened in the game, which of course is not pleasant. But that is one of the reasons we play games like this, right?
Outlast + Layers of Fear = Atmosphere in MADiSON
The atmosphere of MADiSON is exactly what we would expect in a modern horror game that combines Outlast and Layers of Fear. From the horrifying screeches, gasps, and sounds of the house, to the gruesome photographs of victims lining the walls, as well as blood-curdling images of demons you would only expect to see in your nightmares, MADiSON absolutely dominates the horror effect. Honestly, the atmosphere is very important to us in horror games. If the story is good, and the atmosphere lags behind, for us it is simply not a great deal.
The atmosphere in this game is very good in our opinion. Even scarier than Outlast and Layers of Fear and is a good indication that the developers knew what they wanted to do with this game in terms of this segment. If you decide to play this game and want to be scared, we definitely recommend playing it at night, with headphones. You will ‘enjoy’ a good horror atmosphere, because of which, even though you know that nothing can kill you per se, you will hesitate to open those doors that are there now, but were not there five minutes ago.
MADiSON makes good use of this mechanic to create subtle horror. The game’s protagonist, Luca, makes his way to his grandparents’ living room in one scene after escaping a horrific situation. The statue that had been at the bottom of this hallway suddenly finds itself engulfed in obscurity and red illumination and appears to be extinguished. By photographing the image and waving it around to look at it, you will see that the image is bloody and burned: a telltale sign of the game’s main antagonist. Without even showing the image in the photo, MADiSON fills the player with fear simply by implying danger ahead, which is definitely a huge plus of this game.
The game also presents a horror atmosphere in the form of sudden causes of fear or the “jump-scare” effect. Some of them are completely unpredictable and caused real horror when they happened. New players might be caught off guard, but long-time horror players will probably be able to anticipate them. Sadly, the game mainly relies on them, and as the conclusion drew near, they started to frustrate more than frighten players. They become less of a threat as the game goes on because of their increasing frequency. They are particularly troublesome during the last task, which resets the game if the player makes a mistake.
The Puzzles Are Mostly Good. Mostly…
Some puzzles are effective. The one that particularly caught our attention is the one in which you must gather and arrange several plates in the sorted manner of the constellations. But others are quite difficult to understand, even for more experienced players of such games. In fact, a good number of the puzzles are far more complicated than you might expect, and you will often feel like you are doing something wrong and just do not know what to do or how to do it to solve the puzzle. This is not always the case, but it has happened a few times and we did not enjoy it.
One of the worst puzzles forces you to ride an elevator up and down five floors while taking photos according to dialogue coming through a speaker. The solution is not immediately obvious, and even when you figure out what you need to do, the elevator’s moving is excruciatingly sluggish, which slows the game down.
The Idea With Limited Carrying Capacity Is Good, but It Is a Shame That It Was Not Implemented Well
One mechanic in the game that we think is basically a good idea but unfortunately poorly executed is the limited inventory, which forces you to use safes for storage, of which we only came across two or three in the entire game. This will require you to return quite a few times just to leave some items and pick up others. A handful of items cannot be dropped, so you only really have five slots available.
Luca moves quite slowly, which makes these trips back and forth even more boring and tiring. We understand that they wanted to take this mechanic from the old RE games and Resident Evil 2 Remake, but honestly, we feel that not enough effort was put into polishing this mechanic. Let’s also take into account today’s young audience that does not really like playing games where you have to go back a lot (i.e. they like fast-paced games and shooters on which they can bet on eSports bookies, such as those at bookmaker-expert.com/country/paraguay/) or where you have to do a lot of “backtracking” and that will be another reason why some of the players might give up before that they finished it.
All in All, MADiSON Is a (Very) Good Horror Experience
We would not have said this in 2002 or 2003, when Resident Evil 1 Remake and Silent Hill 1-3 were blazing through the gaming market, since MADiSON, when all is said and done, lags far behind those games, no matter what developer attempts. But since we are in a time where players do not really have the chance to enjoy real horror games where they will get scared thanks to the atmosphere, it can be said that MADiSON is basically a very good game, especially if you are a horror fan.
The game has its bad and good sides. The atmosphere, the introductory premises, the main ‘enemy’, the setting, and a certain number of puzzles are undoubtedly good. But it is a shame that, for example, more effort was not invested in polishing some puzzles and when designing an inventory of eight, or often times five places. Let’s add to that a considerable number of situations when you will have to go back a long way, a story that can sometimes take quite a long time to unwrap, the slowness of the character’s movement, and “jump-scare” effects that can sometimes be more tiring than scary, and we got one, in our opinion, all in all, a good horror game. Very good, if you are a fan of the genre.
And finally, the platforms you can play MADiSon on are PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One X, Xbox Series X, and Windows.