Publisher: Bloodious Games
Developer: Bloodious Games
Release Date: 07/08/2022
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Ever since P.T. was shown and canceled it set a new standard for survival horror games. Silent Hill has always been the gold standard to live up to and many games have since. MADiSON is one of the first games I’ve played in the style of P.T. to actually be good and pull off the scares and atmospheres. While not inherently as frightening as P.T. or other horror games it definitely gets across a dark and haunting atmosphere with plenty of scares.
The game starts out really solid but also has foreshadowing of the game’s main weakness. You start out in a dark room with just a TV on and your dad pounding on a door. You need to use the TV as a flashlight by spinning it around and finding a handle to a cupboard on the wall to get a hammer. You get to crawl your way into the rest of the house which acts as the main area you will be solving puzzles. Madison is all about puzzle solving as that’s all you do. The first half of the game can be solved fairly easily. It’s the same affair of examining everything you can and finding that one thing you can pick up and can use on something you remembered it would go to. A lot of finding and matching at the beginning. In between, there is the main gameplay mechanics which involved a Polaroid camera. A Camera Obscura isn’t unusual in horror games. The entire Fatal Frame series is based around one, but here it’s used to advance the story. There are Polaroids laying around objects you can photograph. When you do you can shake the photo to expose it. While most photos don’t need this some need to be exposed to show a number for a combination lock.
I have to give the developers credit for the great layout of the house. This is a huge issue with a lot of horror games. Many require tons of backtracking through the same area and they grow as you unlock new areas. The house in Madison is well laid out with lots of landmarks to memorize where certain things are. I knew the main starting point with the “ritual area” was past the dining room. The basement was in the main hallway etc. The house is laid out like all horror games should be laid out. Make it memorable with easy landmarks because you trek through the house probably hundreds of times. Most of the rooms hold puzzle areas or transport you to new areas to solve puzzles. You also have an 8-item inventory limit and need to trek to your safe often to store and pick up items. Outside of occasional scripted events, not much happens in the house outside of sounds. There is one scene in a water-filled basement that was probably the scariest in the whole game. The developers really used audio to spook the crap out of you and draw out many fears people would have. Creepy static on radios with unclear voices is haunting.
When you’re wandering around the house nothing happens in between puzzles. Just a lot of squeaking doors, wind blowing, slamming doors, etc. There’s Luca’s breathing that gets annoying as his deep sighs repeat often, but the house itself is just haunting. The sterile lighting, the ultra-realistic look to the house, and the head bobbing. If you played the P.T. demo you know what I’m talking about. This is the new-age horror style that needs to get perfected and Madison definitely sets a new bar. Here’s where things take a bit of a dive. Halfway through when you get to the infamous candle puzzle area in the church many players may turn the game off. You must find four different candles in two different time periods and match those colors that are associated with religious imagery. You also have to navigate through four different mazes and if that candle’s image isn’t there you have to backtrack, go back to the other time period, navigate the same maze again, then repeat this three more times. The one thing the game doesn’t tell you is that if you listen to the confessional too early a ghost stalks you and can kill you if you don’t place the candle down before he shows up. Thankfully he only exists in one time period. I was able to place the first three candles before doing the last one, but many players won’t know this.
Then there’s the clock face puzzle. You must match clock faces that are shown on five different walls but the correct faces are spread out around the house. It’s a lot of memorization and backtracking. And then there’s the Blue Knees ghost puzzle that was incredibly frustrating at the very end. None of this spoils the story, but the last half of the game will really try players’ patience. The game got so much right up until this point and it felt like filler to stretch a 2-hour game into 5. Horror game developers please listen. You don’t need insanely mind-bending puzzles to be a good game. I know this is a trope, but please stop it. No one liked them 25 years ago and no one likes them now. We play horror games for the atmosphere, scares, and intense scenes, not puzzles.
In the end, the story itself is open to self-interpretation. It’s not obvious or clear when the credits roll about what happens to Madison or Luca, but what is obvious are the possible reasons why the ending occurred the way it did. Props to the developers for making an open-ending without being cryptic or making no sense. The visuals are excellent and the production values are up there, but those later half puzzles really bring the game down quite a bit. If you can push past them you’re in for a treat with this being one of the best horror games in recent years.