Does Madison have a regular quadrilateral for a backyard?
P.T. has a lot to answer for. Its success as a simple, yet incredibly engaging horror game with gorgeous visuals opened the door to all sorts of terrifying imitators. From Layers of Fear to the utterly horrifying Visage there have been an array of realistic-looking, supernatural horror games with engaging stories that have never been light on the scares. The most recent one to make your favourite YouTube personality squeal for your amusement is Madison, and I have to say it’s one of the scariest games I’ve played for some time.
You play as Luca, waking up covered with blood in a locked room. After solving a couple of puzzles, you find your way through a crawlspace into your grandfather’s house, and things quickly get weird. Luca finds a birthday present in the form of an instant camera, and it quickly becomes apparent that taking photos of certain things causes supernatural effects, some of them less than friendly. Over the course of the four-or-so hour story, Luca learns of Madison Hale, a woman who carried out ritual murders to summon demons, and now Luca himself is caught up in it. He’ll need to discover what he has to do with these rituals and find a way out of the house before the horrors within destroy him.
Madison is a linear horror game at its heart. You’ll spend the bulk of your time wandering around a very well-rendered house, solving puzzles to unlock more rooms and discover more of the story. Your camera plays a significant role in this, often revealing things that can’t be seen by the naked eye, or lighting dark pathways as you try to progress. The puzzles will lead you down pathways that simply shouldn’t exist in this house, with you ending up in a number of different areas, such as churches and underground tunnels. Each puzzle feels quite unique from those that have come before it, meaning you rarely get bored and constantly feel smart for having figured them out. This lack of repetition sometimes makes Madison feel like a really tight horror experience, with little of your time wasted.
I say little, as Luca’s walking speed is ludicrously slow, and I spent the majority of the game holding down the sprint button just to get around at an almost reasonable speed. Considering how often you’ll find yourself walking around the house working out what to do next, that walk speed can become gradually more irritating as time passes. Then there’s the carry limit that Luca has. He can only carry eight items, three of which he will always have on him, meaning you really only have five slots for carrying items. You can backtrack to a safe to store things in, but all this does is slow things down for no real reason. In a survival horror, this approach makes sense, as you need to decide between taking a potential puzzle item or more ammo for your weapon, but without the combat element here there’s no real reason to force these choices on the player.
The lack of combat means you frequently feel vulnerable, whether there’s currently a direct threat or not. There are only a couple of sections in which you can actually be killed by creatures, but the atmosphere is incredibly oppressive and every little thing will set you on edge. Yes, there are jump scares, with ghosts appearing in your path to give you that jolt of terror, but its everything around those moments that really work. The jump scares feel earned, as that atmosphere builds constantly. You’ll be walking around the house and every few moments you’ll hear some creaking elsewhere, a door opening, or a plate clattering. Every single one of those sounds gave me a momentary pause as my brain tried to decide if I was in danger or not.
During those sections in which you are in danger, the tension really racks up, as you can be killed with little warning if you aren’t paying close enough attention to sound cues. Luckily, you aren’t set back too far should you die, and you’ll often find your inventory and most recently solved puzzle will all be intact. This is quite generous and reduces that backtracking the item system causes.
What did cause a lot of backtracking though, was an infuriating bug I came across. Now, I played Madison on Xbox Series X so I can’t comment on if this occurs elsewhere, but every time an achievement popped, I would be sent back to the main menu, with no recent autosave to fall back on. I’d often have to replay ten plus minutes of gameplay to catch up to where I was before. I realise this would only occur once for each achievement, but it lead to some sections being significantly less frightening due to having seen them several times already. It’s such a bizarre but, and I can’t understand how it wasn’t picked up during playtesting. At the time of writing it was still occurring, so I hope it has since been resolved.
The overall presentation of the game is excellent. Visually, Madison is quite gorgeous, with a wonderfully rendered dilapidated house. The use of lighting is wonderful, playing tricks on you as you round corners and bringing your attention to points of interest. I really can’t stress enough how good this game looks. The sound too is marvellous, with limited music but huge volume of sound effects. That atmosphere I’ve mentioned already works quite so well thanks to those sound effects. Creaking doorways, chiming clocks, and objects moving when they shouldn’t are all done just so fantastically well. The voice work is mostly excellent too, although I found Luca to be a little over the top at times, almost verging into campy territory which occasionally threatened to derail the tone. You can switch the voice acting off in the menu though, which is a nice feature.
Madison is an excellent addition to the narrative heavy horror sub genre, and is one you shouldn’t pass up if you like a good scare. I found myself constantly unsettled, but keen to continue thanks to the interesting narrative and desire to discover just where I’d end up next. If you’re a fan of this more recent style of horror, then you absolutely should give Madison a go.