MADiSON analysis

MADiSON, the debut title from developer Bloodious Games, is a first-person puzzle horror game where players control Luca, a teenage boy with a passion for photography and mutilation. In MADiSON, players solve various puzzles to uncover clues about a mysterious serial killer, a demon possessing a children’s book, and Luca’s dead family. Along the way, they watch Luca being tortured mentally and physically by malicious creatures who want to inhabit the living realm with his body or kill Luca. Veteran gamers familiar with standard horror tropes may initially view MADiSON as an Outlast or PT clone. While the game seems to take inspiration from those games, it also distinguishes itself with its Polaroid camera mechanic. MADiSON requires players to take pictures of various objects to progress through puzzles, and the camera can also be used to light up dark areas and ward off demons. MADiSON makes good use of this mechanic to create subtle horror. In one segment, Luca walks down a hallway to his grandparents’ living room after surviving a terrifying encounter. A statue that used to be located at the end of this hallway was suddenly enveloped in darkness and red light, and looked… dead. By snapping a photo and waving it around to clear it, players will see that the image is bloodied and burned – the hallmark of the game’s main antagonist. Without even showing a picture in picture, MADiSON fills the player with dread just by hinting that danger lies ahead. MADiSON scary red light clock Bloodious Games creates tension that is palpable from start to finish, mainly due to the amazing sound design. Creaking wood, slamming doors, and eerie voices keep the player on edge. Picture frames scattered on the ground unexpectedly and shadows suddenly moved in Luca’s peripheral vision. Even though some clues are repetitive, they never fail to unsettle the player. There’s no time to relax, and the sound design reinforces that. Above the excellent sound design is the impressive voice acting, particularly from Luca’s voice actor, Jacob Judge. Luca’s fear and pain are evident based on the way he speaks and complains about the events of the story. While many lines are read in similar tones, it’s still refreshing to hear a horror protagonist speak as if he’s in mortal danger. The other voice actors, although rarely used, are also captivating in their delivery. MADiSON also incorporates overt horror in the form of jump scares. Some of them are completely unpredictable and cause real fear when they happen. New players may be caught off guard by them, but longtime horror players will likely see them coming. Unfortunately, the game relies heavily on them, and in the end, they feel cheap and frustrating instead of scary. Their increasing frequency as the game progresses becomes more of a nuisance than a scare. These are particularly problematic during the final puzzle, which sends the player back to the beginning if they “jump scared.” MADiSON clock puzzle room with many clocks on the wall MADiSON’s puzzles are quite challenging, which can be beneficial for players looking for a more challenging horror game. The answers are not always obvious and require some deduction skills to figure out. There are different types of puzzles – though many still fall into the adventure game “find an item and use it” trope – and scares are scattered among them. Best of all, players regularly visit the locations seen at the start of the game, adding a lot of depth to the environment. The only downside of this higher challenge level is that sometimes the path forward is not clear, so players may need a guide to know what the next step is, especially if they are playing on the hardest difficulty. Even on the easiest difficulty, players can get confused about their next steps. Luca occasionally offers clues through dialogue and drawings in his notebook, but they are very vague and don’t always point the way forward. The game features high-quality textures and amazing visuals and level design, which is unusual in most indie horror games. A great deal of care was put into designing each location Luca visits, from his grandparents’ home to the sprawling cathedral from the 1980s. In particular, the attention to detail in the destruction of the house is excellent. While most of the areas aren’t visually appealing, they perfectly capture the eerie atmosphere the game strives for. MADiSON introductory steam room photo Where MADiSON drops the ball is the story. It’s not hard to figure out: a demon is trying to possess Luca through a terrifying ritual involving dismemberment and sacrifices. That predictability is precisely where the story falters. In the middle of the game, players can easily predict how the ending will play out. This makes subsequent playthroughs pointless other than finding the achievement. The story also suffers from a lack of connection between the three demons: Madison Hale, Blue Knees, and Hans Gouring. Madison is a serial killer and the demon who tries to take over Luca, Blue Knees is a completely separate demon who tortures his grandmother because he read her book, and Hans Gouring is a third demon who runs the gas chamber during World War 2. Each demon is its own entity and has no clear connection to any other demon. While this gave the developers more flexibility to create fun and unique segments for each demon, in the big picture, it wasn’t clear to the player why all these demons were crashing into Luca’s home and tormenting him and his family. While the story doesn’t deliver anything new, it serves the game well and provides a platform for great game design and well-crafted horror. Go to MADiSON without any pretense of a groundbreaking story to find a terrifying journey into the minds of wounded and neglected murderers. Overall, MADiSON is a great first game by a new developer and is sure to give a lot of scares. MADiSON is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch. GameRant received a PS5 code for this review.

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