[REVIEW] MADiSON – A great horror with a few focal issues

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable visiting my grandparents. Maybe it was the old people’s smell, an odd combination of Werther’s Original, Marlboro, and Vicks Vaporub. It might also have something to do with the old pictures, taken in times when selfies were horrible and nobody ever smiled. And the wooden clocks, don’t get me started on those. I dunno man, it always got under my skin. And now I know why, thanks to this indie horror puzzle/walking sim MADiSON, in which an old Polaroid camera is both your best friend and your worst nightmare.

Straight off the bat, MADiSON is one of the games that had me intrigued ever since I played the demo. Coming from a small team going by the name Bloodious Games, MADiSON is one of those perfect examples of hard work paying off. If you wouldn’t know any better, you could be tricked into thinking that the game got made by a big AAA dev. But the truth is that this is a game brought to you by only a handful of fanatic game creators. And that alone is a reason to back this project, in my honest opinion.

But hey, most of us are no charity workers and only interested in the good shit. Well, MADiSON is definitely good. Hell, in some aspects you could even call it great. But for all the great things that it does, not-so-great things balance the scales. While the story tends to reel you in and gets you down on your blue knees (you’ll eventually get the reference), item management, lack of options, nauseating head-bobbing, and way too clever puzzles might throw you off.

Speaking of a story, let’s start there. In MADiSON we get to walk around as Luca, a poor fella trapped in the house of his late grandpa. For some reason, your hands are covered in blood and dad thinks something’s wrong with you. Packed with only an old Polaroid camera, Luca ventures out to discover what the fuck’s happening to him. Why are my hands bloody? Why am I being locked in a room? Does anyone know how to get Comedy Central on this old TV that only shows static? You know, the important stuff. Oh Luca, if only you knew what you’re about to see…

Because Luca is about to see some strange shit. Apparently, granddad lived a great portion of his life in a house that belonged to one Madison. This Madison had a strange hobby; killing people. Not online in Warzone, but fo realz. Something with occult stuff. I won’t spoil too much here. But Madison’s actions while alive have caused your grandparents some serious issues in death. Poor old grandma. Everyone thought she was sick. But it turns out that Madison’s weird weekend activities have wreaked havoc on the family and are continuing to do so with you.

Let me tell you, the premise above makes for some atmospheric horror. Obviously drawing inspiration from great horror games like P.T., Layers of Fear, and Visage (no… not you, Evil Inside), MADiSON absolutely knows how to turn a house into a mental death trap. It’s the little things that do it. Subtle sounds, which unfortunately sometimes make no sense at all. Dim-lit rooms with three decades worth of nicotine on the walls. The eerie pictures. And let’s not forget the strange (occult) writings on the walls, the newspaper clippings, and the offputting voice recordings scattered around the house.

And even though MADiSON hardly puts you in real danger, you constantly get the idea that you could snuff it any time. The tiniest of creaks can make you go “Oh Lawd, take me to thy kingdom”, even though it’s nothing. And that’s basically because the danger is there. It shows itself ever so often. Looking at you. Studying you. Fucking with your mind. Just enough for you to lose your sanity so it can strike when you’re at your all-time low. And that time will come. Oh, it will. Just give it a few hours.

MADiSON screenshot

The question is; will your loss of sanity get induced by the entity in the room or the puzzles in need of solving to make progress? Because while many solutions are quite obvious if you know where to look, others can be rather infuriating. Especially in these cases, a lack of direction or any kind of guidance in the form of a hint is sorely missed. I – for one – have lost more than a half-hour on a puzzle that needed to be finished by taking a picture, but nothing happened because I apparently wasn’t in the right spot to trigger a scene. And to be fair, most mindboggling puzzles have a pretty obvious solution once you’ve figured it out. But getting to that point sometimes requires you to think – and walk – further than you’d like.

It’s the walking in particular that bugged me the most. With no option of turning off head-bobbing (or rather swaying), Luca comes across as someone who’s been gradually sipping on grandpa’s old cough medicine. But that might also be the reason why running isn’t a skill that Luca possesses since that would probably make you puke all over your desk. Instead, Luca can only wobble a little faster when you hold shift down. Me, I just taped down the shift button after getting annoyed by Luca’s tedious walking pace.

Then again, the pacing is probably one of the reasons why MADiSON gets under your skin the way it does. If the game wouldn’t take away your mobility and carrying capacity (which is very limited, so pick your items wisely), the feeling of dread would likely be significantly reduced. And to think that the only ‘weapon’ you have is an old camera… yeah. That’s some great utilization of classic horror elements if you ask me.

MADiSON screenshot

Now, there’s one thing that I would like to discuss before I come to my conclusion, which is the pricing. To many, marketing an indie horror game for $35 is a little up there. I mean, most people are so spoiled nowadays that anything with a price tag of $15 or up needs to come from a AAA publisher. And while I get where this point of view is coming from, I don’t necessarily agree with it on MADiSON.

Agreed, this is a small-budget game with a handful of developers behind it. There’s no million-dollar team with a million-dollar marketing campaign. But this is a team that gives us something good. Something well-made. Something that doesn’t feel like it’s been conjured up by a big studio that cranks out a dime a dozen. This is actually a team that deserves to make some money off of their debut title, knowing that a big chunk of it will go to distributors. And let’s face it. If you’re comfortable forking over $70-$80 to a studio that squeezes out games like it’s nothing – even if it’s a remake – you shouldn’t cry over $35 for this magnificent horror experience.

If you really feel like crying, cry because of Blue Knees. You’ll know what I mean when you meet him…

Psychological 'pic' of the moment
The Picture Perfect
No lack of atmos-fear
There's actually a good story behind it, even if it ain't the most original
Impresses both visually and audibly
You get to read a nice kids book and listen to swag vinyl records while being chased by some teethy dude
The Out of Focus
The head-bobbing (or rather swaying) is really annoying
The fact that you can't turn it off is even more annoying
Some puzzles and solutions to them might be a little far-fetched sometimes
You can't hug the teethy dude, even though he clearly needs some lovin'