In recent years, there’s been no shortage of psychological horror titles. Following the infamous release of the “playable teaser” P.T. in 2014, numerous teams have tried to capture the photorealistic allure of Hideo Kojima’s fascinating experiment. While respectable efforts like Visage manage to cleverly pull inspirations from this groundbreaking horror demo, plenty of other shallow attempts to merely duplicate P.T. have bloodied the waters of this beloved sub-genre.
The upcoming first-person psychological horror title MADiSON from Bloodious Games appeared to be yet another would-be endeavor to succeed the distressing groundwork laid out by Kojima. However, after diving into the first few hours of this atmospheric horror experience, and despite the apparent influence, it’s clear Bloodious Games doesn’t intend to simply copy its contemporaries. Instead, MADiSON combines elements of Fatal Frame and P.T. to deliver an unforgiving, unnerving descent into darkness.
An atmospheric house of horrors
Arguably the most important component of effective horror is atmosphere. Ghosts, demons, and zombies can certainly be frightening in their own regards, but without the proper stage, these ghastly props just don’t garner worthy scares. In MADiSON, the significance of atmosphere is immediately established.
The game opens with our teen protagonist Luca locked in a disheveled room lit solely by the glow of a CRT TV. What appears to be your father stands outside this grungy space screaming and banging on the bolted door. An ominous, boarded-up breach in the right wall serves as your only means of escape. Cautiously fumbling through the darkness and piles of trash eventually rewards players with a hammer, which can be used to remove these wood planks.
From here, the potent cocktail of caliginous environments, dingy, detailed household artifacts, and auditory embellishments elevate every moment of MADiSON. Much like my first time playing Resident Evil 7, this tense psychological horror title consistently kept me in a state of unease. The tight corridors of this haunting home teetered on the brink of claustrophobia, and each slow entry into a new location was a fearful march into the unknown. All of these atmospheric elements are uplifted by wickedly placed surrealist visuals.
A picture’s worth 1,000 screams
Vintage cameras and psychological horror have proven to be a rather potent pairing. From legendary cult classics like Fatal Frame to modern releases like Martha is Dead, an indisputable sense of apprehension is associated with capturing terrors hidden from the naked eye. MADiSON continues this photographic horror tradition while incorporating a creative twist. Instead of staring through a traditional viewfinder, players haphazardly wield an instant camera that provides short, gut-wrenching bursts of illumination.
As previously discussed, lighting plays a critical role in the presentation of MADiSON. Flickering light fixtures and the occasional table lamp provide a brief reprieve from the surrounding darkness, but there is a wealth of areas utterly devoid of any radiance. These stretches of discomforting blackness are where your instant camera’s flash literally shines. Unfortunately, the only thing more horrifying than the unlit unknown is discovering something unexpected at the other end of your flash.
I adored and abhorred MADiSON’s robust implementation of camera-centric gameplay. On the one hand, fresh mechanics like shaking your promptly captured picture to slowly develop the essential clues captured within the frame supply fascinating puzzle-driven progression. On the other hand, the anxiety associated with every anticipated photograph was a lot on my ol’ ticker. MADiSON delightfully incorporates photography in a way that is both meaningful to the plot and downright nightmarish.
Disturbing family ties
Like many other psychological horror titles, MADiSON delves into an array of heavy themes. From delicate topics like suicide, depression, and mental illness to demonic possession and witchcraft, the game’s introductory content warning seems abundantly warranted. MADiSON cryptically unveils the tale of Luca’s domestic troubles, their hellish history, and the atrocities that occurred within this family home’s walls.
In cliché horror trope fashion, Luca awakens with a limited recollection of his current predicament or the events that ultimately culminated in his entrapment in this makeshift prison. A string of cultish documents and mesmerizing supernatural clues push players towards Luca’s desperately desired answers. What happened to your family? Why is your father aggressively “protecting” you? And who is Madison? In my few hours of playing, I was captivated by these mysteries and eager to uncover the resolutions.
I haven’t concluded the events of MADiSON, so I can’t definitively claim whether or not Bloodious Games manages to deliver a successful and respectful psychological horror narrative. Endings are always a challenge in the genre, and in many cases, they can absolutely make or break the entire experience. Despite its uncomfortable subject matter, my early impressions of the game’s storytelling are markedly positive. I’m looking forward to seeing whether this development team sticks the landing.
Horror on the horizon
MADiSON is one of many exciting upcoming horror games. The combination of stunning visuals, genuine scares, and captivating environments certainly make this atmospheric title one to watch for fans of the genre. In a sea of psychological horror games attempting to replicate what could have been with P.T. and Silent Hills, MADiSON firmly establishes itself as a worthwhile entry showcasing a glimmer of genuine originality.
MADiSON is scheduled to release on July 8, 2022, for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, PS5, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.