To anyone familiar with the recent spate of first-person horror titles, MADiSON will seem instantly familiar. With its moody lighting, tight corridors, and affinity for jump scares, there’s little here that really sets it apart from the likes of Outlast or Layers of Fear on the surface. Diving into the game a bit deeper, however, unveils some pretty interesting gameplay mechanics, mainly driven by an item you’ll be carrying around for the majority of the experience: a polaroid camera.
The camera itself provides multiple functions; some of which are pretty obvious, and others that might not be quite so clear until you start using it properly. Its main use, of course, is to light your way in the darkness. MADiSON is, naturally, a very dark game (although a patch to add in brightness settings proves more than welcome), so there will be multiple instances where you’ll struggle to see ahead of you without any clear source of light. This is where your camera comes into play: a quick flash of the shutter will instantly reveal your surroundings, if only for the briefest of moments. It’s a clever way of showing you key items that may otherwise be obscured, but it’s also an effective way to implement some pretty pant-wettlingly scary jump scares.
The camera’s other use is to reveal supernatural elements within your surroundings. This only becomes clear once you start clicking the shutter at every available opportunity, and you might even stumble upon this particular mechanic by accident if you’ve not read up on it beforehand. Despite the grounded setting, there are numerous supernatural elements to the game that are either revealed by the flash of the camera shutter or the polaroid images themselves, so if you find yourself in a bit of a bind and aren’t quite sure which way to go next, just keep taking pictures; chances are it’ll trigger an event or give you some sort of hint as to what you need to do.
All told, while the camera mechanic isn’t the most original idea in the world, its implementation is pretty well done. It reminded us of a key moment in the recent horror film host, and its usage here is probably just as effective. What’s perhaps even more impressive are the jump scares themselves; given that they often occur as a result of the camera shutter going off, their occurrences are very much driven by the player, rather than feeling like they’re baked into the narrative during scripted moments. It effectively raises your anxiety as you play, because you never quite know whether taking a picture will result in a jump scare or not.
Visually, MADiSON looks pretty great for the most part. The lighting is particularly impressive and makes for some truly atmospheric moments. In terms of art direction, the environments are well designed, but there are instances of repeated assets, like picture frames and certain pieces of furniture. Given the impressive visuals, performance expectedly takes a bit of a hit on the switch, with impacted frame rate being the most egregious flaw here. The good news, though, is that the gameplay itself is slow and methodical throughout, so this likely won’t prove much of an issue for most people.
If you’re a fan of horror games that focus more on atmosphere and scares rather than combat, then MADiSON is a no-brainer. It’s not the most original game and it mostly follows the lead of pioneers like the aforementioned Outlast or even Hideo Kojima’s pt, but that doesn’t matter. What you’ve got here is an effective horror experience regardless, and one that you’re going to enjoy from start to finish.