MADiSON has bloodcurdling scares, but obtuse puzzles undercut the fun
Inverse score: 5/10
Partway through psychological horror game, MADiSON, I found myself in a petrifying maze.
Dark hallways are peppered with frequent bone-chilling appearances by a vengeful demon: The titular Madison Hale herself. After jumping out of my seat one too many times, I had no choice but to move my analog stick forward to stare at the ground as I trudged ahead — dreading to face the menacing creature standing in my way.
But after getting lost in the seemingly endless set of corridors, I began to get frustrated. Everything looked the same, I could barely see, and what I thought had to be the path forward led to a dead end. Sure, the recurring appearances by Madison were enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, but the obtuse design of the puzzles often left me unsure of what to do, undercutting the chills with a myriad of pacing issues.
MADiSON is a first-person psychological-horror adventure from Bloodious Games. In it, you play as the demon-possessed Luca, equipped only with your wits and a Polaroid camera. You’re tasked with unraveling the mystery of a serial murderer who still torments the living from the grave. This game has been in the works for several years now, but MADiSON could have used more time in the oven, particularly due to its convoluted puzzles that frustrate more often than they satisfy.
The creepiest vibes
Similar to Hideo Kojima’s legendary Silent Hills P.T. demo from 2014, many of MADiSON’s scares stem from objects that move or change inside a creepy house – even without you necessarily interacting with them. An eerie Virgin Mary statue might appear at the end of the hallway, but if you turn around and look back, it’s gone. Or maybe, a door will completely disappear in front of you, leaving you to question your sanity, which is admittedly one of the game’s strengths.
You’ll explore the house, collect items, and use them to solve Resident Evil-like puzzles, requiring you to examine objects — such as a lit candle or framed picture — and place them in the correct spot to advance. Along with that, you come equipped with a nifty Polaroid camera, providing much-needed light and giving you access to photographs, which are used to solve some of the game’s puzzles.
Like Outlast or Layers of Fear, you can’t fight back in MADiSON — there’s no combat whatsoever. The storytelling on offer is largely environmental, circling around the atrocities of Madison Hale. In this regard, MADiSON is exceptional, with a genuinely terrifying atmosphere that kept me engaged, even throughout the less enjoyable gameplay sections.
One of the best moments in the game comes after a lengthy puzzle section that requires you to transport between different time periods to alter the present. It takes place inside a church, where the mutters of a seemingly possessed person can be heard from a nearby confessional. I was rewarded with a key that unlocks the confessional, but I didn’t want to open it. I was paralyzed with fear.
From the horrifying creaks and sounds of the house, to the ghastly photographs of victims along the walls, and the bloodcurdling imagery of demons you’d only expect to see in your nightmares, MADiSON absolutely nails the horror vibes. It’s just a shame the gameplay is so inconsistent.
A tedious slog
Some of the puzzles work well — one that requires you to collect and arrange different plates according to the order of the planets is a standout. But others are near-impossible to figure out without a guide. Many tasks are far more convoluted than you’d expect, and often feel deliberately misleading rather than satisfying. This isn’t always the case, but it happened enough times to sour the experience for me.
One of the worst puzzles forces you to maneuver an elevator up and down five floors as you take pictures according to dialogue coming through a loudspeaker. The solution isn’t immediately obvious, and even when you do figure out what to do, moving the lift is excruciatingly sluggish.
Poorly paced progression
Equally as frustrating is when the game gives you a tool — like a hammer — that could feasibly be used to get past an obstacle. Instead, you have to find another similar item to get the job done. Why does the hammer function for pulling nails out of wood, but doesn’t work to pry open a loose floorboard? Inconsistencies like these consistently hamper the experience.
Another baffling mechanic is the game’s limited inventory space of only eight items, which forces you to utilize safes for storage, of which I only encountered two or three in the entire game. This requires you to backtrack extensively to swap out items. A handful of the items aren’t droppable, so really, you only have five inventory slots available. Luca moves painfully slowly, making these treks even more tedious.
On top of the irritating puzzles and pacing problems, the majority of MADiSON is filled with Luca delivering exposition, which steals thunder from the otherwise intriguing plot and breaks immersion. The game trusts you enough to throw convoluted puzzles your way, but not enough to let the environmental storytelling do the talking.
MADiSON is simultaneously one of the most tantalizing, yet enraging horror experiences I’ve ever played. The atmosphere and story are rich and engaging, and the scares are turned up to 11. But the puzzles are so baffling that it’s tough to recommend this game even to devoted horror fans. That said, I’d love to see Bloodious Games take another stab at a horror project with more streamlined gameplay.
Inverse reviewed MADiSON on PC. It’s available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.