For anyone familiar with the recent spate of first-person horror titles, MADiSON will feel instantly familiar. With its moody lighting, narrow 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. However, digging a little deeper into the game reveals some pretty interesting gameplay mechanics, primarily driven by one item you’ll be carrying around for most of the experience: a polaroid camera.
The camera itself provides multiple functions; some of which are pretty obvious and others that may not be so clear until you start using it properly. Its main use, of course, is to light your way in the dark. MADiSON is naturally a very dark game (although a patch to add in the brightness settings is more than welcome), so there will be multiple instances where you’ll struggle to see in front of you without a 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 a brief moment. It’s a clever way of showing you key elements that might otherwise be hidden, but it’s also an effective way of rolling out some pretty terrifying jump scares.
The other use of the camera is to reveal supernatural elements within your environment. 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 haven’t read it beforehand. Despite the ground-based setting, there are numerous supernatural elements in the game that are revealed by the flash of the camera shutter or the polaroid images themselves, so if you find yourself in a bind and not quite sure which way to go drink. keep going, just keep taking photos; most likely it will trigger an event or give you some sort of hint as to what to do.
All in all, 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 from the recent horror movie. Host, and its use here is probably just as effective. What is perhaps even more impressive are the jump scares themselves; since they often occur as a result of the camera shutter being fired, their occurrences are largely player-driven, rather than feeling like they are integrated into the narrative during scripted moments. It effectively increases your anxiety while playing the game, because you never know if taking a shot will result in a jump scare or not.
Visually, MADiSON looks great for the most part. The lighting is particularly impressive and creates truly atmospheric moments. In terms of art direction, the environments are well designed, but there are instances of repeated assets, such as picture frames and certain pieces of furniture. Given the impressive visuals, performance is expected to suffer a bit on Switch, with the affected frame rate being the most noticeable flaw here. However, the good news is that the game itself is slow and methodical throughout, so this probably won’t be much of an issue for most people.
If you’re a fan of horror games that focus more on atmosphere and scares than combat, then MADiSON is a no-brainer. It’s not the most original game and it mostly follows in the footsteps of pioneers like the aforementioned Outlast or even Hideo Kojima’s. PT, But that does not matter. What you have here is an effective horror experience regardless, and one that you’re going to enjoy from start to finish.