Madison is a thrilling psychological horror title that will give you the complete P.T. experience. With a camera as your defense mechanism, and a spiraling ever-changing house, Madison will have you figuring out elaborate puzzles while haunting you with frightening scares keeping you up at night.
Developer: Bloodius Games
Platforms: PC (Steam), PS4/PS5 (Reviewed on PS5), Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: July 8th, 2022
If you take the game word-for-word, then the story is about a kid named Luca who wakes up in what seems to be the middle of a possession by a demonic spirit. His family has been murdered, and his Dad pounds on the door yelling at him in both an angry, yet sad, voice. Luca then has to find a way to get around the house and out to freedom, but instead is met with several puzzles, and a very strange ritual to complete, instead. If you don’t take the game’s text literally, then it comes together as a physiological horror tale about mental health…which I think adds a different twist to how you see things.
The game comes at you right away by squeezing you down a dark corridor, lights flickering on and off, and creepy sounds all around you. These horror elements are so well done, I was frightened right off the bat. When you finally make it to your first puzzle, you realize the house is constantly shifting all around you.
Most P.T. styled “corridor” games literally have you walking down a hallway and opening doors to change the map, but Madison does this concept so well, you could simply turn around and the entire layout changes. It’s so interesting to hear a door slam behind you, open it up, and you find an entirely new area. In other cases you rush to what was once a crime scene, open the door and instead see a simple broom in the closet. The disorienting feel of merely walking, or looking around, totally changing things takes that uneasy feeling to another level. It’s so swift and smooth, you don’t even realize it happened right away half the time.
Later levels in Madison had me so backwards it was fascinating trying to figure out how the house was changing so I could trigger the next part of the puzzle. This is another thing Madison does nearly perfectly. Every aspect of the game revolves around new sets of puzzles you need to figure out and piece together.
It’s been so long since a game offered such great puzzle work like this! I say this because the game has both straightforward puzzles (triangle key, triangle slot in door) and then there are other puzzles that will have you scratching your head, and feeling accomplished when you figure it out. Some of the puzzles even had me writing things down in real life—like maze clues I found laying on the ground in a cathedral level so I wouldn’t get lost.
Honestly, the lack of the game hand-holding you to the answer made things much more interesting. The clues to the puzzles could be anything from visual clues, outright clues by the main character, or subtle audio clues (anything from whispers to hints in audio recordings). Sometimes you just need to look at the bigger picture, or even literally take a picture, to figure out something. One of the neat things with Madison is many of the puzzles are randomly generated answers. Even on several playthroughs you might not have the same lock codes, and searching guides online won’t necessarily give you the answer. It’s also interesting to note the game plays off this with several codes scratched into objects too.
The audio clues are partly why I highly suggest playing this game with headphones, or the audio turned way up. The audio alone adds such depth to the game that’ll enhance that creepy feeling. At one point in the game you are on an elevator and the recording on the elevator is telling this story, each level is a new aspect of the story. I won’t spoil anything more to this, but listening to the recording slowly creep towards literally talking about you was such an unnerving experience. It was way more creepy than hearing the whispers of “Luca” in dark hallways. Other times you can hear prayers in the distance, creeks in the floorboards, or a shuffling in the attic. It all adds up to make you feel in danger, and oftentimes questioning if you want to turn the corner.
Of course Madison wouldn’t be horror, without actual horror, but even that is done at new heights. While there are few actual “bad guys” in the game, you are still being chased and can be killed very easily. This is mostly due to the fact the only weapon you have is a polaroid camera.
The camera is used to take pictures of different areas which will sometimes show clues and hidden objects for puzzles, but it’s also your only defense against bad guys afraid of the light. Sometimes you have a split second to snap a picture for safety, so most of the game consists of running away and trying not to die. The camera is often the only source of light in extremely dark lit rooms too, so that quick flash followed by slowly revealing the polaroid in your hand is your only way to navigate the area.
This leads to a really satisfying horror element. Jump scares literally had me flashing my camera at nothing, then at other times ducking for cover behind objects I thought were less scary. The game does an amazing job of changing scenery on you, but also has the classic mechanic of an enemy constantly appearing behind you. In Madison this is mostly a statue that haunts you around every turn…And yes it got me so many times. I mean all it does is sit there and yet here I am jumping off my couch in fear.
There is a different bad guy in each chapter of the game, and the last chapter of the game got me so good. There is a song you hear that describes the monster, and a book showing what he looks like. After gathering this information I turned a corner to see the bad guy poking his head around a door, then quickly scurrying away. It scared me so bad I didn’t want to walk in that direction for some time.
What Madison does phenomenally well is it gets you comfortable for a while, only to scare you. For example at one point I was being rather comfortable flashing the camera everywhere I went. If a room was dark I’d flash the camera to see the room lit up for a second, then move through it. I turned down one hallway, flashed the camera, BAM bad guy jumps scares the shit out of me. Another aspect is that the game has that damn statue constantly following you around. You might get used to it randomly popping up, then one instance it’s not a statue anymore and you need a quick bathroom break.
The horror aspect in Madison is so much more than simple jump scares. The eerie feeling you get constantly and the words used to describe situations in the story, everything has you feeling so uneasy you are constantly scared to take a step forward. The jumpscares increase near the end of the game, but honestly I never felt “safe” at any point.
What would the game be without a story? Madison doesn’t outright throw a story at you. Instead you are literally playing the story, which means there isn’t a whole lot to go off of. You can interpret the story any way you want—like I said earlier—which is neat. It was satisfying listening to tapes that were slowly uncovering secrets and history of characters, and it was creepy slowly learning more about what was haunting the house. The game elevates itself in every aspect the further you move along, and treks down a path that is so extreme I was surprised it went as far as it did. The interesting thing is the ending adds closure by basically looping back to the beginning. I didn’t really understand this until I played the game again.
The only real critique I have for the game is sometimes the puzzles don’t add up with your previous knowledge. For example, you need a shovel to open one object, a crowbar to open a floor board, then a hammer to do other random things. I’m not sure why Luca can’t just multi-task with one tool in hand, or why certain objects randomly appear when you’ve wandered the house 3 times already. It felt like a cheesy way to force you to trek back across dark corridors multiple times to go pick up the tool you needed. I’m not entirely sure how I felt coming to a puzzle and realizing “ahh crap, the tool I need is on the other side of the house.” Luca can only carry 5 things, which wasn’t even enough slots to fully complete some puzzles. Any unused tools were left in a safe where you could store items and take them out as needed (technically there’s 8 slots that Luca can hold, but 3 of the slots can’t be changed).