When games utilize a camera as a focal point for their horror games, most tend to gravitate towards the Fatal Frame series. It was one of the first games to make an old-fashion camera a core mechanic and has since birthed a franchise that continues to this day with Maiden of Black Water. What sets MADiSON apart from Fatal Frame and other like-minded games is its atmospheric awareness of its inspirations.
Like other indie horror games we've looked at in the past, MADiSON is a combat-less horror thriller that provides emphasis on searching for items and manipulating the environment. How this is achieved is through the old Polaroid camera that the protagonist, Luca, comes in contact with. The camera takes advantage of the supernatural and takes photos of what appears peculiar, which is often the case when you're trapped in an occult house and a demon is possessing you.
The story of MADiSON is told over time as the only thing the player knows is that they are locked in a room with their dad banging the door down. After realizing the house he's in is constantly changing, Luca decides to explore for a way out. He finds an old polaroid that becomes the core mechanic of MADiSON, allowing him to take pictures of the environment. It can also be used for quick bursts of light in dark passages.
The game doesn't tell you when it's best to take photos, but it's encouraged to do so on anything that looks weird. If there are piles of photos on the floor, chances are something will happen if a photo is taken. Likewise, if a door that's supposed to be there is missing, solving a puzzle or taking a photo of the space itself seems to be the way to do it. In the beginning, the puzzles are as easy as looking for a missing item but things get complicated as according to the plot itself.
Eventually, Luca will discover that there is potentially a demon possessing him and that measures were taken to exorcize the demon. Symptoms apparently include seeing a mass number of cockroaches and other oddities, which explains the overabundance of the former. Eventually, the first real puzzle begins in opening a locked well. The "logical" thing the player could do is grab a nearby shovel and attempt to pry the well open. Not only will it break the shovel, rendering it useless, but it will also give the player a trophy for their efforts.
Shortly before the player arrives at the well, they are required to take a picture of a weird pentagram diagram with symbols on each point. Coincidentally, the symbols on the locks match the symbols on the diagram. This means that Luca will need to cross-reference the photo to line the locks with the symbols. With the camera being a core mechanic in MADiSON, the ability to look at the photos at any given time beats backtracking for clues. That is of course the player needs to go back to the safe room as the number of items the player carries is limited.
Down the well they will come across a police radio, sharing the fate of what happened to the previous person who entered the house. It turns out they were a part of a search party who would meet the same grim fate as the ones who were lost. Suddenly the player is surrounded by yellow tape and an oddity is scurrying about. What Luca must do is take a photo when the beeping of the radio reaches its fastest. After several shots, the monster briefly reveals itself in classic jump scare fashion.
The atmospheric qualities of MADiSON is easily one of its high points yet I personally feel the jump scares are overkill. There are several instances where you can die but in other situations, the fear is maintained through scares. It makes its point the first few times, but it quickly overstays its welcome. I loved the camera mechanic but I felt like the jump scares were too much. Not in an "AAAH SCARY" kind of way but an "Alright, we get it."
Overall, considering I'm a scaredy cat who hates the genre of jumpscare horror games, MADiSON was a fun experience. It took a setting I've become overly familiar with and utilized it to solve puzzles. I wish that the game took more liberty in letting the environment tell its story, however. I need to play a game that instills genuine discomfort rather than relying on cheap jumps to get me to evoke an emotion. Someday I'll have my first impressions on such a game, right?
MADiSON is available on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S.