It's hard to fully grasp the impact that P.T has had on modern horror. There's a certain familiar terror to the twisting of your own family home. Madison manages to understand this concept well and even adds a few frights you may not see coming.
This being said, P.T disappearing practically overnight means that terror exists only in our heads. We can imagine how great that came could be without having to deal with the fact it may not have been. Madison is an exercise in this style of horror design with all the limitations that come with it.
Those limitations often pop their head up in slightly strange control decisions and a litany of bugs. There's a clear vision at the heart of Madison that is occasionally entirely thrown aside by its presentation.
Dancing With The Devil
In Madison, you wake up in a room with a single TV, a tense atmosphere and a very angry father on the other side of the door. You have to think on your feet, use a handful of objects and get out of there into the next room. Although I have likened the game to P.T, the more apt analogy for this tone would be Resident Evil 7. You have to move through a crawlspace, where you find your grandfather's house.
Being dead for some time, it is abandoned, left with pieces of paper, tapes and enough environmental hazards to make Ethan Winters' hand flinch. It is instantly spooky, diving headfirst into the paranormal. Things move around behind you, horrible figures burst out and puzzles present themselves.
For the most part, these puzzles are quite interesting. Some of them are perhaps a little too esoteric to really enjoy but conversing with friends to get to the bottom of each secret was perhaps my favourite part of playing the game. You are inundated with objects to use and some of its solutions almost feel like playing those old Point and Click games. When the logic is clear, you feel really good but, when you can't figure it out, you are often left bashing different objects together until the next part of the game unlocks.
In Single File
The pacing can be a little choppy due to this. I regularly went from somewhat bored of the current puzzle to absolutely enthralled. One simple mechanic reminiscent of Silent Hill left me feeling very positive about the experience and a game-ending bug the next moment made me stop playing for the night. Playing on PlayStation 5, my save data deleted itself twice - leaving me to replay 60% of the game again. Frankly, this is not good enough for a game that is just about to release. I have been assured that is currently being addressed but it's worth hanging on for user reports before making the plunge.
Madison is a significantly better game on PC. There, a lot of its atmosphere and frights work as you aren't worried something will break. With a plot all about demonic possession, family trauma and enough horror cliches to pack into an elevator pitch, it manages to justify how hard it lingers on those tropes.
The story plays at an interesting pace and many of its scares feel justified. The game tries to make you feel like you're slowly losing your grip on sanity through slight movements and sounds, just inches away from where you can see. This works well and manages to stay engaging for the majority of the game's runtime.
Luca, our protagonist, is whiny and oblivious - something that could work really well at the start of the game - but his relative lack of development leaves him feeling annoying and underdeveloped. There are only so many times one character can dramatically exasperate before you wish they would stop. For Luca, that number is about four.
It's a shame this is the case because the look and sounds of the game are pretty great. There's a certain weightiness to your actions, really making you feel like a kid out of his depth. All those sounds culminate in a house that somehow has more character than our lead.
This brings us to the game's main mechanic, the camera. Picked up from the body of a mass murderer, you can use it to trigger certain parts of the environment to change its form, produce new items or will new paths into existence. Be it a manifestation of hate or the world through someone else's eyes, it's a pretty great mechanic that has so much potential. In a later church-centric level, this shows its teeth in interesting ways but it can be a little inconsistent in moment-to-moment gameplay. At certain points, I found myself taking pictures of anything slightly suspicious in the hopes it would point me in the right direction.
This constant tug of war between smart ideas and finicky pacing permeates the entire experience of playing Madison. Taking away its bugs and inconsistent controls reveals something rather brilliant underneath but it's unsure how much of that poor pacing is down to those issues. Where some might chalk this up to momentary problems, others may think it's a flaw in the very design. For me, Madison sits somewhere in between.