After the monumental impact of games like Amnesia, Outlast, and Hideo Kojima’s doomed Silent Hills teaser P.T, horror fans have witnessed somewhat of a resurgence of the genre after franchises like Resident Evil and Dead Space started leaning toward more over-the-top action. While some fans have since taken umbrage with the focus on vulnerability and the distinct lack of any weaponry in many modern horror titles, there’s no denying their effectiveness at making you break out in a cold sweat and reach for a clean pair of underwear.
MADiSON is a game that very much leans into that sense of vulnerability and helplessness. You play as Luca, a seemingly normal protagonist who awakens with his hands covered in blood. With little context provided at the start of the game, it’s your job to navigate a series of dark and dreary rooms in order to get to the root of your predicament. The house itself is very reminiscent of games like P.T and Layers of Fear, with odd statues and busts hiding in shadowy corners, CRT monitors flickering in the dark, and lamps that never quite seem powerful enough to light your way adequately.
It’s good then, that early on in the game, you find an item that proves itself to be invaluable as you work your way through the house: a rather chunky polaroid camera. Although it felt a bit gimmicky at first, the camera boasts multiple functions that enable you to work out puzzles and light your way through the darkness, and it does wonders at setting MADiSON apart from the wave of horror games prior.
You can pull the camera out at any point in the game and take a quick picture with a tap of 'ZR'. Doing so will accomplish two things. First, the flash from the camera will temporarily light up your surroundings, so if you're in a particularly dark area, you'll be able to see what's in front of you for the briefest moment. Although the mechanic is ultimately there to help you, there's no denying that its use brings with it a tidal wave of dread; after all, there's no knowing what such a flash might reveal in the shadows.
Its second function is a bit more "paranormal" in nature; there are multiple puzzles in MADiSON that might completely stump you at first, but taking a picture with the camera will sometimes reveal a clue or solution right before your very eyes, whether it shows up in the polaroid picture or magically in the environment itself. You can also rotate and inspect items for potential clues; a trope that very much pays homage to the classic survival horror games of the '90s. Using your camera extensively while scrutinising potential items of interest will be crucial in progressing the game.
We won't go into the actual enemies you'll come across in MADiSON too much; that stuff is perhaps best kept for when you experience it for yourself. Needless to say, the titular MADiSON character isn't the only skin-crawling entity you'll come across in the game, and although the experience is very much held up by quiet moments or dread followed up by jump scares – an overused horror trope in both games and film, to be sure – the way it's handled here is particularly impressive. There are very few unearned scares and your encounters with the game's enemies will stand as true highlights of your experience.
In terms of performance, the game runs pretty well for the most part. You shouldn't expect a silky smooth frame rate with MADiSON given the particular attention to visuals and lighting, but it stays consistently stable for the majority of the game. Resolution has expectedly taken a bit of a hit as a result, so if you're after the most visually impressive experience, then you might not find it with the Switch version.
Additionally, the preview build was distinctly lacking in additional settings. At the time of writing, the only options available were for audio, so you can't adjust the brightness or tinker with the controller settings. The brightness, in particular, may be a bit of a downer for some folks purely from an accessibility standpoint; the game is exceptionally dark – purposefully so, mind – but those wanting to bump the brightness up slightly will be unable to do so until a patch is introduced. We've been assured that additional options are being considered for a day-one patch.
Aside from the camera, MADiSON covers a lot of familiar ground. Mechanically, it's probably closest in design to Layers of Fear; you'll be frequently holding down the right trigger and pulling back on the right analogue stick to open doors and drawers, and navigating the house feels slow and methodical, even when you hold down 'L' to run. During our 5 hours or so with the game, however, we found plenty here to enjoy, and we reckon if the entire game maintains the same level of tension and dread that we felt during those initial hours, then it will stand as a top-tier horror experience for the Switch.
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