MADiSON VR

Developer / Publisher – Bloodious Games / PERP Games
Price – US $34.99 / CAN $43.99 / EU €34.99 / UK £29.99
Release Date – May 2nd, 2024
Input – 2 x Tracked Motion Controllers
Play Area –  Seated, Standing, Roomscale
Store – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. You (as a young man named Luca) wake up confused and alone in your bedroom with no recollection of the last few days though your hands are covered in blood with your sister and mother being massacred while your father hammers on your door lamenting at what you’ve done. Distraught you set out to escape the house though a demonic entity appears to be trying to keep you inside and so begins your quest into madness as you unravel multiple gruesome mysteries while trying to survive the horrors you stumble upon. It’s a tried-and-true horror scenario with the game ultimately reminding me of the Insidious movies and I mean that in a good way as how the story is told from a gaming standpoint makes this probably one of the freakiest games I have ever played.

Your camera is your best friend.

This is essentially a walking sim with plenty of puzzle elements to keep you exploring the house going from room to room as you try and escape though it doesn’t take very long at all before things start to get very, very weird. It’s clear almost from the game’s onset that while this is a puzzler, the horror elements play much more of a factor in navigating through each room. Sure, you’ll find keys to unlock other doors, disks needed for a clocks or a hammer to knock down wooden barriers but the key element that makes this feel relatively unique is your polaroid camera. Once you find it, simply reach over your shoulder to grab it and take a picture of anything you want…thankfully there’s no limit on the number of pics you can take. Those pictures are stored in your inventory and outside of key story moments where taking a picture will be needed to push the story along, you can dispose of any polaroids you like. Since this house is haunted though, your camera can capture moments that you can’t see with the naked eye, providing clues needed to get you into the next part of the house, reveal the creature stalking you or just lighting the way as some areas of the game can be very, very dark. Sometimes the puzzle solutions are clear, but others much less so and typically whenever I got stuck it’s because I neglected to take a picture of something weird. After a couple of hours I remembered to do this often but I got stuck more than a few times during the initial portions of the game as I forgot just how important of a tool this camera really is. Honestly, compared to recent entries in the VR Puzzle/horror genre, I really appreciated the design and balance of each of those elements as the overall experience here felt like something I had never quite played before despite the fact that almost every trope in here has been already seen in both films and games.

It’s clear early that something is definitely wrong in this house

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to this VR implementation is the poor grabbing and inventory mechanics that make many moments in here incredibly frustrating. Grabbing at just about anything resulted in my hands slipping off what I was grabbing (doors, handles, knobs) causing many moments of irritation as I fumbled to perform the simplest of actions.  Even when I did grab door handles, my hand often got stuck in them and pulling my hand out of them resulted in the door closing forcing me to repeat the process once more. The inventory system, which kind of pointless to begin with,  let’s you store up to 10 items on your person regardless of size, but the thing is when you initially grab an item from the environment, you can only place it in your inventory and not back into the environment. For the most part, this rarely an issue but there are a few puzzles where you’ll need to move and swap items and instead of just removing them and placing them on a nearby table or just switching them from point A to B, you need to put them over your shoulder, bring up the inventory wheel, grab it and then place it where you want which is nothing short of tedious. There is a safe where the player can store stuff they think they might not need though thankfully I didn’t have to revisit it too often as I usually had the right items on me to keep me moving forward in the story.  Given that this game will be absolutely terrifying to some, especially in VR, I feel like a better system could be in place to account for people that need breaks from this much tension.

Shake those Polaroids so they develop faster.

Now, these moments don’t break the game or anything that dramatic, but they did interfere with my overall enjoyment as I felt like all the greatness that is MADiSON was being held back by some poor choices or poor VR implementation. With that said, MADiSON is arguably the most unsettling game I have ever played in or out of VR. The atmosphere is ridiculously creepy and while the intensity does slowly build over the course of what took me about 6 hours to get through, the pacing felt damned near perfect delivering a near unparalleled horror experience. There’s no combat to worry about so you can keep your focus on your surroundings and the various unnatural happenings that befall you. I typically dislike these walking sim type experiences as the risk of death without the ability to defend myself makes surviving kind of moot, but in here it’s not about surviving so much as it is about unravelling what has happened too you and the events that happened decades earlier. I found the jump scares here to be very effective as this felt less like a game and more like a movie giving this a gloriously grizzly cinematic appeal. What I’m saying is jump scares don’t typically get me in games and in here they got me a lot, like more than any game I’ve ever played as I was invested in the story and what was happening all around me.

The inventory system is a bit clunky.

Everything in here looks fantastic…actually everything in here looks rundown, old, creepy and/or disgusting but everything visually pops in VR…minus your hands which looked like a mix or realistic ones and the hands you get in Hotel R’n’R, but maybe that’s just me. Anyways, the house looks perfect for this sort of horrific gem with some obtuse designs, tiny crawl spaces, abandoned clutter and some more surreal sections that had me questioning reality. The house layout isn’t Resident Evil levels of ridiculousness but there’s enough weirdness in where you could walk that had me asking myself ‘what whacko designed this place’. Haunting pictures on walls, cockroaches on the floor, some occult like setups with chairs surrounded by candles and so on all make for a wonderfully immersive and creepy experience all made better by some amazing dynamic lighting. Light is your friend and it can be incredibly hard to come by with rooms sometimes being lit just enough to see and hallways being bathed in enough darkness that had me question if the game might be a little too dark. This is where your camera comes in to play as navigating some of these longer corridors is nothing short of terrifying when you can’t see anything except for the briefest of moments during the cameras flash. No room is ever bright enough to feel comfortable or safe further adding to the already intense atmosphere. Running at 90 Hz without reprojection is the best excuse to have had this delayed as I never ran into any issues with motion blur or bleeding making this one of the most polished visual experiences I ever played in VR.

There are plenty of puzzles to keep you thinking.

You can’t have a scary atmosphere without proper sound design and minus Luca’s slightly less than believable line delivery, everything else here is on point. You’ll hear floorboards creaking, doors opening and closing and even the whispers of your name Luca as the demon stalks you from the shadows.  While I have taken issue with random and repetitive scary noises in other horror games in the past, in MADiSON they are varied and infrequent enough that they didn’t hurt immersion and only added to it. Spatial audio is on point and headphones are an absolute must with this one as more than a few scares involve looking in the direction of audio queues.

PSVR 2’s haptics are used quite well with the head rumble being put to great use as Luca begins to break down and experience some headache induced visions. The rumble feature on the controllers is used to lesser effect but still does the job when specific items are in hand or when you pickup and drop something.

The scares in here come in all shapes and sizes

MADiSON is probably my favorite ‘trapped in a house’ horror game and it’s a damn shame then that VR interaction and obtuse inventory choices hamper it as much as they do. Whenever I truly lost myself in the haunting immersion of MADiSON it never took more than minute or 2 before I was fumbling with knob to remind myself, I was in a glitchy game. As I said, not game breaking and thankfully there is so much greatness here that I’m willing to look past these shortcomings, but they are here, and they will annoy. Beyond my issues though is a horror/puzzler that delivers on all the scares, tension and grossness that we want from these sorts of games. After 1 playthrough I was done with the story but for those who can’t get enough, many of the events are random and puzzle solutions will also change up on another go so there is some replay factor here but even playing through just once makes it worth the asking price. If you are looking to get scared in VR, if MADiSON doesn’t do that too you, I doubt anything will.

Perp Games provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!

Good

  • Looks fantastic!
  • Puzzles are quite clever
  • Some of the best scares I've ever experienced!
  • Decent length story

Bad

  • Grabbing stuff in finicky at best
  • Sometimes can be a little too dark
  • Inventory system is a little clunky
8

Great!

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