“BLUE KNEES IS REAL…”
Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is Alex De Stefano (@alexdistefano95) and his breakout horror indie studio: Bloodious Games (@bloodiousgames) with their landmark horror title: MADiSON, which has ‘scientifically’ been named the scariest game ever made via a study called The Science of Scare Project. Taking inspiration from the likes of P.T., Outlast and Visage, MADiSON is a white-knuckle rollercoaster of terror, expertly blending atmosphere, tension and scares to create an experience that can’t really be described without doing the game an injustice. Having released worldwide for both next-gen and current gen platforms on July 8th and then winning the Best Game award at Argentina Games Expo 2022 (EVA) in September, it’s safe to say that MADiSON is deserving of the hype and praise it has garnered so far as a fresh (yet familiar entry into the annals of horror). Back in usual fashion, I’ll be covering the time spent with the PS5 version of the game; detailing both the good and bad, while detailing whether it’s worth the £29.99 asking price (UK PSN Store – currently on offer at £19.49 as of 26.10.2022 till 02.11.2022).
Horror is a genre that has always been heavily subjective when it comes to what is considered scary, usually defined by the fear of the individual. For me personally, the notion of extra-terrestrials and being abducted and experimented on is something that has terrified me to the core since I was a child, and despite growing up on horror movies from a young age (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th were my Disney movies) the one film that still makes my hair stand up on the back of my neck to this day is M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002). While the film has certainly aged, the atmosphere present in the movie (making an effective use of timing, score and suspense) is so thick you could slice it open with a knife; playing into the fear of the unknown and the notion that you are never truly safe and secure, even in your own home. Despite my phobia of aliens being subjective, fear itself is a universal emotion, and to understand the human mind is something that allows one to create some of the most spine-chilling and hair-raising experiences out there, of which video games are probably the best format (especially in VR) for horror, with offerings such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010), P.T. (2014), Outlast (2014) and Visage (2021) (shamelessly plugging my own review here) being the mack daddies of delivering on the terror.
In walks Alex De Stefano (@alexdistefano95) of Bloodious Games, with his first, and blowout horror title: MADiSON, which released worldwide for all major platforms on July 8th 2022, going on to win awards, while also being named the ‘scientifically’ scariest game ever made from a study called the Science of Scare Project (link) in which the game managed to get the participant’s heart rates soaring to an average of 97 bpm. MADiSON places you in the shoes of anxiety-stricken (for good reason) teenager: Luca Maxwell, who has recently come into the possession of instant camera tied to a serial killer who previously owned the polaroid. Luca soon discovers that the vengeful, demonic spirit of the camera’s former owner: Madison Hale is the same murderer who butchered her family and countless others, before she was gunned down by the police. Using the camera as a conduit, Madison starts to begin taking over Luca’s mind and influencing his actions, in aim of completing the sinister ritual that she tried to finish 30 years prior. Straight from the get go, the game was giving me vibes from The Exorcist (1973) with the game’s emphasis on demonic possession, which slowly but surely takes over Luca during the course of the game, not only affecting his perception of reality, but sealing the fate of the teenager while simultaneously shining a light on the demise of his own family.
From the get go, it’s clear as day that MADiSON is another horror game that has been largely inspired by the legacy that Silent Hills/Playable Teaser left behind when it was shelved by Konami in 2015 (read my totally non-salty ramblings over the debacle here). The game begins in the confines of Luca’s grandparents’ residence, your atypical American suburban home circa 1987, complete with one too many maintenance problems, with generators turning off, lights flickering and giant, marble statues of the Virgin Mary that seem to appear and disappear with eerily suspicious regularity. Much like its peers, Atmosphere is key in MADiSON, drawing into the deep-rooted, intrinsic fears of the unknown and supernatural which allows them to toy with the player’s mind as they traverse the halls of the eerily quiet house. With an effective use of timing and fluidity, the monster moments (or jump scares if you will) don’t feel cheap like they do in so many horror games; for example, in one particular section you end up venturing down a well (after spending 30-40 minutes with the keen feeling that something is both watching and following you in the shadows) to discover the mutilated remains of Madison’s victims floating at the bottom. Adding context to the situation is the police radio that Luca discovers, soon learning that this is the site that Madison disposed of her victims remains, along with the officer that discovered them. What follows is a full on assault on your senses, with lights flickering (don’t play this game if you suffer with epilepsy), police static getting louder alongside the screams of the officer over the radio, ultimately culminating in you taking a photo where the static is the loudest, and at the height of the tension (this builds up over several minutes) the skeleton-esque, disembowelled, blood-strewn ghost of Madison lunges towards you with such force that one can’t help but jump out of their seat with fear.
If Madison herself wasn’t bad enough, there’s always good old Blue Knees to keep you from getting too comfortable, easily being one of the creepiest creature designs (with even more disturbing back story) I’ve experienced in a video game to date. The demon is described/brought up primarily by Luca’s long deceased grandmother (alongside environmental cues) who was ailed with an unknown disease which caused her to slowly go blind, of which she long suspected was supernatural in origin, and tied to the entity known as Blue Knees. I won’t spoil the context in which he presents himself, but when he does it turns the game on its head, offering a tense cat and mouse situation that can spike at any point with unpredictability not too dissimilar from the xenomorph drone in Alien: Isolation. Atmosphere aside (I could speak at length about how perfect it is) the gameplay in MADiSON could be described as a cross between P.T., Visage and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, offering limited inventory space, backtracking through the halls of the house, and cryptic puzzles (all from a firsr person perspective) that will satisfy the most ardent of survival horror fans out there. Luca’s main way of observing the beyond and solving the majority of the games puzzles is his instant camera (of which he has an infinite supply of film, do you know how expensive that shit is?) which can both reveal clues and progress past certain obstacles that stand in his way. The game’s puzzles are worth noting, as they don’t offer the same level of ridiculous obscurity that is afforded by some games out there (having progression halted because you don’t know the language is poor localisation and game design) but still require you to use the ol’ grey matter over the course of the 5-6 hours you’ll spend with the game. The game’s audio design is on point also, with both an ambient soundscape and harrowing score that highlight some of the key scare moments, while creating that foreboding sense of unease and dread that is seen in some of psychological horror’s best (and MADiSON ranks up there).
Performance wise is standard fare for these sorts of games, offering a solid 60fps at a 3180x2160p resolution (dependant on your monitor/television); there was the occasional hiccup in frame rate, but nothing that detracted from the overall experience at any notable point. The game is also gorgeous with both its textures and high-fidelity, photo-realistic backgrounds that has become kind of a staple in P.T.-likes over the years. Overall, I can honestly say that MADiSON is one of my favourite horror games I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of playing in recent years, keeping my heart rate thumping and on the edge of my seat for the majority of my playthrough. Considering this game was made by two people, it’s impressive what Bloodious Games have managed to achieve with MADiSON, with it genuinely being one of the scariest games I’ve ever played, up there with the likes of Visage and P.T. The game is an absolute essential for anyone who loves getting the piss scared out of them, doubly so if you’re a fan of psychological horror, as for £19.49 there’s no better reason to spend Halloween indoors this year, with the lights off, until you hear the words: Blue knees is real…
A PlayStation 5 review code was provided by Perp Games.