Review – The Medium
I keep constantly rooting for Bloober Team’s success, even though their career has been mostly summarised as a collection of projects that, for the most part, have failed to hit their full potential. Blair Witch and Layers of Fear havd some interesting ideas, but suffered from poor execution. Meanwhile, Observer, a game that wasn’t even supposed to be a survival horror, ended up being scarier and more unsettling than their proper horror titles. The Medium is Bloober’s latest horror game, and one that has a few interesting ideas that both push the genre forward whilst calling back to its past. Was this game a hit or a miss for the company?
You take control of Marianne, the titular Medium, a person with a special connection to the other side, helping the recently deceased move on from the spirit world into the afterlife. Shortly after losing her foster parent, she receives a call from a mysterious man named Thomas, telling her to go to a place called the Niwa resort, a site of a brutal massacre. It’s up to Marianne to discover the truth of what happened in that place, as it has never been discovered.
The Medium doesn’t have the best writing in the world, often resorting to cheesy tropes of the horror genre (perhaps intentionally or not), but its story is engaging enough. Putting you head first into a compelling mystery which revolves around a haunted place and its connection to the protagonist was an interesting idea. It does feature some interesting NPCs, as well as some unexpected twists. Marianne is also a compelling protagonist: I wanted to see her journey until the very end.
The Medium sees Marianne traversing through the real material world and the spirit realm, a place between life and death. This is done to stunning effect unlike anything we’ve seen before. In key moments throughout the story, the screen will split into two, as you begin to control Marianne throughout both the physical and spirit worlds at the same time. Objects that block Marianne in one world will stop her in the other world as well, like a broken staircase in the material world or a swarm of moths in the spirit world. For those instances where the material world is the obstacle, Marianne can leave her body behind for an out-of-body experience, allowing her to interact with the spirit world by itself. However, if she is gone for too long she will get lost.
It’s an interesting idea that is used to great effect and almost every part of The Medium pushes the dual reality gameplay even further, managing to keep it the focus of the game at all times whilst finding new ways to keep mixing things up that I won’t spoil here. Much of your time is spent simply wandering the Niwa Resort and piecing the mystery together. If you aren’t looking for a walking simulator, then The Medium might not be for you. The walking speed is pretty slow and the jogging speed isn’t much better and is often disabled anyway. I still found it very engaging as a whole, with some great tension build up, while not relying on jump scares at all.
One of the biggest things in The Medium, outside of the dual reality set-up, is the use of fixed and dynamic camera angles, a strong callback to the genre’s past. It’s used wonderfully in here, feeling like a nice homage to old-school Resident Evil and Silent Hill. It can cause some minor annoyances with controls when moving between rooms, but it’s never enough to become a problem. There are some absolutely stunning shots that are made possible with this camera set-up and I really hope it causes a revival within the genre… in moderate amounts, of course.
The game features some interesting concepts for puzzles, such as moving a clock hand to manipulate time in a different dimension, but all in all, not a single puzzle in The Medium is complex or even thought-provoking. They often revolve around simply interacting with something in the environment then backtracking to another area. I was hoping for more complexity, since there was a ton of potential in the whole multiple dimension gameplay gimmick.
The Medium shows some additional issues when its threats are introduced. Narrative-wise, these monsters are great, but when you relate them to the overall gameplay, they ended up being a bit of a letdown, especially due to the game’s stealth mechanics. Marianne can crouch and hold her breath… and that’s about it. Throughout her journey she will be primarily stalked by The Maw, a terrifying abomination that shows up in the spirit world.
Very quickly after meeting him, you will discover he can also cross over into the material world where he can continue stalking you. However, he cannot see you, and you cannot see him, but these short sections are just a total bore. All the stealth sections are really easy with obvious routes you need to take. Thankfully, these stealth sections are few and far between, and some of them ended up being pretty good.
The sound design is excellent throughout. The voice cast did a great job for the most part, with some occasional scenes in which they sounded either too corny or plan bad. Whenever they needed to deliver, they sure did. Troy Baker in particular does a phenomenal job as The Maw, managing to take an already creepy enemy to even scarier levels. To top things off, the soundtrack was composed by the legendary Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.
Whilst technically not the best looking game I’ve seen in recent times, the presentation is on point. The fixed camera style I mentioned earlier provides some amazing cinematic moments whilst keeping the tension on the stratosphere. The spirit world can be visually striking as well, being one my favourite Silent Hill-esque parallel dimensions in recent memory. With that being said, There are lots of framerate stuttering and texture pop-in whilst playing, even with the game installed on an SSD. It’s never unplayable, but it can have a negative impact on some of the scenes.
The Medium is right on the edge of being a great horror game, in many ways being the closest we’ve got to a true Silent Hill successor. Returning to the classic camera angles seen years ago has been a treat, whilst the dual reality pushed the genre forward in clever ways. Sadly, uninspired puzzles and stealth encounters bogged the game down quite a notch. I hope this isn’t the last we see of this franchise. There’s a lot of untapped potential in here for great sequels if Bloober decides to give it a second go.
Whilst not the most visually impressive game in recent memory. its presentation and unique art style are amazing.
Most of the game’s exploration can be thrilling, but puzzle solving and stealth sections ended up being very underwhelming.
Some wonky voice acting aside. the sound design is excellent, with a great soundtrack from Akira Yamaoka and a great performance from Troy Baker.
The Medium has strong ideas and great performances, but it’s devoid of challenge and tension, must-haves for horror games.
Final Verdict: 7.5
The Medium is available now on Xbox Series and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM.
A copy of The Medium was provided by the publisher.