Platform(s): Xbox Series, PC
Genre: Horror adventure game with 2000-era tropes & camera angles
The first hour of The Medium is sure to make survival horror fans gleeful, as it features different static camera angles like a late 90s or 2000s horror game ala Silent Hill or Resident Evil. That’s what developer Bloober Team is going for: a nice throwback to that era. They even brought in composer Akira Yamaoka to compose tracks for the game’s alternate spirit world, which is clearly inspired by classic paintings and a lot of nightmarish places in said classic titles.
Thankfully, that’s not The Medium’s only selling point. It has gorgeous visuals, audio, and a great narrative flow to go along with its fun puzzles and dual-world mechanic.
What works about The Medium is it weaves its story and shows the depths and depravity of its subjects. See, our heroine Marianne can delve into the spirit world which is synchronous to the real world in most parts. She needs to do this as she’s tasked to head to the abandoned Niwa resort to meet a man named Thomas to help him with a spirit problem, right after she made her final rites with her foster dad Jack in the funeral parlour she was raised in.
Along the way, she meets a kid in the spirit world named Sadness, and then she ends up being a pivotal piece in the tale. Without spoiling anything, the revelations all peeled out pretty well, and like the aforementioned genres, you advance the plot by solving puzzles, finding keys, and running away from a big bad that’s hounding you.
That big bad is The Maw. It hunts you at key tense segments, with most of them being fun and thrilling sections in the game where you need to hide, hold your breath to avoid detection, and even use your Medium powers to trick it at times. There are even spirit moths that you can only fight off using spirit barriers and energy, as well as spirit tentacles you can counterattack using a parry shield technique. The game’s challenges are mostly puzzle-based in nature, but the game does throw in some action bits here and there to change up the pacing for the better. Marianne’s walking and running speed is also purposely “nerfed”, speeding up only when The Maw starts chasing her through nightmare corridors.
That gives The Medium a sense of vulnerability. Much like your James and Heathers or human protagonists in horror games, you’re a victim making your way through this hellscape of a mystery. The Medium accentuates that to a tee.
In fact, all of the game’s central theme of duality and dealing with two worlds that are in sync all come to a head when you end up exploring the spirit world psyches of some of the characters. Though you can feel bad for some of these characters, the game doesn’t hammer on home about what is right or wrong: it’s up to you to decide after all is said and done.
The Medium is at its best when it lets its puzzles and story do its talking to you visually and through the many, many collectible notes and discoverables you take your time uncovering in its gorgeous-and-disturbing landscape. And if you’re stuck, you can just press the Insight button to clue you into the right direction.
On that note, the person who made that sound clip when you open a spirit door using your spirit knife should be promoted. That gooey sound is just as memorable as Gears’ headshot splat and Super Mario’s 1-up jingle.
For all of its positives in delivering its narrative, sometimes the game can get overbearing with its over-narration of things that we can clearly see. I wished Marianne would shut it with her monologues when exploring. While she mostly lets the audience figure things out in key story bits, she does go overboard in a number of exploration bits in the game.
Also, the last 15 minutes of the game is a huge cutscene, with the only thing you need to do is walk to the end goal. No climactic chase sequence, no major puzzles, no crazy QTE moments. Just a stroll to the finish line, with some questions answered and brought up, which is pretty ballsy of Bloober Team given that this is their first big title that isn’t a walking simulator with jump scares. Whatever happened to making a classic video game climactic finale if you decide not to surprise us with one last tense puzzle? The Medium was doing really well up to that point.
Still, don’t let that deter you from experiencing of one of this year’s more atmospheric and noteworthy adventure horror titles that’s exclusive to the Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Series. The majority of it is a nice thrill ride that isn’t reinventing the horror genre but just revels in it, while delivering a great narrative up until the end.
It’s a bold proclamation since we’re only early in 2021, but it seems like Bloober Team is coming on their own and actually doing more than just making a horror walking sim game and calling it a day. My eight hours with it shows that there’s actual effort, thought, and detail brought on in The Medium, be it the dual nature of its universes, soundtrack, and its puzzles, or the nature of its story and its lead Marianne.
It’s not a huge triple-A experience, since there are a few graphical glitches here and there, but most horror games shouldn’t aim that high. Think of this more as a B-tier production game during the days when publishers like Focus Home and Deep Silver were encapsulating audiences with their adventure titles. The Medium is a great callback to those days, while also delivering a level of polish and panache to make your stay in a haunted Polish hotel all the more remarkable. It kinda reminded me of an older adventure game title called Dark Seed where your main character had to go to an alternate hellhole to solve puzzles, except this particular game had more substance and a better story to tell than the H.R Giger wallpaper clipshow.
I honestly want to see more Bloober Team horror games of this nature, because it seems this big ambitious project is the best direction to go. In short, The Medium is a great start to bigger and better things.
- A chilling and atmospheric adventure game.
- Puzzles and dual-world nature of the game work thematically & are fun to solve.
- Great visuals, presentation, and music.
- Lots of tense and dangerous moments featuring the game’s central monster
- Overnarration from its lead can be grating in the second half.
- Weak climax & ambiguous ending.
- Some graphical glitches that break immersion.
Final Score: 80/100