The Medium is Bloober Team‘s latest psychological horror adventure, a genre they’ve pretty much made their own and decided to stick with. It’s quite possibly their most ambitious project yet, with a gameplay concept that wouldn’t have worked on the previous generation of consoles.
You play as a young Polish woman, Marianne, who as a medium, possesses the power to see and speak to dead people. The game’s story begins when her adoptive father Jack (who ironically happens to be a mortician) has just died and she has to prepare his burial.
One phone call from a mysterious voice later, she’s on her way to Niwa, an abandoned resort in the middle of a dark forest environment, hoping to find out what he knows about her clouded past. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out that the place holds an ominous power itself and that she’ll have to face her fears to get to the bottom of it.
While the opening hour of the game starts off rather slow and somewhat failed to build excitement for the chilling story that follows, once I encountered the monster and delved deeper into some of the cruel and perverted plot threads, the story managed to grab me by the throat only to let go when the credits rolled.
Prepare to deal with a lot of adult subject matters, like murder, death and child abuse, some of which you’ll only fully grasp by finding all of the hidden letters, postcards and memories that unlock spectral voice recordings upon inspecting certain items.
But we’ve seen games like this before right? There are plenty of adventure games just like it with only mildly varying themes. So what is it that makes The Medium special? What’s the big draw that sets it apart from other titles?
The answer that Bloober came up with, is the dual reality system. Marianne exists in two dimensions at the same time and she uses this ability not only to speak to the remnant spirits of dead people but also to solve puzzles and access places where her physical form can’t reach.
Being able to see these two viewpoints at the same time, means the world has to be rendered twice, which is pretty demanding on the hardware and the main reason why the game can’t run its 4K/HDR & raytracing magic on the previous generationof consoles. The result can be spectacular though, with a personal favourite of mine being the manipulation of a clock in the real word to alter the state of a room in the spirit world.
Ghost-Marianne also has some spiritual powers that help her fend off a flutter of moths or blast away the big bad monster that chases you around. It can feel like a cheap way to die if you run into them after turning a corner though.
Speaking of death, The Medium isn’t very liberal with its checkpoints and if you fail a stealth or escape sequence, you will sometimes have to solve the latest puzzle again and suffer through some repeated voice-lines. Luckily most of the encounters are pretty straightforward and it shouldn’t take you more than one or two tries to succeed.
I’ve heard some people get frustrated by these parts in the game, but I personally thought they were visual highlights, like when it switched between the two realities on the fly as you escaped from the Maw (the monster’s *endearing* nickname)
Another power that comes into play a few times is using mirrors to travel through the dimensions and teleporting yourself to a new room that you couldn’t otherwise access. The linear structure of the game luckily helps here as I could foresee a more open approach becoming quite confusing.
In fact, most of the puzzles are pretty straightforward and will not require too much backtracking if you’re paying attention to your surroundings.
Perhaps the power you’ll come to rely on the most is the ability to highlight important objects to interact with. This “sight” suffers from the same issue as other games that use a similar ability (Batman Arkham Asylum comes to mind) in that you’ll probably keep it activated 100% of the time in fear of missing something, and it sadly makes the world look less colourful.
And that would be a crying shame as the visuals really steal the show in The Medium. While the oldskool tank controls can feel clumsy at times, the other element they borrowed from the good old Resident Evil & Silent Hill days: the fixed camera angles, certainly bring out the best of the world and gave the environment artists full control over what you’ll be seeing.
The presentation is certainly one of the games’ highlights, but you can kind of tell which department they’re still struggling with as an indie studio without an unlimited budget: Some of the character animations feel too stiff and the facial expressions don’t always manage to convince of the emotions they’re feeling. Perhaps that’s why the dead people walk around carrying masks; it even avoids having to worry about the lip sync.
The audio department of The Medium only deserves praise: the voice acting is almost always on point, with the great Troy Baker even lending his voice to The Maw and everything from the soundtrack to the sound effects sent chills down my spine at multiple occasions.
It’s the little things that really elevate the experience (especially if you have a headset on) like hearing whispers or children chanting during cutscenes. The songs by famed composer Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill!) that play during key moments of the game did an incredible job at setting the atmosphere and really created a cinematic experience. I was happily surprised to even hear a few voiced songs.
I’m happy to say that The Medium did not overstay its welcome. They advertised an 8-10 hour adventure but it took me closer to 7 to beat and it makes for a perfect Xbox Gamepass experience that any subscriber should check out.
I briefly want to mention the Achievements though: many of them require finding a certain group of items and because the game doesn’t have any chapter select and is extremely linear, you’ll probably have to play it with a guide to find all of them. If you missed even one of them, you’ll have to start over from the top.
Lastly, I’d like to mention that there were still a few (minor) bugs when I played the game at release: sometimes there would be visual glitches that stayed on the screen for a few seconds (some people had it worse than me) and at the very end of the game, there was a cutscene that didn’t want to load untill I reloaded a checkpoint and did it all again.
The Medium’s dual reality gameplay is a fine showcase of what we can come to expect from the new generation of consoles. It starts off somewhat slow, but once the story gets going, its grip on you will not loosen until you see the credits roll.
Bloober Team is constantly refining their crafts and with each new release, they get closer to the perfect psychological horror experience. I can’t wait to see what they’ll cook up next.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by the developer.
Want to see the game in action? Here is the first hour: