Review | The Medium
Ever since 2014’s Basement Crawl, Bloober Team has has a large focus on horror titles. From games like Layers of Fear to Observer, the team continues to experiment with different horror experiences. Now with perhaps their most ambitious project, The Medium, their experiences combine to form one big passion project. Utilizing a unique dual world mechanic, the game provides players with a dark story and classic horror homages. With the game on Xbox Game Pass, the price of admission is pretty reasonable, so is it worth your time? Read on to see our full thoughts.
The Medium tells the story of Marianne, a woman with the ability to communicate with the dead. She also has the ability to send spirits off to the afterlife. With the ability to see between the world of the living and the dead, Marianne often feels cursed, but these abilities will be put to the ultimate test when she gets a mysterious phone call from a man named Thomas. Traveling to the Niwa Resort, she’ll uncover dark secrets and horrors while seeking out the mysterious caller. The story involves demonic forces, but also tackles heavy subject matter like pedophilia, child abuse, and the mistreatment of the Jewish people during WWII. It can be unsettling, but the game approaches it subtly enough without giving players too much to visualize.
While exploring the resort, Marianne will have to investigate multiple objects, energy readings and memory echos. Using her insight, hidden elements can be revealed and allow her to see things that others might overlook. Marianne herself won’t have any real combat techniques, only having the ability to use a defensive Spirit Shield and a short burst Spirit Blast. While you can use the Spirit Blast offensively, the opportunity to use it that way is incredibly rare. Instead, the blast is mostly for solving puzzles, supplying energy to electronic mechanisms. Her Spirit Shield also allows players to traverse through swarms of moths that will deal damage to Marianne otherwise. It’s a little strange to feel somewhat powerful, but not have much to use the powers against.
As players progress through the game, they’ll quickly discover the dual-reality gameplay. At key moments of the game, Marianne’s world will split into two, creating similar but unique environments. Both realities will hold their own clues and collectibles, and even their own paths. In some cases, you’ll even have to use Marianne’s out of body experience to temporarily move in the spirit world independently. This allows Marianne’s spirit version to move in areas that are blocked in the living world, though she’ll slowly disintegrate over time if she doesn’t return to her body. With this ability, puzzles can sometimes offer some extra diversity, including one clever use toward the end.
The dual-reality component is really cool, even if players won’t experience it for the majority of the game. A good portion is spent in one world or the other, as the game will focus on the spirit world for certain sections. This is especially during mirror sections, where Marianne will have to travel through mirrors to enter the other reality. Both worlds offer a great contrast, being reminiscent of the horror classic Silent Hill. In fact, The Medium pays homage to early Resident Evil titles as well, using fixed camera angles for the entire game. Fans of both franchises will even be able to draw comparisons to the way The Medium handles puzzles. It’s great to see inspiration from these classics while also creating its own identity.
While combat isn’t a focus, there are moments where players will have to emphasize stealth. To avoid some of the dangers in the game, players will have to have Marianne crouch and hold her breath to sneak by threats. At one point, players will even have to use the Spirit Shield to counter foes. While it isn’t combat in the traditional sense, it does add some variety to the overall gameplay. For a game where players will mostly be walking and running, it’s unfortunate that the run speed is pretty slow. At least Marianne will run much faster during chase sequences. Despite this, there are moments where the game just moves a bit too slowly.
The graphics of The Medium definitely gets a lot of help from a great art direction. While the photo realistic environments of the living world push the visuals, the disturbing and haunting imagery of the spirit world are a clear highlight. Stark, dreary and giving off a sense of dread, it was easily my favorite parts of the game. Unfortunately, character models aren’t nearly as impressive, though they still get the job done. There’s also some odd graphical issues, including strange texture flickering during cutscenes and lighting bugs. It doesn’t kill the experience, but it’s clear the game could use some better optimization. It’s also worth noting that the game doesn’t really deliver the scares despite the spooky environments. There are a handful of jump scares, but I found myself less spooked the further I went in.
At least the sound design is pretty consistent, offering a lot of eerie audio in a fantastic atmosphere. Voice acting is also pretty good, with Kelly Burke doing great as Marianne throughout the game. Troy Baker even makes a surprise appearance, showing off his range with some powerfully demonic vocals. Finally, the music in the game is also excellent, with the Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka contributing to the game. Working with Arkadiusz Reikowski, the two manage to create a truly chilling soundtrack. The vocal songs “Voices” and “Fade” are also excellent tracks, truly lifting the production value of the game.
One thing I really need to mention is the way the game handles rumble. I could tell what Bloober Team was going for, as rumble helps to immerse the player. If this were a PlayStation 5 title, perhaps the DualSense controller could help to achieve what they wanted. Unfortunately, I found the rumble to be incredibly irritating for the majority of the game. Even on the low settings, it was overly intense and broke the immersion for me. There were even times that it felt like the rumble activated for no reason. Normally, I would turn the function off, but I wanted to get the full Bloober Team experience. Despite this, my opinion didn’t change, so I suggest playing without the rumble.
Overall, the strong atmosphere and great horror callbacks give The Medium a lot to love. The dual-reality gameplay is also unique and helps the title stand out among the crowd. While it can definitely use some better optimization, the visuals still manage to do more good than bad. Also, while the rumble isn’t ideal, you can at least turn it off to alleviate the experience. As the game tackles dark subject matter and an intriguing mystery, The Medium offers a solid plot to absorb. It also gives the player an ending that they can interpret in a number of ways, though it might lack satisfaction. It’s not the scariest horror game out there, even by Bloober Team’s standards, but it’s frightening enough to get a few scares, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you have Xbox Game Pass, you should experience this game.
Final Score: 8 out of 10