Horror games have seen a bit of a resurgence as of late. There have been some absolute bangers erupting from every rust encrusted, slime coated orifice imaginable. Bloober Team, for better or for worse, has been one of the most consistent when it comes to delivering passable spooks at a reasonable price. The Medium, however, had the potential to elevate them to a top-tier horror studio. Whilst it doesn’t quite hit those lofty heights, it’s certainly a hearty step in the right direction.
Time To Get Your Spook On
The Medium has you playing as Marianne – a mysterious young woman with supernatural, realm-hopping powers. After the death of her foster father, she receives a phone call from an equally mysterious man called Thomas. After refusing to help the man, she decides that was a tad mean of her, and changes her mind. Along the way, she will discover who she is, where her powers come from, who Thomas is, and what terrible fate has befallen the already-murdered residents of the Niwa Resort.
Being set in post-Communism Poland, circa 1999, The Medium has a setting to die for. As a horror setting though, it goes even further. Whilst World War 2 might be well-worn ground in other genres, it’s not quite so ragged in the Horror scene. Flashbacks to holocaustic events and Nazi occupation are just the tip of the iceberg here. The Medium is not afraid to throw in more generic mass murder, rape, abuse, and pedophilia – to name a few. What’s more, The Medium covers all of these topics incredibly well, with some excellent scenes that delivered the horror, and response to that horror, perfectly.
Speaking of the horror, The Medium is very light on the actual scares. It goes for a much more atmospheric – or tense – kind of horror. This alone is a huge step up from Bloober Team’s earlier efforts. Their previous games were filled to the brim with lazy jumpscares that bored more than shocked. The Medium has exactly one jump scare, and it was delivered perfectly.
Whilst the themes in The Medium are strong, and the horror is far from lazy, the actual plot tends to resemble a limping tortoise. Marianne is not a particularly interesting character, and I found she struggled to carry the game – at least at first. Around the halfway mark the game’s plot goes into overdrive, and minus a few dropped balls along the way, it manages to deliver a pretty compelling tale. I’d go into more details, but spoilers are a serious concern in a game such as this.
The Medium’s gameplay is as mixed as a particularly well-shuffled pick n’ mix. At its core, the game is a puzzle game that harkens back to something like Broken Sword, or classic Resident Evil. You find a barrier, you look for a way to break through the said barrier, rinse and repeat. This is all well and good and all, but The Medium isn’t exactly a short game at 10 hours, and very little changes over the course of the game. You will quite literally be doing the same things you were doing in hour one, at the end of the game.
Honestly though, this isn’t the worst part. The Medium has a lot of nothing going on, and that nothing is broken up by short bursts of ‘something’. This something is usually a recurring enemy – similar to Nemesis – who chases you for a bit (sometimes literally) and then buggers off once you figure out his pattern. This might sound rather swanky, but Bloober Team kinda fumbled this aspect. The game has two very distinct states – safe corridor trekking or instant death boogeyman time. This did quite the number on the spooky side of things since I knew I was safe until the game announced it was time to feel unsafe. Dying often felt cheap too, which led to certain setpieces feeling frustratingly repetitive.
Bring In The Gimmicks
So yeah, if the spooks are alright, but the gameplay is naff – the story is slow, but the themes are engaging – what makes The Medium unique? Gimmicks. Gimmicks are what give The Medium that extra special sauce that tickles the tongue. Being a Medium, Marianne can exist in two separate realities simultaneously. In terms of gameplay, this manifests as a rather swanky dual-screen voodoo. This is used to solve puzzles, navigate the world, fight hellspawn and interact with the restless dead.
Things are almost always more interesting when reality is shattered as you have to solve puzzles in both realities, often using extra jazzy magic, to progress. The game drip-feeds new powers as the game goes on, such as the ability to separate Marriane from her spiritual self, and the ability to conjure protective barriers, further expanding the funkiness of the mechanic. Like the core loop, however, The Medium fails to keep the momentum going here for the full duration. It ultimately ended up resembling week-old bread by the time all was said and done.
Sparkles and Creaky Floorboards
Of course, having a mid-2000’s Nintendo gimmick powering your game results in quite the visual spectacle. Bloober Team is not exactly a AAA developer, but the visual quality they managed to achieve here is impressive. Sure, some animations are a bit poor, textures aren’t always the finest, and outdoor areas look a tad rough, but for the most part, the game looks great. Witnessing the “other” world is quite the treat as well. Skyscraper monstrosities fill the skyline whilst writhing, pulsating, and moist textures permeate the immediate area. If purgatory was anything like Marriane see’s, I would rather give it a miss – it’d take hours to clean the goop from your boots. The game also uses fixed camera angles incredibly well, giving the game a very classic vibe.
The visuals are accompanied by pretty good sound design too. Voice acting ranges from pretty good to excellent. The best scenes are quite literally carried by the higher-tier cast, whereas the less emotive members tend to make up the miscellaneous who’s-that’s in the background. The music is pretty damn great too, with some cracking atmospheric tunes to keep you on your toes, and some heart pounders when things pick up a bit. The stars of the ambient show, however, are the environmental sounds that are top-notch.
Overall, The Medium left me with feelings of general frustration. Not at the quality of the game, or the mechanics themselves, but the length of the ride. The game is simply too long and the vast majority of my issues are a result of the core game growing stale, or the story being broken up by long stretches of nothing. All that being said, I had a good time with The Medium. It’s not something I’d recommend people rush out and buy at full price, but it’s certainly a game worth experiencing.
THE MEDIUM IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Blooper Team for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.