With the medium coming to PlayStation, I figured now would be the perfect time to write up my review.
The Medium is a 2020 Horror game by Bloober team, the team behind Layers of Fear and The Blaire Witch game. While this game certainly is their most ambitious work, it’s important to remember this isn’t a AAA studio and so to manage expectations going in.
With the composer behind Silent Hill on board and with a split reality sales point, The Medium appeared to be a spiritual successor to the much-loved survival horror franchise.
This it was not, with no guns or old pipes to beat down grotesque creatures with, this is very much more of Bloober teams usual walking simulator style of game. While not a bad thing, personally i loved layers of fear, it certainly is worth noting this going in, that you should not expect a Silent Hill experience.
The level designs are rather good, in that ‘makes me feel uneasy’ kind of way. With the story taking place in an abandoned Polish hotel. Think Butlins, but more Soviet. When you’re in the real world, everything is dirty, dark and broken, but in the spirit world things are far, far worse.
With a horrid rusty hue and enough 'corpsey' hellish décor to give Hieronymus Bosch the heebie-jeebies, design is one area that The Medium shines. And it's certainly beautiful in many areas.
To explain how this dual reality fits into the narrative. Marianne, our protagonist, has the ability to see into the spirit realm and talk to ghosts. She’s a medium, hence, the name of the game, clever right. After the death of her foster father, she meets his ghost who tells her to go to the NIWA Resort, where she uses her powers to investigate what horrible happenings befell this holiday destination.
You meet a friendly ghost girl, and eventually a not so friendly ghost.... thing. The main antagonist of The Medium is one of the best designs I’ve seen in a horror in a long while. Simple, yet effective, with flavours of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan Labyrinth. This big bad shows up throughout the game, and provides basically all of the tension. With no weapons to fight, it’s very much a case of avoiding said nasty, as getting caught is an insta-kill. With a lovely cut scene to highlight your failure.
The voice is my favourite feature of this creature, with less of the expected deep boom yelling STAAAARS, and more RE8s Monroe yelling ‘I’m the Best!!’. There's something far more sinister about the higher pitched creeping voices, that make you feel like a child running away from a giant Punch from Punch and Judy shows, or maybe this is just my own traumas projecting. Either way, it’s worrisome.
With no combat, the game is mostly a puzzle solving activity. To progress past a swarm of murder moths you need spirit energy to make a light, which the source for is behind a membrane blocked door. Which will only open once you collect all the piano music pages, the usual kind of survival horror nonsense.
With some doors blocked in the real world but open in the spirit, you must detach your soul and go into an out of body experience to progress, something which slowly drains you, forcing you to return to your body or die.
There are also some doors in the spirit world blocked by...well...skin. Which you must guide the knife down in cutting through and... i think i just lost my appetite. A truly unpleasant experience that requires no skills bar a strong stomach. An event that really could be taken care of in a pre-animated action but one that, to Bloober’s credit, is memorable.
Overall, the puzzles while not particularly challenging do serve the purpose of creating activity while you explore the NIWA finding bits of lore. Which is where most the narrative lives, in the collectables that hide away among the debris of this apparently once high-end resort.
I can see someone rushing through this game, ignoring all the flavour finds, and concluding that it’s a bad game. If you’re going to play The Medium then i really would recommend taking your time and exploring everything.
Besides the main creep, there are sections of the game where you play as another medium, and enter the heads of NPCs. In these there are a couple more horrid creatures about, with fun designs, but still nothing you are actively fighting. Just avoiding. These sections were some of my favourites, as this other more experienced medium has a few more powers than Marianne, and make for a nice switch up from the main game.
Now as a fan of horror games when viewed from the benches, I was initially concerned when this was announced for Game Pass. After making a self-pledge that I’d play every new release the GP gave me, but being a coward when it comes to games, i was pretty mad at my former pledge happy self for peer pressuring me into this.
But where to some not being like Silent Hill is a let down, for me it made the game playable. Is it scary? Yes I’d say so, being hunted is never fun. But it’s manageable for sure. I know most horror aficionados out there would find my stance laughable, but, firstly, fuck off, secondly, horror games can exist on a scale, they don’t have to be ‘shit your pants scary’ to be good games.
This said, it could probably do with a few more scares. With precisely one jump scare in the game, I do believe making a bit more use of the split reality mechanic to show you some different horrors would be welcomed.
The Silent Hill feel is there are times, and i do think if Bloober were to pair up with someone who can make decent combat mechanics, then they would be a good choice for creating a future Silent hill entry. As they are rumoured to be doing.
Mostly I’d recommend playing this game for the story it tells. Is it a perfect game? Not at all, but what it’s doing it’s doing well. And its story is one that I very much enjoyed uncovering. It’s a one and done game, that can be completed in a weekend of dedicated gaming.
It also leaves room for what would be an interesting sequel, so here’s hoping.
We discuss horror games in episode 3 of our podcast The Gaming Manifesto, check it out and follow us on your podcast app.
Sold on the idea? The Medium doesn't have a disk copy right now but it is available on Xbox Game Pass.
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