The Medium Review – Making Beksinski the New Lovecraft
Developed and published by Bloober Team
Available on XSX and PC
This was certainly a game I was looking forward to playing. My assumption was that The Medium was a third-person survival horror in a strange and terrifying otherworld. Basically, I thought this was going to be Silent Hill. Probably unwise to get my expectations so high, but in spite of that, the game was still great.The Medium is a departure from Bloober Team’s traditional style of first-person horror games. This one is not only in the third-person, but frequently it is third-person x2. Although I don’t think it quite lived up to my hopes, The Medium was still an awesome horror experience. It’s just kind of unusual.
The Medium follows the story of Marianne. As the name suggests, she is a psychic medium. Growing up with a connection to some kind of nightmarish world of the dead has left her an outsider, which I much prefer to her in front of a crystal ball doing seances for money. The game begins with her finishing the setup for the burial of her adoptive father. When she gets an urgent and mysterious call for help, she heads immediately for the abandoned government facility (it’s a resort, not like a secret evil lair) of Niwa.
The narrative of The Medium was one of the best parts of the game. The lore behind what happened at Niwa was interesting, with the snippets of story keeping me engaged throughout. I will say that there were only like four characters in the game that you interact with, but each of them are pulled off well. The ending left a bit to be desired, but I imagine it’s a setup for a sequel. Or perhaps it was so enthralling I just really want more.
Visually, The Medium is truly incredible. The real world areas of the game are fine. About what you’d expect from a run down hotel. But the world of the dead was amazing. I was blown away at how accurately and faithfully they’d captured the style of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński. Beautiful and intricate corridors of bone in yellow brown hues. Grand vistas of crumbling stone. And the visuals of the few people you do meet in this realm are masterful works of art themselves. If there’s anything that Bloober should take away from this game for a sequel, make more sequences in this otherworld.
You spend the entirety of The Medium at this Niwa hotel and the otherworld equivalent, trying to figure out what happened and why it was so quickly abandoned. The place is a massive run down resort, and much of the game is about overcoming collapsed areas and figuring out how to open locked doors. I appreciated this claustrophobic setting, which gave it the feel of a game like Resident Evil (doubly so with the fixed camera angles).
Unlike classic horror such as Resident Evil, there weren’t a whole lot of threats. The Medium has two main antagonist characters, and beyond that, the place is pretty safe. You encounter some area hazards, such as a swarm of moths, but with the ability to use a protective shield, these were never really that stressful of encounters. I recognize that combat isn’t exactly Bloober’s thing, so I wouldn’t expect the game to have you fighting against zombies (though that would be cool). I do think, however, there could have been more instances of danger to keep you on your toes.
That said, when you do encounter danger, it is dire indeed. The main main antagonist in The Medium is a gigantic angry creature called The Maw. This big guy can attack you both in the spirit world as well as out, and cannot be killed. Encounters with The Maw can only be dealt with by hiding or running away. I did feel these were a bit too easy, especially with The Maw being blind in the real world. But all the same, it was a huge freaky freak who rambled nonstop and I thought it was cool.
As tracks with Marianne’s ability to see our reality and that of the dead, there are gameplay sequences where you too experience both simultaneously. The screen splits in two. On the left you have Marianne exploring the Niwa ruins. On the right, you have a white-haired Marianne exploring the Beksiński realm. This creates an interesting gameplay mechanic where you are searching both areas for various keys and clues in order to progress.
While I do appreciate the novelty of this dual reality gameplay in The Medium, I don’t think it was for me. Having my attention split between two parallel screens was not easy on my shrivelled little brain. Especially when one reality, the world of the dead, is a thousand times more interesting to look at than the other. I would have much preferred the ability to shift between the realms, a la that really good time traveling mission from Titanfall 2. In any case, this isn’t a big issue. These sequences come and go, and you do get plenty of great instances in The Medium where you’re entirely in the nightmare realm.
The Medium is a slow-paced game. Both in story and in gameplay. Marianne can do a light jog in some areas, but is frequently disabled during investigation sequences. While a slower-paced game isn’t necessarily bad, especially in a horror game where you want the tension to be building, this didn’t translate well to the puzzles and detective work. I frequently found myself needing to run back and forth looking for stuff I missed, and without the jog button working, it felt a little sluggish.
One last gripe I had with The Medium was that the medium did not really do much mediating. Being so connected with the world of the dead, I was hoping for more conversations with the souls that remained in Niwa. Instead, you merely detect the presence of where they were, and hear what they said way back when. This is explained in the story, where The Maw uses the souls to construct the twisted environments you’re exploring. Can’t really talk to souls if they’ve been turned into sinister drywall. Again, not really a problem, just a place where there could be some improvement.
In spite of my gameplay complaints, the game itself is amazing and shows how far Bloober has come as a developer. Whereas Layers of Fear was all about art, The Medium is a game that actually brings that art to life. The Medium is far from perfect. The mechanics are a little clunky and slow. It may not provide the challenging horror experience that some players are looking for. But if you want to experience a good story and explore a truly incredible and disturbing nightmare world, this is the game for you.