Polish developer Bloober Team isn’t a stranger to the horror genre. While they didn’t release an absolute must-play yet, I think it is fair to say that Layers of Fear, Blair Witch, and Observer are decent experiences. This all changes with The Medium. A horror game that uses inspiration from old school classics like Silent Hill and combines it with a visually intriguing mechanic that shows two different dimensions at the same time, called dual-reality. Bloober Team’s new game is one with ambition, one that tries to reinvent the horror genre. The Medium excels in many things, you can read why in this review. We promise it isn’t scary to read…
We played The Medium for 8 hours on Xbox Series X, no diapers were used while playing.
What we liked!
- Antagonist ‘The Maw’: I find whatever or whoever wants to be inside me, a very scary thing. The very nightmarish antagonist Maw literally wants to remove Marianna’s skin to wear it. It is an extremely unpleasant looking monster that is going to fuel nightmares for those who played The Medium. Voiced by Troy Baker who does an exceptional job bringing this monster to life, it is honestly impossible to describe the voice, it simply suits the Maw perfectly and shows, once again the talented voice-actor and how big of a difference a performance can make. Being chased by, trying to stay hidden from it, or hearing it in the distance, I don’t say this lightly but for me, the Maw is on par with Resident Evil’s Nemesis, you never know when it shows up and you feel completely powerless against it. Making a monster look disgusting and scary is one thing, but the tension and the genuine fear feeling for it to appear again is hard to accomplish.
- Fixed camera angles: You love or hate them in games, but trust me The Medium pulls a lot of neat stuff with the fixed camera angles. It was one of the first things I noticed, the brilliant use of cinematic camera angles. I think I pressed the Xbox Share button over ten times as I loved how my character was in view. As you can see in the below Twitter post for example.
- Dual-reality: Now here is where The Medium becomes an original experience, showing your character in two different dimensions. This isn’t only a visual gimmick but truly changes the gameplay. There are a few sections that require you to find something in the other dimension so you can continue in the other. Or my personal favorite, move objects in one dimension so you see cutscenes in the other based on a slight analog stick mini-game. Marianne can do out-of-body experiences too, requiring you to find solutions in a timely fashion. Being out of your body for too long will result in a game over screen, apparently leaving your body for a long period is bad, who knew?! I was most impressed by the cutscenes, seeing both dimensions at the same time while Marianne is talking to a spirit ends up in some funny awkward moments. Pushing a spirit in a swing set and seeing nobody in the real dimension, or seeing floatable toys because character Sadness is playing with it. These kinds of things make The Medium special against others in the genre, visually and gameplay-wise. It has more unexpected gameplay elements but I don’t want to spoil too much, just know that it doesn’t all end with Marianne.
- Visually: The visuals are impressive, especially if you consider the dual-reality mechanic. This truly is an Xbox Series S or X exclusive with some extremely realistic visuals in the real world and some alien-like and mysterious visuals in the spirit world. From the beginning, the game managed to impress me. You start in an apartment and it is hard to not notice how real and detailed everything looks. You come across many different environments that show a lot of visual fidelity. It makes sense that a linear game with fixed camera angles looks good but Bloober Team outdid itself. The lighting, especially in the spirit world is beautifully crafted and helps with setting up an atmosphere that never fails to impress. There is room for improvement, as Marianne’s face and other characters look very dated and emotionless but that’s easily forgiven when you are being chased by the Maw in a near picture-perfect forest that constantly switches over WITHOUT LOADING TIMES from dimension to dimension.
- Sound: I just got the new Razer Kaira Pro and it was excellently timed with The Medium. A game that I highly suggest to play with headphones. I don’t even know where to begin here as everything sound related was beyond my wildest expectations. Troy Baker and Kelly Burke (Marianne) and all other voice-actors do fantastic work that will definitely win them some awards. I feel obliged to mention the talks between Marianne and Sadness, a young spirit that often pops up in the spirit dimension. Stunning work here, the slowly building mysterious relationship is so interesting and works so well with the dual-reality cutscenes that the top-notch voice work is really appreciated here. But The Medium excels in the music department too, with two very distinct soundtracks for each dimension. Frightening when it needs to be, unnerving when you come across the Maw, and mysterious when new story related plots are revealed. Bloober Team hired Akira Yamaoka from Silent Hill to do the spirit dimension music and it is beautiful work. For me though it was Bloober Team’s very own Arkadiusz Reikowski who nailed it completely with the music for the real world. Anyway, it was a fantastic decision to not only make a visual difference between the dimensions. Finally, the sound effects make the audio complete and manage to lift up the entire horror experience. Without question, it has been a very long time that I played a game with this high quality of sound!
- A difficult story told marvelously: Traumatic moments can really change a good person’s life and The Medium isn’t afraid to tackle some hard subjects. Child abuse for example, in what was a very twisted section but really showed the storytelling that Bloober Team is capable of. It is up to you to decide if some behavior in this game was a good or bad thing, The Medium shows both sides of the story and while you obviously can’t imagine some of the moment here in real life it honestly sometimes made me doubt my initial interpretation. And here lies the real horror game, it isn’t the Maw but actually the effects of some traumatic moments, even decennia later. Again, this high quality of the story is rare. It comes in waves and continues to be interesting, from Marianne’s origin or the Maw’s origin, from the relationship between Marianne and Sadness, the Polish history included that connects many elements and seeing how everything develops is mind-blowing.
- Controls: It is Resident Evil on PS2 all over again! While it isn’t that extreme, luckily. With fixed camera angles and clear inspiration from older horror games I had to welcome my old friend again, tank-like controls. Camera angle changes? Your character suddenly moves back or stutters. Sure, it is a bit annoying but you get used to it. Precision control isn’t really needed in a game like this, even the stealth sections worked decently.
- Performance: Medium’s performance can be a bit weird, while the game is really beautiful and detailed some scenes are radically reduced in resolution. Other more specialized channels did in-depth research on this and the dynamic resolution sometimes drops to a marginal 900p, you don’t notice it that much as the screen is reduced in half but it is a shame that The Medium can be a bit blurry, doesn’t happen a lot though. Another weird issue is slow loading from objects, it is really weird to see this with the new console generation as SDD speeds are so much faster but regularly items aren’t loaded properly for a second or so. I do want to note that an ambitious game like this, rendering two worlds at the same time is incredible, please don’t let these minor issues change your opinion to buy it or not.
What we disliked
- A bit too much on rails: The Medium is leaning towards linear progress too much. It is such a shame that the hand-holding, sometimes very slow hand holding path reduces the fun a bit. I wish the game had a bit more room for exploration. You have a maze part for example but they could have gone a bit more crazy and offer the player more dead ends. You have a lot of collectibles, well-hidden even but they don’t test your imagination or force you to explore the world much. This was the only negative thing I could come up with after playing The Medium.
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