The Medium Review – Where 2 Become 1

The Medium is a psychological horror game from Bloober Team, released on 28th January 2021. It is actually the first Xbox Series console exclusive, whilst also releasing on PC too. Bloober Team is a Polish studio that worked on games like Layers of Fear and Blair Witch, resulting in bit of a pedigree when it comes to horror games. They brought all of this experience and knowledge to The Medium.

Reports are that Bloober Team have already made back the development and marketing costs. This is even with it being a Series console exclusive and being released straight onto Game Pass, so clearly it’s a success and is very exciting for Bloober Team’s future.

Without further ado, let’s get into the review!

Gameplay? 8/10 – With a unique duel screen mechanic, a fixed camera, and good implementation of stealth, The Medium is a blend of old and new.

Split in two

This is the main mechanic of The Medium, there being two worlds that Marianne, the protagonist, exists in. There’s the real world, that Marianne physically lives in, going through a creepy hotel. Then there is the spirit world which is in the same space but is actually way creepier.

At times, both worlds will pop up, the game screen will spilt and you will control both Mariannes. The Marianne is both worlds are completely linked, there is no separation so every action that you take affects both. This looks trippy as hell whilst playing but in a good way. 

Each world has different obstacles, objects, and maybe even monsters. So sometimes you have to focus on one half of the screen, without forgetting about the other. It takes more mental power than I had anticipated but I honestly love it. It is one of the coolest and most unique mechanics in a game I’ve played. MORE OF THIS PLEASE!

Exploration + Puzzles

The exploration and puzzles are very similar to classic Resident Evil games. It even has an inventory that you can examine and combine items. I think this was a smart move, it helps to elicit the correct connections.

A lot of the exploration involves you exploring the Niwa looking for clues. You can pick up notes to learn about the people that lived there. There are plenty of obstacles that you will need to unlock in one world or the other too. Then, there are times when you have to find masks that souls are missing and learn their name. This will require a back and forth between both worlds to work it out and release these souls.

It’s mostly slow moving and there is a lot of reading. If you like Resident Evil and games like The Dark Pictures Anthology and Until Dawn, then this is for you. It uses similar themes and ideas to those kinds of games and puts them in an entirely unique world.

Stealth

I have actually seen quite a few complaints online about this aspect of The Medium. Honestly, and I wholeheartedly disagree with the criticisms here. I thoroughly enjoyed the stealth gameplay. It gets points in two key areas. The first is that it is somewhat unique and well executed. 

You have two kinds of stealth, the first being crouching like you’d expect. You get lower, you move slower, and make less noise, so you can hide behind barriers and not be discovered. The other is holding your breath. I really like this! You hold your breath when a monster is nearby and you make no noise. The problem is that you can only hold your breath for so long, obviously. The longer you hold it, the darker the screen gets. It really adds a level of urgency when trying to hide. Hold your breath for too long, or at the wrong time, and it could be over.

The other key area is that you need to hide. Unlike other stealth games where you have combat, you can’t fight back in The Medium. If something goes wrong in Dishonored or Deus Ex as two examples, just kill everyone. In The Medium if you mess up, the monster gets you and you die. I cannot stress this enough, I don’t want that damn monster to get me. It adds a real necessity to the stealth sections that a lot of games just don’t do. 

Issues

There are a couple of things, not many mind, that do let the side down a little. Honestly, the main issue is with some of the more tedious actions. The biggest culprit here is with the skin cutting in the spirit world. I don’t think this counts as a spoiler but in case you do, be warned.

One of the mechanics involved with having the two worlds is there being a blockade in one world. There are times when you can unlock a door in one world by doing something in the other. Like cutting up these weird skin doors in the spirit world that allows the real world to continue. It’s just a needlessly slow process and kind of messes with the pacing a little. 

The first time that you do it, it’s super gross and weird, that’s a good thing. But it loses its effect after the first time. A better way to do it would be slowly and manually the first time, then just speed it up after that. So every subsequent cutting would be automatic and quicker. I don’t honestly have many more issues with The Medium that come to mind, so not bad honestly.

Visuals? 8/10 – With ray-tracing support, The Medium’s environments pop in a way that you might not see in other games. The two worlds are entirely different, but still the same, which lends to the overall atmosphere.

Let’s start with the positives. The backgrounds, the scenery, the general character designs, and the entirety of the other world are impeccable. This is some of the visual work I’ve seen, especially in a smaller game. 

I really want to focus on the art design for the spirit world. My god does it look incredible. It’s dark, grimy, disgusting, and disturbing. It really harkens back to the Baker house in Resident Evil 7. Downstairs where there’s that damn goop everywhere. 

The use of lighting in both worlds is pretty stellar too. In the real world, it gets very dark and sometimes a small flashlight is all you have. What I like most about the flashlight is that everything else is pitchblack. You will see nothing in any other direction than where the light is pointing. As someone that has an avid fear of monsters popping up in the dark. Especially after watching films like Lights Out and Rec 2, I can say this hurt me. Again though, this is an art direction choice that makes sense in a game like this.

Worth noting that The Medium supports hardware accelerated ray tracing as standard, and there are no quality options available. This means you can’t disable ray tracing (not that you would, it looks incredible here) to favour a higher frame rate. 30fps is the locked frame rate, but honestly The Medium isn’t a fast paced experience so it doesn’t hinder the experience at all.

It isn’t all perfect though. The character models, or I should say the human ones, aren’t as good. The lip syncing is also terrible, some of the worst I’ve seen in the last couple of years for mainstream releases. It’s still not that bad, especially as it’s the one main area that the game lacks. It’s just a lot of work is could be needed.

If they just took everything from The Medium and improved the human character models and the lip syncing, “The Medium 2“ would practically be a 100/100 game for me.

Audio? 10/10 – Audio is a general masterclass, that really makes you hate the world of The Medium. In a horror game, fear is all you ask, and the sound plays into every part of that.

The Medium is an absolute masterclass in audio direction. Everything, everywhere, everywhen is pure perfection in The Medium. It creates some of the most eerie atmosphere and then maintains that, even in “safe” moments.

In my Resident Evil 2 Remake review, I praised  the atmosphere going through the RPD building. The Medium matches that atmosphere and then some. Where The Medium actually surpasses RE2 is with the lack of shotguns. In RE2, you see a monster, you remove its brain. In The Medium, you see a monster, you best hide or run away. You are mostly defenceless and this adds to the intensity.

This intensity is just exacerbated by the audio direction. Being chased makes you feel like you’re really being chased. Which is an awful feeling but it’s good audio design. Hearing a monster behind you, makes you feel like there’s really a monster behind you. Which is an awful feeling but it’s good audio design. Are you seeing the trend yet?

Everything in The Medium has been perfectly crafted to make you ‘feel’ something. To feel unnerved, anxious, and uncomfortable. They honestly, absolutely, unequivocally, nail this. There isn’t a single area that I think they fall short.

Story? 10/10 – A simple setup, interesting characters, and understandable motivations, The Medium’s story is basically all you’ll need.

I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible!

You are Marianne, a pretty powerful medium (hehe, like the name of the game… hehe). You have gone back home as your adoptive father, Jack, has passed away. You are at the flat you grew up in, which is above the funeral home that Jack owned. The game starts with you helping to prepare him for his own funeral and has you going through a simple search quest to get his tie and tie clip. You can also feed his cat, so 10/10 game confirmed.

Here you are first introduced to Marianne’s medium powers, when she goes to the spirit world and meets Jack. Marianne has the ability to exist in both worlds simultaneously. By conversing with spirits and speaking their name, she can release them so they can pass on peacefully.

After this, Marianne gets a strange call from a man named Thomas, telling her to go to Niwa hotel. He says that he knows her and that she needs to help, before the call ends. Intrigued, but not entirely convinced, Marianne travels to the hotel.

From the moment Marianne arrives, she feels a great disturbance. One quite unlike anything she has ever felt, it involves the other world. So Marianne must explore the Niwa to uncover what happened here. Along the way she wants to find Thomas, learn who he is, and maybe more about herself and her powers.

I personally really enjoyed the story in The Medium. I like the setup, with the simple initial premise and power showcase, and I really like Marianne as a character and protagonist, I think she’s great. You can also feed the cat. There’s also plenty of branching stories and twists.

Acting? 10/10 – Troy Baker puts on a masterclass as the antagonist, but is matched by other excellent performances throughout.

Out of everything in The Medium, I think the voice acting is the biggest highlight. Specifically 2 performances were stellar. The first is for Thomas, a character that is introduced at the beginning, and the reason you’re at the Niwa.

Kind of spoiler alert here. You get a flashback where you basically witness Thomas getting angry over something. The pure venom and hatred in his voice at this point was tangible. It sent actual shivers down my spine. After all the horror that had befallen Marianne before this, this was one of the scariest moments.

Next, is for the main monster. I don’t normally name voice actors because I think the work is more important. I make an exception here for Troy Baker. The guy does everything, he is in every game ever and plays many roles. I didn’t know he had range like this, and I HATE it. The voice he performs for this monster makes me sick. It will probably haunt my nightmares till the day I die.

It almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying, it’s how he says it. The tone in his voice alone probably makes him scarier than 90% of monsters in any media.

Writing? 10/10 – Marianne is a stellar example of a female lead, and The Medium showcases that perfectly.

My favourite part of the writing is Marianne, the main character. Bloober Team has crafted a very strong and competent leading lady. I wrote a list of my favourite heroines in gaming and she might just join that. Not only is she the lead with a unique and powerful ability, she’s impressive. She has a strong sense of will, is very intelligent, and resourceful. She cannot be stopped. No matter what is thrown at her, she takes a stance and faces it.

One of the best examples of her realism, for want of a better term, is right at the beginning. She gets a call from a stranger, Thomas, and he asks her to trust him. She points out that she doesn’t know him and so how could she trust him. This seems like a small detail but it matters. Most characters in games and movies wouldn’t question it and just go along with that. 

Marianne thinks about it critically and gives the correct response, and this sets her up throughout the game. She doesn’t just accept everything said to her, she thinks about it. This is something very often missing from just about every protagonist in gaming.

I’m sure there are plenty of people that won’t like the way the story is presented. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a universal right way to tell a story. I do however, very much enjoy branching storylines or timelines that converge. The Witcher on Netflix for example, I enjoy the way that the three story lines play out.

With The Medium, there’s quite a lot going on during your investigation at the Niwa. Figuring what happened at the hotel, who Thomas is, why you were called, etc.

Performance? 9/10 – Aside from some odd artefacting near the end of the game, The Medium’s performance was admirable.

The performance in The Medium was near perfect. I didn’t have any frame drops, any freezes, crashes or anything. In fact, I also had near 0 loading times. The game just kept going, barely a transition or a spinning circle. 

The only loading that it did have a loading screen was when I died, and it really didn’t take long to get back to the game. For the Series consoles, this might be the best example of the SSD’s capabilities so far. Let’s hope this trend continues.

There was one issue that I ran into though, weird artefacts start popping up on character faces late game. It was very odd and at first I thought it was on purpose but upon a little checking, it’s not. Other than that though, no issues.

Fun Factor? 10/10 – If you like horror games, especially ones that harken back to games of old, The Medium is a must play.

There are some games that are just scary and make you want to stop playing. Then there are games that are scary but you don’t want to stop playing. The Medium falls firmly in the latter category. It perfectly walks the line between being too much to play, and addictive.

Whilst playing, I have never felt so uncomfortable and my hands have never sweat so much. I have never had to check over my shoulder so much or pause the game to breath. Yet, after a minute or 2 I would have to keep going. The game compelled me forward.

Being scared, intimidated, and pushed in a game like this is fun to me. Even though I’m not actually very good when it comes to playing horror games, I like them. The stories, the monsters, and the performances are all fun in their own rights. The Medium, for me, is king in this. It’s the most I’ve ever enjoyed a horror game.

Value? 10/10 – Launching on game pass day one, and a respectable price elsewhere, The Medium is good value for a unique experience.

The Medium has 2 factors going heavily in its favour for value. The first is that it launched day one onto Game Pass, which is where I got it. So if you already have Game Pass, it is effectively free from launch day. Which is obviously awesome, no matter how you slice it.

The other is that it didn’t launch at the “new full price” for games this gen. It’s currently available for under £40 on Steam for example. Which again, is nothing to turn your nose up at. The Medium clocks in at around the 10 hour mark, depending on how thorough you are. There are plenty of things to find or read throughout the game after all.

As a personal fan of this type of game and gameplay, it’s also got the potential for further playthroughs. To either pick up anything I missed or get the other achievements on Xbox. Then, with how unique and interesting the core split world mechanic is, there’s a decent amount of reasons to go again.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy It? 10/10 – I love and hate horror games almost equally, and The Medium channelled that relationship perfectly.

Whilst it’s fair to say that this game isn’t for everyone, it is for me. The Medium came at just the right time, having just gone deep on The Dark Pictures Anthology. With me loving Man of Medan and Little Hope, The Medium is very similar to these. So I am fully here for it.

It takes the fixed camera, slower paced, supernatural horror game to a whole new level. It is potentially the scariest, most atmospheric, and horrific horror game I’ve played. Every sound, every beat, and the whole cast are just perfect. There is no other way for me to describe it.

I have never wanted to be in a games world less than I did playing The Medium. I’ve made this point above but it’s probably the key fact about my experience. This is exactly how a horror game should make you feel. You shouldn’t want to stay where the monsters are, you should want to escape.

With a decent resurgence for horror-adjacent games, I think The Medium stands very tall. It encapsulates everything that older horror games had but puts it in a stunning looking world. It takes some very interesting and unique approaches and crafts one of the best monsters ever. I truly, truly hope that there will be more entries to The Medium universe. It more than deserves it!!

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The Medium Review – Where 2 Become 1.
Written by Kyle Munn.

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