The Medium Review
Bloober Team, the developers behind critically acclaimed titles such as Layers of Fear, look to bring their signature brand of horror to the next generation with the release of The Medium. Old school camera work and design – mixed with innovative gameplay and storytelling mechanics – shows a lot of promise. However, with each new release, expectations continue to rise for Bloober Team. Does The Medium meet these ever increasing expectations?
It does, and then some.
The Medium Review
Bloober Team is a shining example of a studio honing its craft. Their debut title, Layers of Fear, was a solid entry into the horror genre, one released at a time where interest was high but options were scarce. It was far from perfect, and definitely struggled to stand up to bigger AAA games. As time moved forward, however, Bloober Team went from strength to strength. Blair Witch was a decent horror experience, limited only by the lore and design of the universe in which it was based, and Observer: System Redux was an incredible dive into a dark and gritty cyberpunk world that looked incredible and delivered a great story. Even with that impressive pedigree of titles under their belts, The Medium is the greatest work to leave the studio to date.
Many people believe there is more to existence than the single plane of living we all experience day after day. We fear the unknown, but at the same time, we yearn for what it could mean, the possibilities, the answers. What would you say if you had the chance to share some final words with a lost loved one? Would it really make it easier? Is there more to life after death, or is it misguided hope in an effort to deal with unimaginable loss? The Medium explores these deep and very powerful questions as Marianne, a young woman with strange, psychic-like powers that exists in both the world of the living and the dead. Marianne can speak, interact, live, and breathe in a world not of our own, but never truly leaving the world of the living either. It’s a thrilling premise, filled with potential and possibilities. It tackles some seriously dark subject matter that leaves thoughts and questions lingering long after the credits roll.
This dual existence, where Marianne exists in both the corporeal plane and the world of spirits, is tied so heavily into both the narrative and gameplay that it creates a uniquely terrifying and equally intriguing environment where you’re never really sure what’s going to happen next. It brings together the realistic and the believable, with the surreal and unimaginable. It doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or parlor tricks; it immerses the player so heavily and just let’s the dark nature of the storytelling do all the hard work.
Following The Medium in the build up to release I had one major concern: its puzzles. I’m not a puzzle fan; I’m the kind of player that gets turned around in corridors and winds up back where I started. The thought of a concept that saw two planes of exploration existing at the same time was one of major concern, but that’s all a very subjective take. I should have known better.
Bloober Team once again prove they are masters of their craft with puzzles that can be challenging and rewarding, but seldom frustrating. Layers of Fear struggled with some very frustrating puzzles, Observer: System Redux suffered with stealth sequences and frustrating boogeyman style mechanics, and while The Medium features both puzzles and chase scenes, they have been tuned to near perfection, with thrill and fear taking the place of frustration and repetition.
The Medium’s gameplay is simplistic in design but highly effective at delivering additional narrative in worthwhile and often disturbing ways. Marianne’s powers allows her to sense objects with a hidden past, tied to various events in history, sometimes heartwarming, oftentimes terrifying. Interacting with these objects offers a deeper dive into the characters and events that led to the main tragedy the game focuses on throughout.
In the regular world, Marianne appears just as normal as you or I. While she can sense the forces of the spirit world, it’s not until she has an Outer Body Experience that the veil between the two existences really begins to blur. While visiting the Niwa Resort, the main location of the game, Marianne explores a dilapidated and rundown hotel looking for answers on her history, and the tragic events that took place at Niwa. However, in the spirit realm, a much darker tone is present, in a demonic-like setting.
Again these split existences serve as both a storytelling tool and an intriguing gameplay mechanic. Switching between the two realms allows Marianne to move past locked doors or see past events that happened in certain areas many years ago. While some of these scenarios are tied heavily into puzzles, I never once lost my way or felt overwhelmed navigating the two unique locations.
One of The Medium’s greatest assets is the third-person, fixed-perspective design, much like the one found in the original Resident Evil. Players have no control over camera or perspective, which is a fantastic tool when trying to deliver a horror-based experience. What’s more terrifying than the lurking enemy you cannot see? Perhaps seeing an unimaginable terror that you’re unable to look away from?
And therein lies two of the games best performances. The voice over work throughout is absolutely fantastic, with great performances from every member of the cast. However, Marianne (Kelly Burke) and the games antagonist (Maw, Troy Baker) really steal the show. Like most horror games, much of the enjoyment of The Medium falls on the player. If you can turn the lights down low, get some peace and quiet, and really immerse yourself in the world, characters, and events, the game will not disappoint.
Bloober Team has long established itself as a purveyor of innovative and frightening horror experiences, but it will be tough to outdo this one. The Medium is a terrifying and disturbing look into the darkest recesses of human behavior, wrapped in an immersive, atmospheric, and beautiful looking game world.
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