Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Bloober Team
Release: 28 January 2021
As a fan of classic horror games franchise’s such as Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, I’ve been intrigued by Bloober Team’s The Medium from the very first announcement trailer I saw. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to give this game a review and after completing The Medium I am pleased to say I had a real good time with the game.
So, how does The Medium differ from its inspirations? What sets it apart from classic ‘Survival Horror’ titles? Well, for one thing, The Medium is not technically a survival horror game per se but it’s absolutely close to one. The term we shall use is psychological horror and the story is a true experience.
The Medium is set in the late 1990s Krakow and starts with you in control of Marianne in her home. Marianne is in the midst of making preparations for a funeral for someone close to her when she receives a phone call from a Mysterious caller Thomas, begging for her help. “It all starts with a dead girl,” says Thomas. He’s contacted Marianne as she’s the only one who can help, Afterall Marianne is a medium who has the ability to see the Spirit World, this allows her to communicate with the spirits of dead people and help them move on properly to the afterlife. Without knowing too much information, Marianne feels the urge to go and investigate which leads her to the abandoned Niwa Holiday Resort where the majority of the game takes place. The rest of the game is spent unravelling the mystery of just what exactly happened there.
(Fun Fact: You may recognize the apartment Building where Marianne lives as it’s the same building featured in Bloober teams previous game Observer: System Redux, pretty cool huh?)
The Medium is played in the third person with mostly fixed, or semi-fixed camera angles which are very reminiscent of Resident Evil, Silent Hill etc. Bloober Team has done a great job with Marianne’s movement, unlike older horror games that rely on tank controls, Marianne moves freely in any direction pressed but will continue in the same direction when camera angle switches, this is very intuitive and gave me no problems at all during my playthrough.
While exploring through Niwa resort, Marianne will need to solve numerous puzzles to progress deeper into the resort. Puzzles range from your usual flip a few switches, to later on the more intensive number-based puzzles. The main way you’ll be solving puzzles is with the use of this games unique mechanic, Marianne can investigate both the real world and spirit world at the same time. When this happens the game screen will split, which can be either horizontal or vertical. On one side, we have the real world and on the other, we have the Spirit world.
The two ‘worlds’ are mirrored, so you’ll be traversing both at once which is a mechanic that took some getting used to but works really well once you get the hang of it. Certain areas are only accessible in the Spirit world and vice versa, this adds another depth to puzzle-solving as some areas will require you to remove an obstacle in the spirit world before Marianne can progress further in the real world. You will spend about 33% of the game with this ‘dual-reality’ setup.
According to Bloober team, the choices for fixed angles where not only an artistic decision, while playing the dual-reality sections, independently moving cameras caused nausea in playtesters.
Another thing worth noting is the lack of enemies while playing The Medium. You will not encounter Zombies, Giant Spiders, Pyramid Head etc. There are a few antagonists which you’ll deal with in more creative ways than the usual bashing with a steel pipe or shooting with a gun, in fact, there are no weapons at all in-game which may be disappointing for some.
Niwa itself is very haunting, the perfect setting for this kind of game, very quiet yet atmospheric. In fact, the presentation of the game itself is really great, from the dark and dingy parts of the Niwa resort to the dense woodland you visit a little later, you can really tell the games artists poured in some serious work. The game looks stunning in my opinion, which was something I was not expecting. Usually, when I think of horror games, I of think B-tier graphics with A-tier gameplay, with The Medium, I was pleasantly surprised.
The Spirit world takes strong inspiration from the works of Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński and I highly recommend checking out some of his works. H. R. Giger was an admirer of Beksiński’s works and you can definitely see his influence in art direction for the Alien & Prometheus franchises. Everything in the spirit world is decayed with a lot of orange hues. It’s not quite the blood-splattered atypical areas of standard horror games these days and is even quite different from the sharp-edged, rusted metal of Silent Hill’s ‘otherworld’. It’s its own thing for sure.
Throughout the 9 and half hours it took me to complete The Medium, I was accompanied by some outstanding sound design, coming from the occasional sound off in the distance to the subtle whispering voices I could hear as Marianne investigated an item. The voice acting is also superb with a great performance from Kelly Burke who voices Marianne and even legendary voice actor Troy Baker lends his voice making from a truly terrifying antagonist.
While on the subject of audio, I better mention the game’s soundtrack, It’s great! The soundtrack is composed and written by Akira Yamaoka and Arkadiusz Reikowski, both of whom have worked on numerous games with Akira Yamaoka know as the ‘Silent Hill’ guy. As you can imagine, the ambient music tracks are great and there’s a lot of that Silent Hill DNA in there. The game also has a few vocal tracks which are more prevalent in the late game, even featuring a duet between Silent Hill OST veteran Mary Elisabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker. I highly suggest playing The Medium with a good quality set of headphones.
Technically, the game is put together very well, however, there were a few minor things that annoyed me somewhat and the main one was the frame rate. For my playthrough, I had my resolution set to 1440p with uncapped framerate and for the most part, my game ran at above 60fps, even in the dual reality sections but some areas saw the frame rate dip as low as 14fps. These dips weren’t that frequent but were almost guaranteed in any of the game’s cutscenes. In other areas, I was getting frame rates of over 120fps yet there seemed to be no reason why. This was a very minor issue as the game usually ran very well and to be fair to the game the recommended settings suggest playing at 30fps. Now I must mention that I only played the game using the Direct X12 version with ray tracing enabled, so perhaps the DX11 version plays a lot better.
Other things I wasn’t too fond of overall as the movement speed. Marianne seems to walk at an inconsistent pace from scene to scene, this can feel a little jarring, especially when certain areas seem to take away your ability to run.
One section in particular, late in the game, has Marianne slowly walking across planks and boy does she move slow across them. I completely understand why she would but the sheer amount of these planks in a row felt unnecessary.
The last thing I want to mention is unlike the previous horror titles that came before, The Medium doesn’t feature a lot of backtracking, there’s no map in your inventory and your adventure through Niwa and beyond is a rather linear one indeed with very few areas returned to during your playthrough. Personally, I found this to be a breath of fresh air and it kept the pace of the game moving forward. I mean sure, there were a couple of puzzles that involved going between a few rooms but that was about it. That said, without artificially inflating it’s playtime with endless backtracking the 9 and half hours The Medium takes to complete are packed with story and never have you selling lost.
In conclusion, I highly recommend The Medium, especially to anyone who is a fan of psychological horror games. The Medium is almost less of a game and more of an experience, personally, I found the narrative very compelling and I do hope that a sequel is made.
PC review code kindly provided by Bloober Team