Bloober Team is the developer of horror video games that I really, really want to love. Observer held me captivated until the story nosedived (IMO), Layers of Fear was just too packed with cheap scares and The Blair Witch never grabbed me, despite its cute dog companion. Still, Bloober’s work continues to both fascinate and entice me, despite my issues with its games. The Medium is a game I was tentatively hopeful for, and I prayed while booting it up that Bloober had knocked it out of the park for me this time around. I’ve been cheering Bloober on from the sidelines for years now, eagerly awaiting a horror which fully utilises everything the developer excels in. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s our spoiler-free review of Bloober Team’s The Medium.
The Medium is – perhaps not surprisingly – a game about a medium. Marianne is the title’s protagonist, a woman with the unique ability to see and walk within the spirit world. While it’s nice to be able to say goodbye to loved ones or free the spirits of lost souls, it’s also a bit of a burden for our hero. The game follows Marianne’s journey to unlock the secrets of her past, the truth behind her power and the history of the mysterious Newa Resort.
One of the many issues we see with modern day horror games is a reliance on an overly complex storyline. They usually come complete with a myriad of underlying themes, characters and plot points that don’t seem to serve much of a purpose. Bloober has definitely been guilty of this in the past, and while The Medium’s story is definitely interesting, it does get pretty complex. Lots of story threads get tangled up together here, and there were a few moments of “wait, what’s happening again?”
While most of the storyline is laid out for you, there’s still plenty of room for your own interpretation of certain characters and events. The YouTube theory community is definitely going to have a blast with this one, and I’m looking forward to exploring that.
A nightmare come to life
Confession time – I played The Medium on Xbox Series S, rather than the console’s more highly-powered big brother, so I definitely didn’t get the full experience. However, even with the S, The Medium looks absolutely phenomenal. The game is split between the real world and the “other” world, which often happens with a split-screen. Rendering two very different environments at the same time is very impressive, and I can only imagine that it looks even better on a Series X or PC.
The world of The Medium is very detailed but it’s not overwhelming. The game makes use of fixed camera angles, which makes it feel a little smaller, but also adds a very welcome feeling of claustrophobia. It’s also not a bad “starter” game for those new to the horror genre. Items of importance are highlighted with prompts much like Until Dawn, so it’s easy to find what you need without endless exploration.
Textures, facial animations, cutscenes, lighting and environments are all done to a very high standard. Next-gen power simply oozes from every frame. The game design of some characters is incredible (Sadness gives me the chills), but there was the occasional distracting moment of bad facial hair. That being said, as horror games go, it’s one of the prettiest.
The Medium’s gameplay is a thing of wonder. As mentioned, Marianne walks in both the real and the “other” world, which is often done in split-screen. Dual-controlling the characters is natural and easy, with button prompts and environment changes being the only differences between the two screens.
Marianne’s two selves also have different abilities, such as an out-of-body ability which allows Other World Marianne to access different areas. Other World Marianne can also attack and defend with her powers, something which Real World Marianne can’t do. Both “characters” (they are, after all, the same person) can use their powers to check items and cast out their senses to search for clues and enemies.
The switching between worlds weaves puzzles into the gameplay in a very natural way. Stuck in a room? See what you can discover as an out-of-body Other World Marianne. Looking for an item? You might only be able to get it as Real World Marianne. While having dual-worlds makes puzzles a part of the gameplay, you can expect some basic “put-this-item-in-this-slot” survival horror puzzles too.
The Medium is also a very interactive game. When using items like a razor blade or bolt cutters, it’s up to the player to actively “use” these, rather than just needing to select them in your inventory as you would in a game like Resident Evil. Cutting through doors made of human skin is – as Marianne herself confesses – pretty satisfying, if not a little gross.
The horror of The Medium is mostly psychological, so expect the sound and level design to provide more spooks than jumpscares (thankfully, Bloober has scaled back on jumpscares for this one). Without getting too spoilery, you won’t be facing a lot of combat, with stealth and puzzles being favoured throughout the game.
With its dual-worlds, fixed camera angles, a lack of combat, and a heavy focus on exploration, The Medium draws more on classic survival horrors like Silent Hill and Haunting Ground. It’s refreshing to see such old-school elements given a gameplay makeover thanks to the two different Mariannes and their respective powers. Impressive stuff.
The Medium, thankfully, has a few decent options when it comes to accessibility. Controller vibration can be tweaked, along with having the HUD visible or hidden. Interaction icons can also be hidden, while Camera Shake and Events Autocompletion can be turned on or off.
Gameplay elements which require you to hold down a button can be swapped out for a toggle option instead. Subtitles are also given the right treatment. Text size, text background, speaker name, speaker colour and bold text can all be tweaked to suit your needs.
Music is one of the things I was most keen to explore with The Medium. The dual-soundtrack balances the real world with the “other world,” and the two-sided nature of this is reflected in the game’s score. The soundtrack has been co-created by Akira Yamaoka and Arkadiusz Reikowski (the former is, of course, synonymous with the music of Silent Hill).
The music helps to create a tense and terrifying atmosphere in The Medium, whichever world you’re playing in. That being said, it’s definitely less memorable than the Silent Hill soundtracks.
Is it fun to play?
While The Medium looks like a nightmare come true (in a good way), the question is: is it fun to play? It’s a resounding yes from me there. While I love my horror games, it’s rare for me to find a horror I’ll happily sink five hours-plus into during one session. The Medium, however, had me hooked. Its cool and creepy nature keeps you pushing forward, whereas the endless jumpscares of a game like Layers of Fear can get boring very quickly (at least for me).
The Medium is packed full of “let’s just get to the next area” moments. Its story unravels at such an alluring pace that it’s hard to actually quit playing. Low on frustration and high in atmosphere, The Medium is absolutely the most fun I’ve had with a Bloober game. It’s been touted as Bloober’s most ambitious game ever, and the team definitely delivered.
Should you play The Medium?
Thankfully, The Medium is well done, which is pretty rare. Steak puns aside, should you play it?
The Medium is an absolutely chilling romp, and considering it’s an Xbox Game Pass Day One title, there’s literally no reason not to give it a go if you’re a member of the service. While the story could be a lot simpler, this is definitely a horror experience I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
I’ve been waiting a long time for Bloober to finally nail down true horror, and The Medium is a wonderful example of how to do scary without relying on cheap tricks. If you’re a fan of Silent Hill, Clock Tower, Haunting Ground or even if you just want to test out the capabilities of the latest Xbox consoles, The Medium is a must-play.
The Medium comes to Xbox Game Pass for PC and Xbox Series X|S, as well as Steam, on January 28th.
The Medium was provided for review by Xbox. This review of The Medium was completed on Xbox Series S.
Featured Image Credit: Bloober Team
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