The Medium Review – Classic Survival Horror and Damn Good
Title: The Medium
Developer: Bloober Team
Release Date: January 28, 2021
Reviewed On: Xbox Series X
Publisher: Bloober Team
Genre: Survival Horror
The survival horror genre has evolved over the years, but I’ve always been a fan of some classic systems. The fixed-cameras and puzzle-solving elements, to name a few, are features that I wouldn’t mind see be implemented in modern games. I didn’t know too much about developer Bloober Team’s horror adventure The Medium before playing, so you can imagine how surprised I was by their skill in bringing classic survival horror elements to a new generation.
The Medium introduces players to Marianne as she finds herself in a sort of crossroads in her life. We learn that she has the power to interact with the spiritual plane, but after losing someone close to her, she is left to piece together a spiraling mystery on her own. She discovers, and the spirits she meets along the way have more to do with her than she thought, but as the spirit world and reality begin to blend, her reality becomes more obscure than ever.
Marianne is a great protagonist for this adventure as she has a grasp on her powers at this point in her life, so interacting with spirits isn’t too much out of the ordinary for her. However, we then see her react to events out of her element, which shows multiple sides of her personality and helps us understand her better. She’s very much a loner in her day-to-day life, making it fitting that she talks to herself so often, but she also has a level of courage that I could never match that easily fits her character.
This isn’t a narrative that you’d want spoiled as things become more complicated for Marianne the further down the rabbit hole she goes. Using the mechanics of reality and the spiritual plane, she can explore both, which happen simultaneously on-screen. Players can see both worlds at the same time and use items collected to progress through the environments. The spirit world is also where Marianne interacts with spirits in hopes to exorcise them.
These mechanics require some clever use throughout the game as you can control out of body experiences for a limited amount of time to explore the spirit realm without your body. However, the rule is often bent as it’s also possible to enter the spirit world without the need for reality. I know it sounds confusing, but there’s a reasonable explanation for all of them.
Puzzles in the game require, so item collecting, but my inventory was never too full. Typically you can expect to enter an area, encounter an obstacle, and then use the items in this area to progress. This seems straightforward, but some moments of backtracking are required to access new sections of the environment from time to time.
Aside from items, there are points of interest that aim to tell the overarching story in more detail. Spiritual clues that require you to use a sense ability give insight into the events in the area. Also, notes are scattered about that provide even more information on the people you’re investigating. These exposition drops aren’t totally optional such as in a Resident Evil game where you can skip through the text without missing much. Here, Marianne likes to add a few comments to the objects, which expands on the object’s importance or just offers a way to expand her personality.
The Medium extends into other forms of gameplay as Marianne will find herself facing a terrible enemy known as Maw. During these sections of the game, she’ll have to outsmart the blind demon by sneaking around him and holding her breath. It is possible to die during these moments, but there are no real consequences since you can just try again. Additionally, there are chase scenes, which a perhaps the most fear-inducing moments of gameplay since they are each unique, so it’s tough to get used to them.
I never felt afraid to progress throughout the adventure as I fed off Marianne’s courage, but there are points in the narrative that might make your skin crawl. It’s more psychological in execution, though, and the game tends to make you think more than worry about jump scares. There’s a focus on worldbuilding that other survival horror games lack as the developers attempted to keep the experience grounded.
As beautiful as The Medium is, there were a few moments of framerate drops. Further, I notice the quality of objects would take time to load on the screen. However, it doesn’t hurt the immersive experience, and I’m guessing it will be fixed across post-launch optimization. Also, some environments were just a little too big with no real direction. While sometimes you’ll find a collectible, there were times where you’d make your way to the end of a large area, and there will be nothing. Movement in the game never felt restrictive, but I can’t say I was too fond of the fact that you can’t select an object when dialogue is on screen. Still, I understand this is so audio doesn’t overlap, but it does slow things down.
Bloober Team absolutely nails atmosphere, and each environment you find yourself in is well constructed and immerse. The music is excellent, and the voiced dialogue delivery is amazing in every scene. I was hesitant about the voice audio given how much Marriane talks, but I ended up really enjoying her company throughout this horrific adventure.
The Medium provides the best classic survival horror experience through modern gameplay systems that I have played in quite some time. It does this all without relying on action and gore but instead builds its excellence through atmosphere, environments, and narrative. There’s some refinement that could help the overall experience, but this is a gripping adventure whether you’re in reality or the spiritual plane.
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