Explore both the real world and the spirit world as you attempt to unravel the mysteries of an abandoned resort while being stalked by a deadly entity determined to claim you as its own.
Developer: Bloober Team
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox Series X
MonsterVine was provided with a PC code for review.
The Medium puts you in the shoes of Marianne, a young woman who is able to see not only the real world, but the spirit world as well. This lets her act as a medium and help spirits pass on. When she receives a phone call from a man named Thomas telling her she can learn the truth about herself and her powers if she comes to the abandoned resort known as Niwa, she finds herself caught up in a dark and dangerous mystery.
While the previous horror games developed by Bloober Team were all first-person, The Medium uses a third-person perspective with semi-fixed camera angles. The camera angles work well to show off the game’s world while also calling back to classic survival horror games. Unlike those games, however, which frequently provided the player with large areas to explore, this is a much more guided experience. It’s not wholly linear, and it features several self-contained areas you’ll need to explore to solve puzzles, but for the most part there is a set path to follow.
Marianne’s abilities as a medium come into play in a variety of ways. In addition to the notes you find that provide additional details about what happened at Niwa, she can also sense emotional echoes left behind. These often come in the form of objects that you can concentrate on to get a snippet of related dialogue. A toy might let you hear a conversation between children, for example, while a telephone might give you one side of an important call made on it. You’ll occasionally come across stronger echoes in the form of ghostly silhouettes that repeat part of a conversation, as well. Sometimes these come into play as part of puzzle-solving, while other times they’re only there to add additional backstory details.
The most important way that Marianne’s powers are used is by letting you see the spirit world. Parts of the game are set wholly in the real world, but at key points Marianne gets a view into the other side. This splits your screen to show you both worlds in a special “dual-reality” system. The spirit world is a twisted, macabre version of the real world, and it’s fascinating to see what a given location looks like on both sides at the same time. It is beautifully horrific, from the fleshy walls you need to slice through to the dark imagery that fills some of its more sinister locations. However, there’s more to the spirit world than just its atmospheric impact. You need to make use of both worlds to solve puzzles and get past obstacles, such as placing an object in the real world that will let Marianne draw psychic energy from it in the spirit world, or temporarily abandoning your body to cross an area blocked off in the real world.
It isn’t long before Marianne learns that the spirit world at Niwa contains something much more dangerous than restless spirits. A monstrous entity begins stalking her, intent on claiming her as its host–and it can reach between realities, too. This adds elements of stealth, as well as occasional chase scenes, whenever the monster appears. These sections are tense, aided by the monster’s threats and laments as it tries to find you. Psychic energy gives you a limited degree of self-defense, but it feels almost inconsequential. If there’s one thing I wish The Medium had done differently, it’s how the psychic abilities are implemented. They have so much potential, and yet they play such a small role in the overall gameplay, only being used at set times for specific purposes.
As you get deeper into Niwa, the dark story surrounding it is slowly revealed. It has some pretty heavy moments and touches on serious issues, with some morally gray moments where I wasn’t sure if I should be rooting for anyone in the story’s past. At the same time, the mystery kept me guessing about certain characters and revelations, and I couldn’t wait to learn the truth. It definitely takes some unexpected turns–both in the story and gameplay. The music also does an excellent job of building the atmosphere through a combination of slower, ominous tracks and more powerful songs. The Medium gave me a compelling story I wanted to see through to the end, a delightfully macabre and bizarre alternate world, and some truly fantastic ideas even if they aren’t all used to their full potential.
The Final Word
The Medium is a dark horror game with a compelling story and a unique twist on playing in two worlds thanks to its dual-reality presentation. While it’s not perfect, it’s my favorite of Bloober Team’s games so far, and I’d be more than happy if they continue in this direction going forward. There is more to explore with this style of gameplay, and maybe within this particular game universe itself.
-MonsterVine Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – Great