I’m not the type to play horror games. It’s not that I can’t handle horror, it’s just I find their narratives tedious, and the lengths you have to go to get even a tease of the story is often exhausting. Being tense for 7 hours straight is frankly not my cup of tea. But when a horror game has a good story, when it grips you from start to finish, it’s worth sitting through the arduous jump scares and nail-biting tension. Unfortunately, The Medium does not have a good story, and as such, it’s an absolute chore to play through.
In The Medium, you play Marianne, a woman who has the ability to shift between dimensions and communicate with the dead. On the day of her adoptive father’s death, she receives a phone call telling her that someone out there, a mysterious man named Thomas, knows her secret and has the answers she’s been seeking all her life. Marianne, being the perfectly reasonable person that she is, dashes off to the abandoned Niwa resort searching for Thomas and the truth.
“The Medium continued to disappoint throughout, leading me down narrative beats that I would roll my eyes at”
I’ll tell you now, the truth ain’t worth it. For the eight or so hours it took me to complete The Medium, I was eagerly awaiting something worth sitting through the dull and repetitive gameplay. But alas, it never arrived. Instead, The Medium continued to disappoint throughout, leading me down narrative beats that I found myself rolling my eyes at, or simply not caring about.
It’s clear that this game is going for a narrative about the duality of life and death, love and hate, happiness and sadness, something Blooper Team is incredibly proud of as it’s so on the nose, I could literally smell it. In principle, these themes are fine, but they’re not very well executed. And the segments, in-between any form of narrative exposition, are so long and so arduous that I felt like giving up.
The whole gimmick of this game is the split between the two realms. In terms of the narrative, it’s executed rather well. Cutscenes are often played out in both realities, so you’ll see Marianne interact with a character in the spirit world, touching their shoulder or looking around for them, and her real-world version act out the same actions but on her own. It felt original and wholly unique. While it was annoying to have to look from one reality to another, I enjoyed this way of displaying the narrative, and it gave a fresh perspective to visual storytelling.
This gimmick extends to the gameplay, but it doesn’t work nearly half as well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say as it’s downright dull. The different realms are used in conjunction, up until a certain point in the narrative, to complete environmental puzzles. There are areas in the spirit realm that are not accessible in the real world, so Marianne will have to use her “out-of-body experience” to access them. Often it’ll mean going to a specific location and using one of Marianne’s spirit powers, such as emitting a burst of energy to power up a fuse box and unlocking the means of entry for the real-world Marianne. These “puzzles” make up the bulk of the game, and their lack of innovation or fun makes them a real drag to sit through.
“The environments are lush, but what you actually do in them is so boring that they’re not worth uncovering.”
Outside of puzzles, there’s very little to do. You’ll wander around whichever realm you’re in, exploring very linear locations and interacting with objects around the world. Usually, you’ll hold LB to activate a ‘Witcher sense’ type ability that reveals hidden objects and a guiding path. You’ll then follow the said path until you find an item, press X, and get a bit of dialogue. Rinse and repeat.
It’s not that the environments themselves aren’t interesting enough to explore; they very much are. The Niwa resort is full of character and haunted by its bloody past. It is a building very much in ruin and a combination of the brutalist architecture of the 50s and the art-deco style of the 20s. This amalgamation is both uncompromised in its beauty and yet strangely at odds with one another.
The spirit world is equally as enthralling. It is a Cronenbergian nightmare of flesh, bones, and skin strewn across mud-coloured walls. The rust-coloured hues that permeate that world are reminiscent of a barren wasteland or hell itself. The environments are lush, full of lovely details, and exciting to behold; it’s just that what you can do in them is so boring and monotonous that they’re not worth uncovering.
The Medium is a game that pays homage to the horror classics of old. For some, that will be appealing and may even be a selling point. But for me, it just results in clunky and old-fashioned gameplay. You have the boss fights of old, waiting behind boxes as they skulk around searching for you, or running down corridors as they chase after you. You have the fixed camera perspective, which, while offering more cinematic camera angles, often leads to me ramming Marianne into walls and tables, or simply missing where I’m supposed to go because the next location is just out of view.
“The mission design is extremely archaic; go here, interact with that, go there, listen to the dialogue, rinse repeat.”
There are the ‘tank controls’ of old, with Marianne turning around like her legs are super-glued together, which doesn’t help with the fixed camera perspective. And the mission design is extremely archaic; go here, interact with that, go there, listen to the dialogue, rinse repeat. The inclusion of the spirit powers doesn’t help spice things up but instead, elongate a tedious task. For example, you need to get down a corridor, but there are bugs in your way. So you have to get to a room to get the necessary energy for your spirit powers but to get into that room, you have to find a key which is in another room. You get my point.
The Medium isn’t all bad. It’s visually stunning, and as I’ve mentioned before, there are times when the camera angles were so cinematic I genuinely believed I was in a cutscene. The monster (named The Maw) design is genuinely fantastic and reminded me of those giant creatures at the end of Hellboy 2019. Troy Baker voices the Maw, and he does an incredible job. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Marianne’s voice actor who, while fine, left a lot to be desired. I never felt gripped by her character, and the less-than-stellar facial animations let her down further.
I think the thing that makes this whole ordeal even worse is that The Medium costs £40. It’s an unreasonably high price for what amounts to little more than a clunky, boring walking sim with a story that’s terribly unexciting. Sure, you can get it on Xbox Game Pass (which is what I did), and if you want to play it, I recommend you do it this way, as its asking price is laughably high, and I don’t think that justifies this unremarkable game.