Discover a dark mystery only a medium can solve. Travel to an abandoned communist resort and use your unique psychic abilities to uncover its deeply disturbing secrets, solve dual-reality puzzles, survive encounters with sinister spirits, and explore two realities at the same time.
Publisher: Bloober Team
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X/S (Series X unit)
Also available for: PC
Cast: Kelly Burke, Troy Baker, Marcin Dorocinski, Paulina Dulla, Krzysztof Kostera, Saniwoj Krol, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
Developer: Bloober Team
Creative Director: Mateusz Lenart
Writers: Andrezej Madrzak, Grezegorz Like, Marcin Wtenicki
Lead Designer: Wojciech Piejko
Lead Artist: Damian Zukowski
It’s been over ten years since we saw the release of a Silent Hill game, a fact I couldn’t help but keep thinking about as I played The Medium. Developer Bloober Teams follow up to their Blair Witch game is heavily inspired by the Silent Hill franchise. The Medium doesn’t feature the survival horror elements of Silent Hill, but it does have thematic similarities, similar story beats and most prominently uses fixed camera angles that the player cannot control. It’s a passion project for the developer, and you can feel that, but unfortunately, it is a disappointment and not the true “next-gen horror experience” that fans are looking for.
Marianne, a medium, is drawn to an abandoned Polish hotel after a mysterious caller begs her for help. As soon as she arrives, Marianne can sense the density of spiritual power there. Something terrible has happened at the hotel. As Marianne begins exploring the building, she finds material and documents that belong to Poland’s communist past and meets the spirit of a young girl calling herself Sadness. Marianne delves deeper into the hotel to uncover a dark history, traumatic events and a monster lurking inside the hallways. As the story unravels you learn more about Marianne’s past as well as where her powers come from. She’s a likable lead, but the way in which the story is told made it hard for me to get too attached to the themes in play here.
The Medium’s most unique feature is its use of the spirit world. Marianne can travel between the two realms later in the game, but at times Marianne is uncontrollably ripped between the two worlds. When this happens, the screen splits like you’re playing a co-op game and you’re able to see what’s happening in both the real and spirit worlds. From a design perspective, it’s super interesting. Things are inversed in the spirit realm, Marianne’s hair and clothes go from black to white, and the world is looking more like a garden out of hell. Which is saying something, considering the hotel in the real world is an abandoned, destroyed mess.
Although there’s a couple of locations outside of the hotel, it’s the depreciated state and feel that it’s a real place that makes exploring the hotel the most exciting location in the game. Each room is littered with small details or design choices that bring the hotel to life. There’s also an undeniable feeling of dread at each corner.
The spirit realm split is what leads to the majority of the puzzles of the game. For example, early in the game, Marianne gets stuck inside an elevator in the real world, but it’s open in the spirit realm. Marianne can force herself into just controlling her spirit realm body for a short period and can walk out of the elevator. By finding a source of energy on the other side, she’s able to shock the elevator into opening up in the real world. Later in the game, there are a couple of more exciting puzzles in The Medium, but I wish the game had more variety in its first half as the spirit-realm puzzles get boring pretty fast.
Early in The Medium, you’ll meet ‘The Maw’, a monstrous and evil spirit that chases Marianne down with the intent of devouring her soul. It’s genuinely scary, mostly in part to the creepy performance of Troy Baker whispering about wearing your skin as you attempt to evade it throughout the hotel. The Maw isn’t a Mr. X scenario where he could show up anywhere, he shows up in scripted areas, but he’s effectively scary each time.
Overall the scares in The Medium are few and far between. The Maw is genuinely creepy, but it never fully reaches its potential. One sequence in the game has Marianne running from the monster while blinking in and out of the two realms, making for one of my favourite moments in the game. The Medium just never did anything that got close to being as exciting as that moment again.
The Medium‘s narrative quickly gets somewhat convoluted and reliant on flash-backs to move the story forward. And at roughly 8-hours to beat, I felt like the game more than overstayed its welcome by the time I finished it. It’s like the developers didn’t trust in telling the story of the game more naturally and had to include several flash-back sequences that were quickly the most tedious parts of the game. Pair that with the somewhat repetitious nature of the game’s puzzles and I was more than ready for the credits by the time they began to roll. Which is disappointing to say, as there was a lot I liked about The Medium when I first entered the hotel. If I were to guess, I’d say it was stretched out to be the big Xbox game to kick-off 2021, but it simply isn’t that and would have been better as a tighter experience.