Bloober Team's latest horror game is less of a true-blue game and more of an interactive fiction. While many lament the game's simplicity the overall narrative payoff greatly outweighs any tedium they may have instill. While the story does suffer from some pacing issues here and there and it becomes slightly too involved with its own cutscenes, The Medium is a solidly creepy horror title that you should check out if you're in the mood for a contained, chilling story that will keep you engaged from start to finish.
Bloober Team is one of the best horror game developers currently working. I’m not bestowing this title upon them because their games are innovative or push the boundaries of the genre, certainly not. However, there’s something to be said about consistency, figuring out what you do well, honing that concept and running with it to the best of your ability. Bloober Team are fantastic at making linear, story-rich horror experiences that might not tax the player with a challenge but always leaves them feeling tense and uncomfortable.
Such is the case with The Medium. While this is one of Microsoft’s few next-gen exclusives, if you go into it expecting to wowed by the technology, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Likewise, if you want a challenging game to really tax your skills, you’re better off looking elsewhere. However, players who drop all preconceptions of what a next-gen horror game should be will be swept away in a captivating story, well-written characters and an atmosphere so tense it resembles the back of a struggling writer hunched over a notebook.
Anything but Medium
The Medium isn’t all that terrifying. Let’s get this out of the way early; if you’re expecting another sinister, spine-chilling subtle affair like Bloober’s Layers of Fear, this isn’t it – there’s too much action in The Medium for that. Sure, that sounds like a major fault with a “horror” game but I don’t think Bloober Team was going for the kind of terror that makes you jump out of your chair or wake up in a cold sweat from a lingering nightmare.
The Medium is creepy. It’s unsettling. When you’re playing the game you’ll never be scared beyond the occasional jump scare but you’ll also never sit comfortably.
There’s a lot at play with how the game crafts such a specific tone with its atmosphere. The visuals of both the material world and the spirit world drip with a hopelessness that leaves the player feeling trapped no matter where they are.
The fact that both worlds are rendered simultaneously is a next-gen feat within itself but seeing how they parallel each other despite their wildly different aesthetics is… chilling. This is game in which the familiar environments of a Polish forest and holiday resort become twisted into a world of bone and blood, where doors are replaced by folds of skin that need to be sliced in two with a razor. It’s gross and weird, working in tandem with the silent loneliness of the real world to capture that sense of isolation and fear of the unknown.
I’m sensing a character…
The game’s narrative is greatly helped by a set of strong characters who manage to carry the overall story through some pacing issues here and there. Protagonist Marianne begins her weird adventure after receiving a phone call from a man she’s never met named Thomas, who claims he knows that she has the power to communicate with the spirts of the dead and even cross over to “the other side” briefly.
It’s a story rich with spoilers and revelations so without revealing too much it’s enough to know that Marianne is a passionate, driven character drawn to the restless spirts around her by a deep empathy. Throughout the story, her world and personal history unravels with secrets that she learns at the same pace as the player, making them resonate with both parties. She’s a great character and someone I found myself easily rooting for throughout my time with the game.
Where the game’s story falters are the prolonged sequences that don’t involve Marianne. The secondary character has the potential to be interesting and in some cases is generally engaging but they’re lobbed into repetitive, linear sequences that become boring very quickly.
It’s not helped that The Medium has cutscenes that feel long and drawn out. While not comparable length-wise with those in Yakuza or Metal Gear Solid, they certainly stretch the game’s pacing to an annoying extent. Still, by the time the credits rolled I was satisfied with the conclusion of Marianne’s journey. Which is good considering this is a game driven largely by its story because the actual gameplay is very basic.
The mechanics in The Medium could be labelled as basic, yet “basic” feels like the wrong word. “Simple” would be a better description for the experience of playing The Medium; it plays like a standard point-and-click adventure game with puzzles that mostly involve just moving into another room, clicking on-screen prompts, and returning to the room you just left.
Some might consider that to be boring, yet I don’t consider that to be true, or for that matter, the simplistic nature of the game to be a fault. The Medium is a game that’s been designed with the primary focus on its story, with the interface a secondary feature to allow the player to push forward the narrative at their own pace.
When I’m involved in a compelling story I don’t need some obtuse puzzles barring me from continuing with the experience I’m enjoying. Thus, the game isn’t basic it’s simple for the greater purpose of keeping players invested in the narrative, a decision I both understand and agree with.
The Medium Verdict
Bloober Team’s latest horror game is less of a true-blue horror game and more of an interactive fiction. While many may lament the game’s simplicity, the overall narrative payoff greatly outweighs any tedium they may experience. While the story does suffer from some pacing issues here and there and occasionally becomes slightly too involved with its own cutscenes, The Medium is a solidly creepy horror title that you should check out if you’re in the mood for a contained, chilling story that will keep you engaged from start to finish.
The Medium was played on PC. Review code was supplied by the publisher.