You’re either going to love or hate The Medium, and it’s not because it’s a bad game. It is, in fact, about as successful at being what it is as can be reasonably expected. The issue is that it’s a strange crossbreed, mixing together elements from two niche genres. I respect what it’s doing, and there are parts of it that I really like, but I’m genuinely not sure that I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t me.
Bloober Team, the Polish studio behind recent games like Blair Witch, describes The Medium as its most ambitious project yet, and it’s easy to see why. Bloober’s built an atmospheric, absorbing world, with a unique mythology and a likable heroine.
It does feel derivative, though, and that’s clearly by design. The Medium comes off like an extended, deliberate homage to PS2/Xbox survival horror, filtered through the sensibilities of 2000s-era PC adventure games. I described it to someone the other day as “Eurojank Silent Hill 2,” particularly since Bloober Team got Silent Hill vet Akira Yamaoka to contribute to The Medium’s music, and I’m not going to do much better than that.
You play as Marianne, a young woman in 1999 Poland with psychic powers she can’t entirely control and doesn’t understand. For some reason, she has the ability to interact with the spirits of the dead, which she usually uses to help them find peace.
A phone call from a stranger gets her to investigate the abandoned Niwa Resort luxury hotel, in search of answers about herself and her powers. When she arrives, Marianne finds mysteries, danger, ghosts, and more questions, in roughly that order.
The Medium is roughly eight hours long if you take your time about things. It’s mostly non-violent, with a focus on stealth and chase sequences, and abandons most of the usual horror-game jump scares and musical stings in favor of a general atmosphere of constant dread.
Next to the hard R rating of something like 2019’s RE2 remake, The Medium is a solid PG-13, but no less effective for it. It does go headlong into some truly dark territory, though, such as child abuse, so consider yourself warned.
Most of the game is spent searching for clues and solving puzzles in your environment, with no real combat. Marianne’s powers give you an assortment of abilities, such as being able to scan the immediate area for hidden items, an “out-of-body experience” button that lets you send out a short-lived astral projection, and absorbing emotional energy from a location to use as a power source.
The big-ticket feature in The Medium is being able to flip back and forth between worlds. Marianne can travel between her usual reality and a dark reflection thereof, and the latter might be the single most striking visual in a solidly designed game. It’s a sort of H.R. Giger vision of hell, where the map turns into a maze of chewed human bones, bizarre organic sculptures, and disgusting wet tendrils everywhere, all underneath a dangerously glowing sky.
You can use mirrors to travel at will between the real and dark worlds, which lets you get past doors and obstacles that don’t persist between dimensions. The more interesting mechanic comes from the rare sequences where Marianne inhabits both worlds at once via a split-screen feature, which caused my system to take a noticeable performance hit, but which is at least unique. There are a lot of cool scenes that take advantage of Marianne’s coexistence, where she’s having an animated conversation with a ghost on one layer and ranting to nothing like a crazy person in another.
Overall, though, this is one of those games that’s mostly about the journey, rather than the challenge. The puzzles can be tricky, but shouldn’t slow you down too much. When I did get stuck in The Medium, it was usually because I either hadn’t explored my environment enough, or I’d forgotten about one of Marianne’s abilities.
This isn’t to say that The Medium is a “walking sim,” where you basically just move forward and soak in the story until the credits roll, but it’s playing in that basic sandbox. It’s linear, without any real narrative choices to speak of, and doesn’t offer a lot of incentive for replays.
This is a difficult game to give a numerical rating to. I think it’s worth taking the trip, particularly for horror or adventure fans, but anyone looking for an even slightly faster-paced experience or a more customizable narrative may end up bored. It’s also just not a lot of game for a full US$50 price tag, although it’s a great argument in favor of the Xbox Game Pass. (Which, I suspect, is half the point.)
If you’re a fan of older adventure games, like Syberia or Still Life, The Medium was made almost specifically for you. If you’re an old-school survival horror fan who doesn’t think the genre’s done better than Silent Hill 2 in 20 years, The Medium is very much in your wheelhouse. If you’re not in either of those categories, I’m not sure if you’d get past the first 20 minutes.
For me, it’s a 90%, because I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, but I can’t give it more than an extremely qualified recommendation.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Bloober Team
This review is based on a digital copy of The Medium for the PC provided by Bloober Team.