One girl, two worlds. And a story we don’t know. This is the Next Gen game by Bloober Team for Xbox Series and PC. Also on Game Pass.
Want to be her for a while?
Marianne is no ordinary girl belongs to almost a classic horror game The Medium she has always had special powers that allow her to navigate between two realities, that of her world and that of the dead. Her ability as a medium has seen her through to the beginning of the Game, where she has to say goodbye to her adoptive father and accompany him from the other world so he can rest. But everything gets complicated when he receives a call that leads him to Niwa, an abandoned centre that is no longer alive after its destruction. At least, that’s how it seems. And so begins The Medium Bloober Team’s new game, a game that wants to resemble the classics, with good and not so good ideas.
The setting of The Medium, available this week for the Xbox series, PC and as part of the Game Pass service, is reminiscent of survival horror games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. This is because of the way it is controlled, the third-person protagonist and the fixed cameras in the rooms we enter. But it is true that the game moves away from these formulas and seeks its own path. A path where there are lights and shadows, but which in the end leads to an interesting experience with moments of great clarity. The Polish studio continues to drag along problems in game mechanics, as we have seen in their previous video games, but here they take steps forward in other areas.
To call The Medium a survival horror is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.
Between the living and the dead
But to get there, we have to endure a 7- to 8-hour adventure that navigates us between two worlds. This is one of the charms of The Medium: Marianne’s ability to be in two realities at once. What we see at the beginning becomes one of the main game mechanics. The screen splits and we control both sides of Marianne to progress. If a fuse box malfunctions, we can throw a flash of light from the other world – before we can charge that ability – to make the door open in the real world. If objects prevent us from progressing, we can «leave» our body to control only the ghostly part of Marianne for a limited time, continue on the path that is open in the other world, and find a new exit or a necessary object.
The relationship between the two worlds usually develops in this way. Doing things on one side and on the other side so that one can continue. With the difference of mechanics: The living Marianne can only explore her surroundings and perform stealth actions. The ghostly Marianne can create a shield to protect herself from pesky moths and create a flash for certain actions. Be that as it may, this is not an action game, but a title where exploration, puzzle solving and, in the moments when action is involved, stealth and escape are the norm.
While this duality sounds more than fine on paper, The Medium doesn’t fully exploit these possibilities. We’re dealing with a more directed game, which at moments is more reminiscent of a walking simulator than anything else, and where going back or solving puzzles always takes place in confined spaces. If we cannot open a door, the solution is relatively close in one world or another, but always in a forward format: we rarely return to a previous location. This limits the puzzles somewhat in the first half of the game, which are a little too obvious in many places.
But all is not as it seems. At a certain point, around the middle of the title, there is a turning point on all levels, and the game speeds up. On the home stretch we will have the best puzzles.
Run and hide
The title puts a big enemy in front of us that we cannot defeat. The only way to overcome it is to hide or run. And these two mechanisms work regularly. First, because the design of these stages is quite simple and so are the enemy images. Secondly, because it is pure trial and error, where you simply have to run towards the only exit you can find.
These mechanics don’t work badly and even add variety to the rhythm of the game, but they aren’t very challenging and don’t offer much in the way of control. It’s clear that the medium doesn’t want to be involved in certain actions, and we can see this in the way key moments in the story are resolved, which in other games would be direct confrontations and here are video scenes.
Sound is everything
The Medium is a game that wants to grab you by what it tells and how it tells it. It is neither a walking simulator nor an adventure game. And what it wants to tell, it succeeds at. The few characters that appear are very strong, and the relationship with the protagonist also has its high points. Certainly, the soundtrack and the dubbing play a decisive role here. The voice cast – in English, by the way, including Troy Baker – is very well chosen. The monstrosity of the beasts we interact with, or the sadness of a little girl whose name is just that, sadness, are good examples of a great work in this sense. The soundtrack is a marvel that accompanies us in every moment: Sadness, melancholy, fear, tension. It knows how to transmit every mood, every climax through our ears. And of course, the sound effects are perfectly attuned to every reality and detail.
A new technical generation, but without gimmickry.
We talked about the elements that could be improved, as the title has some character models with some seams in expressions and executions, as well as some orthopaedic movement when we run or perform an action. We also had small issues with textures loading late. In general, the art direction in defining and designing the different settings of the real world and the world of the dead contributes to a convincing overall look, even if there are weaknesses like those mentioned above.
At the level of the game, some situations we encountered need to be reconsidered. For example, there is no manual save option. This forces us to start from the beginning when we want to revisit a place or fetch an item we left on the way. Certainly chapter selection does not fit, but the ability to save beyond auto-save would have been a plus.
The medium offers a good experience thanks to its story, its development and the concept of two worlds linked by our protagonist. This gives us interesting moments on the narrative level and also on the gameplay level, with some satisfying puzzles to solve, especially in the last part of the game. With top-notch technical highlights, such as the use of ray tracing, and a sound that is on a very high level, the experience is more than positive during the 7-8 hours of gameplay.