Bloober Team offers gamers yet another horror game following their previous releases of Blair Witch and Layers of Fear 1 & 2. This time, the concept proposed an upside-down world similar to Stranger Things, where you’ll be playing in between two parallel worlds. My curiosity peaked of how this concept would be implemented into gameplay, and thus The Medium became part of my top 10 most anticipated games. After spending a weekend playing this game, it fell way below my expectations…
The Medium offers a decent narrative experience, so grab some popcorn and have a friend watch along. You’ll be spending eight or so hours trying to figure out what’s going on in this mysterious world. This is primarily a narrative experience with puzzles and no real combat. It’s most closely related to games like Until Dawn, but with way less action.
You’ll be playing as Marianne who is the medium, meaning she has access to the world of the living and the world of the dead. She receives a call from a mysterious man who insists she meet him at this run down, abandoned, Soviet Union resort called The Niwa Resort. This man seems to know a lot about Marianne, but we don’t know how or why. You spend the bulk of the game using your parallel world abilities to navigate through the resort and figure out what’s going on.
I spent the entire game trying to get answers. Every time I got an answer, I had more questions. This game is a mystery and most of the information will be revealed in notes and data points called Echoes. I found this method of story-telling to take away from what seemed to be a good story. Echoes created a somewhat sloppy and disjointed narrative experience. I don’t mind when notes and voice data are used to supplement information and create world-building, but when it’s one of the main methods of story-telling, I get a bit turned off. I was only engaged in the story because it kept me guessing what was next and why.
The story kept it hooks in me but the gameplay is a bit of a roller-coaster. You play in a fixed camera perspective, which made some of the puzzle solving, run-away segments, and stealth sections less immersive. I think video games as a medium (haha) have moved away from the fixed camera perspective because if its visual limitations, slow paced movement, and clunky traversal. Several times I got frustrated because the fixed camera perspective made it impossible to see what needed to be done– thus limiting The Medium‘s potential instead of accentuating it. It made a game that has advanced graphics and a unique gameplay concept feel held back by an archaic system. I would love to see this concept revamped with a free flow camera perspective.
I thought I’d be able to transfer between the worlds at will, but it can only be done in scripted segments. In these segments, the screen will be split in half and each world will have its own items and paths. For this reason, you’ll need to pay attention to both sides of the screen and switch accordingly to proceed. This concept is used as a narrative piece and a way to solve puzzles, and you’ll be able to transfer your soul to the spirit world for a limited time. For example, you’ll often need to power up some generator and to do so you’ll need to gather energy from the spirit world to activate power for an elevator or light switch. Initially, you have to keep switching back and forth between both worlds or else your soul gets consumed forever AKA you die.
However, in later parts of the game your ability allows you to stay in the spirit world for longer. As unique as this concept is, sometimes the split-screen function gave me a headache or simply became frustrating to manage, but I think the main contributing factor to that is the fixed camera angle. This gameplay loop felt interesting initially, but quickly became stale. At a certain point, I just wanted to rush through to experience the next narrative beat.
Even the atmosphere felt a bit uninspired. An abandoned resort sounds like a dope environment for a horror game but it lacked detail. Often each world had a grey, blue, green, red or orange filter over it and there weren’t many environmental details to make it feel much like a resort. I just felt like I was exploring a generic building until I reached the parts filled with dead bodies everywhere. I didn’t enjoy exploring the resort as much as I hoped. What saved the atmosphere is the music score and sound design, which definitely felt unsettling. It’s no surprise that the sound design is a strong point for Bloober Team and it’s definitely the strongest element in The Medium. Although this game doesn’t have the most impressive graphics, it’s still a major leap for Bloober Team to make a game look this good.
The Medium feels like a disappointment for the first Xbox Series X exclusive title and for a game that has a unique concept. It’s hard to believe that this is the first exclusive game to the new console. Although this feels like a step back for this new generation of gaming, The Medium is undoubtably a leap ahead for Bloober Team. The potential for this title could’ve gone so much further if it did away with the fixed camera angles and offered more environmental details. The developers cling on to elements in games that feel archaic in 2021 (e.g. slow movement across ledges, drawn out beam balancing, fixed camera), which sincerely holds the game back from being great. The nice graphics, unique concept, mysterious narrative, and sound design made playing The Medium not feel like a complete waste of time. Had this game not been available on Games Pass at no extra cost, I would’ve definitely been upset. Therefore, I do not recommend even trying The Medium unless you have that service. 2.5/5 Bibles.