The Medium, Xbox S|X Review
I think most would accept, Xbox’s Gamepass is the revelation of this generation. Over one hundred games to choose from and xbox exclusives are released straight to Gampass at launch. It is a brilliant, brilliant subscription service. And, excuse my glibness, it saves gamers from mistakenly spending money on titles that are probably not destined for greatness, (*cough) like The Medium.
The Medium is the latest game from Blooper Team who made the brilliant “Observer”, a Sci-fi Detective adventure released in 2017. This time round, they have ditched the cyber-punky aesthetic and are channeling some silent hill-esque tension set in an abandoned Kraków resort in Poland. Its moody, inspired by the greats of the genre and has a fresh take on puzzle mechanics.
Setting the scene for The Medium
Protagonist Marianne has the gift “insight”. She can see the spirit world and can actually transport her soul to the dark reality. There, she can interact with dead people and explore the creepy, alternative version of our world. Her abilities have led her to the Cold War era resort. Where she finds herself trying to solve the gruesome mystery of what happen to the occupants. In particular what happened to a dead girl named, “Sadness”.
Gameplay wise, The Medium is a 3rd person thriller/puzzle game. It has the fixed camera made famous by the early Resident Evils and has the simple character controls, exploration mechanics and environmental puzzles found in games like Until Dawn. The big feature touted in the games marketing, is how Marianne can occupy both our world and the spirit realm at the same time. Think about the two overlapping realities in the Stranger Things TV Show.
She can in fact swap between the two realities by projecting her soul, or portaling over using mirrors found in the resort. The ability to move between the worlds is the cornerstone of the games exploration and puzzles. Bypassing obstacles, finding keys or uncovering secrets all hinges on using the right reality to progress onwards.
A puzzling quandary in both worlds
A simple example is an electronic door locked in the real world. But in the spirit world it is open. So a quick spirit walk through and a power spike from Marianne’s surge ability, and the door in the real world opens. A cool idea, but the issue being, the puzzles are all of this ilk and are all inherently simple. They feel like frustrating speed bumps, as opposed to clever problems that need some musing to overcome.
There isn’t even a sense of urgency or tension outside of the predictable set piece “sneak past the boss sequences”. Frankly, within an hour or so, the uniqueness was soon eroded away in the absence of any challenge and anything fun to do in the game.
The style of The Medium
The artstyle and audio design is very, very good though. On the Xbox Series S it looked stunning, except for a bit of pop-in at times. Primarily rearing its head when viewing collectables up close for some reason. The resort and it’s mirrored spirit version feel different, with enough familiarity for easy navigation. The constant and deeply unnerving audio design brings it to life and headphones are a must.
So, the world and audio are great, unfortunately I come back to the gameplay. It is just painfully slow, totally linear and made me feel I was just going through the motions, as opposed being on the verge of something thrilling at any moment.
The Medium suffers from a fatal flaw. It has tried to hang its “uniqueness hat” on a dual reality mechanic with little substance behind it. Ultimately it’s just a bit of a gimmick. It has drawn inspiration from other amazing games in the thriller/horror space. Failing to build on any of them enough to carve out a meaningful identity within this competitive genre.
As I said at the top, thankfully this is a Xbox Gamepass game and you can dip your toe in the water a without losing any money or sleep.