Ever since their first attempt at horror with 2016’s Layers of Fear, a few sideways glances were thrown at developer Bloober Team, the small studio from Poland. With follow up games like Observer and Blair Witch, there was certainly something interesting about the studio, they never quite hit the mark with their titles, but there was something special. The reveal of The Medium showed Bloober Team reaching for the stars and with survival horror being almost dead, can Bloober Team be the ones to bring it back?
The Medium stars Marianne, and yes, you guessed it, she is a medium. After the death of her foster father, she uncovers her ability to send the dead to where they need to go, be it heaven or hell, rather than being stuck in limbo. She receives a call from a man named Thomas, begging for help. She travels to meet him at the Niwa Resort Hotel but finds it dilapidated and empty. Her connection to the spirit world reveals a history of death surrounding the hotel and discovers the very person who called her, was heavily involved with the hotel’s sordid history. In the spirit world, Marianne encounters Sadness, a young girl trapped in limbo, who tells Marianne she cannot be set free due to the presence of The Maw, a malevolent spirit haunting the hotel.
Watch the launch trailer below:
Things start off great, Marianne has the trappings of an early 2000’s horror game protagonist and the story is set up like something out of Silent Hill. There’s a mystery to solve and the motivation to rescue Sadness is there. Marianne might be a little bland of a character, but Sadness is brilliant……all good right? Erm, not quite.
So the first half of the game has you exploring the hotel and sending trapped spirits where they need to be and occasionally Sadness will pop up and offer up a little more plot and, more importantly, emotional weight and this is where the game shines. I was invested in these characters and the game takes a hard left turn into government conspiracies, war, Soviet-era spy networks and becomes an absolute mess. The game seems to want to force a subplot as the main plot and it just doesn’t work.
Trying to dance around spoilers is very tough, but my thought process always boiled down to “Why are we here?” and “Instead of ‘x’, why didn’t they just do ‘y’?”. There is a strong narrative focal point the game shelves for nearly half of the game and by the time it returns, it’s wrapped up in minutes. It’s not even a case of padding out the story, this could have easily been written differently. Such a shame. That being said, when the story focuses on Marianne and Sadness, it’s great stuff.
I mentioned survival horror earlier as all the promotional material wanted you to believe it was a revival of the genre…….it isn’t. The Medium is a walking simulator, with some puzzles and stealth sections. There’s no reason why that can’t work and for the most part, it does. There are long stretches of walking through environments and the fixed camera angle does an excellent job of drawing you in, it emulates classic horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil really well.
As far as puzzles go, they’re bare-bones, even the most difficult puzzle stopped me for maybe five minutes and I’m usually pretty bad at puzzles, even by survival horror standards. Again, this is fine, the experience is generally great. Unfortunately, combat boils down to the type I hate. Hide behind a chest-high wall for the bad guy to move, or run away. Ugh, not good.
As a medium, Marianne has a few abilities. Her connection to the spirit world plays out in a split-screen mode, with you simultaneously moving through both worlds. This works really well, as you have to maintain focus, but it feels like it’s missing something. If this was a survival horror game combat sections would be terrifying, as you try to focus on both screens at once. It works well enough for puzzles, besides the fact, the puzzles are too easy. During these moments, Marianne can project her body into the spirit world, albeit temporarily. This is used pretty effectively for puzzles and traversal and even during enemy encounters. Other abilities in her possession include a shield to ward off…..moths, and an electrical charge.
Bloober Team nails the atmosphere of both worlds and there is some great art design here. Character models are generally well done, lending a strong visual experience. Ray tracing is subtle but effective and the lighting really aids the tone. Voice acting is great across the board with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker doing a predictably wonderful job. Angeli Wall is the standout as Sadness and hopefully has a long career in voice acting ahead of her.
Sound design is pretty solid throughout and the score is very good, Silent Hill veteran Akira Yamaoka teams up with Arkadiusz Reikowski to deliver a soundtrack at home in any Silent Hill game. Unfortunately, performance is an issue. On a PC with a 3900x and RTX 3080, there are issues at 1440p/60 (RT enabled). Long instances of slowdown when examining items with drops down to 2fps are constant and there are many visual glitches throughout the game. Bloober Team are aware of the issues and patches are on the way.
I was rooting for Bloober Team and there is some really good stuff here. They clearly tried to emulate Silent Hill and missed a vital ingredient, simplicity. There was a very strong concept that got lost in the overcomplicated plot. I don’t mind the game forsaking the survival horror genre, but it needed some stronger puzzles to really come alive, instead of puzzles that can be solved in a few minutes on the first try, even for a dummy like me. It’s so frustrating because I can see the effort Bloober Team are putting in, but they just can’t seem to break out in any of their games. They are probably two games away from a masterpiece, but sadly The Medium isn’t it and voice actor agencies, hire Angeli Wall!
The Medium was reviewed as part of the reviewers Game Pass membership.
Publisher: Bloober Team Developer: Bloober Team Release Date: 28th January 2021 2020 Reviewed On: PC Also Available On: Xbox Series X and Series S