Many gaming studios in recent times go through an unfortunate sudden rise in popularity which ends up being too big and ultimately sets a bar so high that the studio itself cannot reach again and unfortunately majorly slows down or even kills the studio altogether. The gaming industry has witnessed more than its fair share of one-hit wonders, but it is a great sight when a studio gains popularity little by little to then deserve a chance on the big stage and show just how much they have grown. Polish studio Bloober Team‘s is one such tale.
Starting off with Layers of Fear (catch our review here), the studio immediately made a mark in the horror genre, capturing the attention of a lot of gamers who delight themselves in these types of games. The game adaptation of hit movie Blair Witch Project was another important step for the studio as they were entrusted with converting a highly notorious adventure from the big screen to the one at home, and while receiving mixed reviews it still continued to increase Bloober Team‘s fame.
Finally, their excellently received update of Observer, dubbed System Redux, meant that Bloober Team were ready for the big stage, which they soon were put on in the Xbox media briefing, where their next upcoming project, The Medium, was showcased for the first time.
It is safe to say that the hype surrounding The Medium was huge – the game promised a lot from its very first trailer, and I am very happy to report that the game delivers in full. This is a very different take on the horror genre, one which does not consist of jump scares or gore to freak out the player. Instead, The Medium creeps in slowly into the mind of the player and begins to attack the psyche little by little, basically putting you in the shoes of Marianne, the protagonist of the game who, as per the name of the game, is a medium. This slow-burn effect of The Medium is used to great effect within the game and has excellent results throughout.
The game features one of the most morbid introductions to a story which I and probably many others experienced, which immediately sets the tone for the tale to come. The opening minutes immediately reveal how the story is to be unravelled by both the narration of the game and the player, meaning exploration will unearth further clues to help you understand better what is happening in the plot. I was quite a fan of this method as it gives you incentives to roam around and check each nook and cranny for notes or the like in your quest to break down the mysteries of Niwa.
Niwa is the main location in The Medium, a former family resort which is currently abandoned and left to the elements. Niwa is a huge place, and all the more bewildering once you enter the spirit world as well. The spirit world is, pretty much, the world in between ours and the afterlife, and Marianne exists in both the human world and the spirit world. Marianne has been a medium ever since a very young age and had to come to terms with living with such supernatural powers, so much so that she now feels as if she belongs in two different dimensions at the same time.
This double existence enables her to encounter souls which could not find peace and help them achieve their rest by finding out what caused them trouble. These trapped souls often also stand in the way between Marianne and the bigger mystery surrounding the game, meaning there is no other way other than to resolve them. There are various instances in the human and spirit world which allow Marianne to recall past events, namely echos within certain objects that could have affected a person’s trauma and recreations of memory fragments that will show a small scene come “to life” in front of her.
The Medium does not feature a lot of traditional gameplay elements in a third person horror game, as Marianne is never equipped with a weapon or an item to defend herself. Instead, much revolves around her searching for clues to find out the problems affecting the troubled souls we mentioned before. The action can take place in both the living world or the spirit world, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes only one world.
For the most part, the one world sections are limited to the living world but there are segments in which immersion is very important, so the spirit world is prioritised. Anywhere the game presents, the graphics are amazing, and gameplay in the two worlds together will push your fps down a lot. That said, it rarely hinders in the gameplay department, as there is rarely fast-paced action.
Voice-acting is an underrated aspect in video games, and many people do not give a lot of regard to the work which the team employs in bringing out the characters to life. Marianne’s voice actress, Kelly Burke, has done an amazing job in giving the protagonist an identity, and many will end up empathizing with Marianne simply due to the stellar voice-over performance throughout the game. Her reactions, and a few cuss words thrown here and there help this process even more.
The soundtrack in the game is great, and features a selection of subtle tracks which can not always be heard on loudspeaker, so I suggest playing The Medium with headphones. The music will help in setting a tone which the game will feel at its best; eerie and creepy, with an element of suspense which will keep you going until you finish the game altogether. The Medium will go on for about 10 to 12 hours, so it is quite long for a horror title. Considering how story-focused the game is however, its length feels good, although I would not have minded it being a couple hours longer as when it gets good, it gets very good.
The Medium is one of those experiences which cannot be explained very well without spoiling a bit of the story. The mystery around Marianne and Niwa is one which players will enjoy discovering bit by bit, and although the game starts relatively slow, it picks up steam and becomes one of those games you would not want to let go of until you finish the story.
The Medium is out now on Xbox Series X | S and Steam!
Be sure to also check out our other reviews HERE!