The Medium Xbox Series X Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Psychological Horror
 
Rating: R18+
 
Release Date: 28/01/2021
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
3/5


 

Positives


- Style of the spirit world is incredibly creepy
- Narrative is interesting and engaging
- Characters are flawed and fully realised

Negatives


- Game is aggressively linear in its design
- Extremely basic stealth sequences neuter the threat of The Maw
- Issues with stuttering and stiff animations
- Dual-reality system seems undercooked and not fully realised


Posted January 28, 2021 by

 
Full Article
 
 

I’ve recently acquainted myself with Bloober Team and their brand of horror game, beginning with Layers of Fear. What I found were games that were narratively and stylistically interesting that just missed the boat on a mechanical level, creating flawed, yet engaging experiences. Announced at last year’s big Inside Xbox episode that gave us our first glimpses at Xbox Series X games, The Medium is Bloober Team’s biggest game yet. Another psychological horror game, this time in third person, The Medium on Xbox Series X is another intrinsically interesting narrative experience that is lacking in mechanical substance and excitement.

The Medium follows Marianne, a Medium, just as her world is being turned upside her down. After returning to her childhood home to prepare her deceased adoptive father for burial, she receives a cryptic call a mysterious stranger requesting she meet him at the Niwa Worker’s Resort. The stranger, named Thomas, references her powers as a Medium, so Marianne heads off to the deserted and dilapidated resort. Immediately, things start to go sideways with Thomas nowhere to be found and the spirit of a young girl missing an arm appearing to help direct Marianne through the ruins of the main resort to try and find him. The Medium’s story focuses on self-discovery and the unknown, slowly unravelling the sinister occurrences that brought about the death of the resort. It’s a story all about people, their actions and the consequences that result from them, with plenty of emotional weight thrown into the mix, creating a narrative that I couldn’t pull myself away from.

Building on the narrative and truly setting the scene are the game’s environments and style. The dilapidated ruins of the resort, with their crumbling structure and eerily empty hallways and rooms, set the tone from the moment you enter them. Sounds echo, immediately causing anxiety, and the relics of a happier past provide countenance to the now dark surrounds. Some of the game’s later real-world environments unfortunately didn’t hit the same way, with their more open surrounds removing much of the suffocating energy that brought out more visceral emotions in me.

Where those emotions were best evoked, and where the game truly set itself apart from other horror games, came in the form of its Spirit world. Inspired by the works of Polish surrealist Zdislaw Beksiński, The Medium’s spirit world is an eminently eery, anxiety-inducing nightmare-scape. It combines elements typical of surrealism, with embellished proportions and impossibilities, along with elements reminiscent of body-horror. Flayed skin stretches across doorways, bodies of past occupants merge into the walls, pedestals are constructed out of bones, and spirits become off-putting masked entities. The red-white tones of the environment make you feel uncomfortable at all moments, perfectly setting the scene and inviting a creeping dread and anxiety to fill you. I would have preferred if more time was spent in the spirit world, with roughly a third of the game occurring there.

Where The Medium begins to fall flat is in the substance of its gameplay and mechanics. While the game is billed exclusively as a psychological horror game, calling it a creepy adventure game might be closer to the truth. There are a couple of main loops to The Medium’s gameplay that are repeated throughout the game: investigation/puzzle solving and stealth sequences. Investigation/puzzle sequences involve exploring your environment, finding items that progress the narrative or are used for puzzles, and then solving those puzzles. The vast majority of these puzzles are incredibly basic and simplistic, really just involving finding the correct item in the environment and using it. There are couple of more involved puzzles later in the game, but they’re too late to truly help make the experience feel better. Occasionally you’ll need to use Marianne’s Medium powers to progress, however these simply amount to using a power in a specific spot and then progressing. They’re near-constantly simple progression triggers and feel underutilised.

Similarly, the stealth sequences are so incredibly basic that they actively neuter the threat of the game’s main antagonist, The Maw. These sequences typically have you moving between 2-4 pieces of cover towards the end of the room/environment, as The Maw follows linear paths. It’s some of the most disengaging and utterly boring stealth I’ve experienced in a game.

Both of these loops, along with the game’s dual-reality system, are hampered by the same thing: The utterly aggressive linearity of the game. The game funnels you from room to room, environment to environment and between realities. A linear experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case the linearity has so infected the game’s systems and mechanics that it drags the entire experience down. Unlike other adventure games, which would allow you to find action items for latter puzzles ahead of time or provide you with multiple items to try and utilise in a puzzle, The Medium only ever provides you with the exact items you need. Obtaining many of these items involves switching between realities, but even this is a super linear experience, as the game deliberately gates one reality, forcing you to progress in the other. This in itself wouldn’t necessarily a bad thing, except for the quick realisation that the environments have effectively been designed so that unless you’re forced to switch over to the Spirit side of reality, there’s nothing of note there. There might be the odd piece of lore you can find, but that’s pretty much it. The dual-reality system sounded amazing in theory, but in practice it feels underutilised.

Playing The Medium, it’s obvious that it’s the biggest game Bloober Team has worked on. Visually, the game looks good on a technical level without being outstanding. The environments are detailed, the lighting is great and character models look pretty darn good as well. Reflections vary, with some looking great, while at other times Marianne’s character model turned into a jagged, blurry mess. Marianne’s animations often feel jerky and lacking in fluidity, while she almost glides around in a way that feels unnatural. I noticed plenty of clipping while I played, as well as weird visual glitches, like weird rainbow patches flashing on the screen in front of some character models and some character models almost becoming neon messes with all detail disappearing as smoke/dust expanded across the screen. I also had plenty of issues with stuttering during cutscenes and some gameplay sequences, while the framerate itself was relatively stable during my time with the game.

The Medium is obviously the biggest and most ambitious project from Bloober Team yet, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark I’d hoped for. Its aggressive linearity and simplistic mechanics/gameplay pull down what is otherwise an eerie and engaging narrative adventure. I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, but it isn’t quite the experience I had hoped for. If you’re after a new linear narrative adventure game set in a creepy world to play, you’ll likely enjoy The Medium, but if you’re hoping for a more involved experience, I’d suggest skipping it.

The Medium was reviewed on Xbox Series X with a review copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox Series S. For more information, check the official website.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting.