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Bloober Team’s psychological horror streak continues into 2021 with next-gen power, allowing for two horror games at once! Running simultaneous dual realities alongside healthy inspiration from Konami’s Silent Hill, The Medium revives classic horror roots with a new twist.
As someone who usually wouldn’t play horror willingly, I took my time with The Medium, progressing through hourly chunks before I needed to retreat behind the nearest couch. Nevertheless, even with every light and lamp on, I was bricking it each time I sat down to play through the eight-hour campaign of this Xbox exclusive.
Surprising myself, as the game drew on into its latter stages, I was supernaturally glued to the controller, unable to separate myself from Bloober Team’s next-gen horror title. Rather than being frozen in fear, as usual, I was instead captivated by The Medium’s twisting narrative that rolls one reveal after the next into a rich tapestry.
You take the role of the titular Medium, Marianne to holiday resort turned nightmare factory, Niwa, after experiencing a good ol’ fashioned horror vision, featuring bonus spooky phone call. Niwa isn’t your everyday Butlins; whether it’s the dilapidated eerie corridors or the cataclysmic visions into the spirit world, the dishevelled world Marianne explores is not for the faint of heart.
Even the nicer corridors that don’t look like they’ve been part of a grizzly murder are no less creepy thanks to the ominous fixed camera angles. With no control over your viewpoint, you never know what’s around the next corner, keeping you on edge at just what’s coming next, or what’s lurking in the darkness.
The Medium’s looming tracking pans and carefully constructed framing put the Niwa resort in focus to become a character of its own. Walls drip with blood and atmospheric detail through beautifully rendered camera angles to immerse you in the dual worlds. These gorgeous visuals however regrettably come at the cost of gameplay.
As a horror game, you can, of course, expect a chase sequence by the occasional monster, though you’ll spend most of your time puzzle-solving and lore progressing. Puzzle segments rarely span larger than a few rooms between the real and spirit world. Disappointingly however many are solved merely by holding down the insight button and interacting with everything.
The legitimate puzzles, while delightfully devilish, can often be hampered by the overbearing issue across all of The Medium: clunky controls. While moving like a tank is great at making you feel helpless around horrifying monsters, especially in stealth sections, it comes at the cost of making every other action tedious if you don’t nail the interaction point the first time.
Since most of the game is puzzle solving between picking up clues and organising specific objects, this tedium sets in fast. Frustrating enough already, with the fixed camera angles distorting direction, you’re constantly being turned around and bumping into walls to make movement even more of an annoyance.
Thankfully, the wonky movement doesn’t detract from The Mediums headline feature, the simultaneous dual realities. For roughly a third of the game, you’re treated to a split-screen view of two realities at once, a feature that sees the Xbox Series S often struggling to keep pace. In gameplay, this binds you by both intertwined realities to solve interconnected puzzles and obstacles, by linking clues and memories with the occasional out of body experience.
As mechanics build up over time between the real and spirit worlds, they’re neatly bound together. However, you’re not treated to the full potential of the simultaneous realities until the closing moments of the game, a fantastic finale that leaves you wanting more.
The simultaneous split realities are far from being just a gimmick, although it’s not without its flaws. There’s the occasional framerate dip in complex environments and resolution obviously takes a hit during split world sections though they’d struggle to spoil the experience.
Unfortunately, the greatest casualty of having split realities is the horror. When you’re in the spirit world, even the haunting encounters with The Maw, seem run of the mill amongst the monstrous architecture. It feels undeniably creepy, though comforting compared to the contract of horrors lurking within mundane dilapidated rooms and corridors in the real world.
Even as a non-horror fan, The Medium was spectacular. Uncovering the mystery surrounding Niwa in both realities is expertly done with tight puzzle design and a sense of forbidding dread for good measure. Only tripping over its own feet with poor movement mechanics, Bloober Team’s The Medium is a deeply captivating and powerful experience.