Reviewed on Xbox Series X (Game Pass)

The Medium is the next big game from Blooper Team, the studio behind Layers of Fear, Observer and Blair Witch, and probably the first true next generation game on the Xbox Series X|S. Continuing in the vein of phycological and literal horror these developers do so well, The Medium truly elevates the studio to the next level.

Two Worlds

This game really took a challenge and ran with it, taking the idea of two worlds existing in the same space, the real world and the spirit world. Not only is this a challenge in terms of gameplay, this is a massive technical challenge, only possible due to the immense power the next generation consoles are capable of.

You play as Marianne, a medium who helps troubled souls find peace. On waking from a recurring nightmare, an unnerving phone call brings you to Niwa, an abandoned resort where horrific events took place. Marianne being a medium has the ability to explore both the real and spirit world, sometimes each in their own respect, and sometimes simultaneously.

Using this split world view, the game creates brilliant puzzles in which you must carry out a task in the spirit world, whilst also being in the real world, to progress in the real world, and vice versa. I was really impressed with how the game approached this mechanic, and how it utilised the split screen in both its gameplay and its cinematic cut scenes.

Dual Immersion

The Medium is an immersive experience I was not expecting, with eerie yet beautifully designed environments, some of the best I’ve seen in video games, and a fantastic atmosphere down to precise sound design and a fitting score composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski and Akira Yamaoka. You’re instantly drawn into the game and I was left eager to explore and see more of what this game had to offer.

The environments truly had me in awe of the world(s). The beautiful lighting combined with the fixed camera (similar to the resident evil franchise) proved that the developers knew exactly how to show off the brilliant environment design, leaving me with an obscene number of screenshots. The art style of the game is inspired by the late polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński. Whilst I understand why this game doesn’t have a photo mode, I wish I could have spent hours refining the perfect screenshot to share online and use as my Series X background.

The little details, including an extensive number of collectibles, added to the overall atmosphere and heightened the environments even further. Both worlds were as detailed at each other, and the split screen moments really showed off the duality of the same environment in completely different settings. Small details were replicated in clever, detailed ways further adding to both the similarities and differences of each world.

Unfortunately, at the time of playing on the Xbox Series X, The Medium was plagued with small glitches and bugs, and the most unfortunate of all these were the texture pop-ins. For such a fantastic and immersive game, these issues really pulled me out of the game in how jarring they were and the frequency at which they happened. Hopefully this will be patched in the future for a more fluid experience. 

One other thing I desperately wish was better is the bolt cutter animation. For such a detailed game, having such a poor animation in comparison to everything else really threw me. It felt like the game suddenly threw itself back by several years in its design, just for one simple mechanic and animation.

Not So Powerful  

The main enemy in this game, The Maw, was truly unnerving. Voiced by none other than Troy Baker, the dialogue and way he speaks evokes true horror in Marianne and the player controlling her. The design of The Maw was fantastic, bringing a silent hill meets hell vibe. Now this game features less combat than I would have hoped, in fact it really doesn’t feature any at all. There is a way to stun but it feels hollow and most of the time, unnecessary. It’s more of a avoid the enemy at all costs game, which has nothing wrong with it, I just feel the interactions could be more intense if they upped the stakes when ‘stunning’ the enemy.

Leading on from this point, the powers aren’t as great as I was expecting. They are designed beautifully and are essential to progression, but there are few and the repetition of using the same powers with no upgrades or new powers to follow becomes predictable and unvaried. I was expecting more and hope the next game – I’m sure there will be one – expands the variety and use of these powers.

The Best Kind of Confusing

The Medium takes you on a journey through Marianne’s grief and a nagging past that awaits her. What is originally a confusing narrative slowly reveals itself, taking plenty of twists and turns along the way. This game is written very well, building its world at a slow pace whilst unravelling the story until it comes to a head at the very satisfying end. It can get confusing at times, but it feels intentional, as though the game is making you feel out the story exactly as Marianne would herself.

Despite the fantastic writing and brilliant campaign, sometimes the game would try to guide you a little too much. At one point, I’d discovered how to work a simple puzzle fairly fast, but the game wouldn’t allow me to progress until I’d slowly interacted with the right parts, in the right order. Whilst just a niggly detail, it can frustrate the player, taking you out of the game.

Final Verdict

Overall, this game was a masterpiece in horror storytelling. With a compelling narrative, fantastic performances and utterly stunning environments, The Medium is a strong title for both Blooper Team and Xbox, and I hope to see it become a staple first party franchise in the future.

Score: 8/10

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