The Medium (PC) Review

By Sandy Kirchner-Wilson 25.02.2021

Review for The Medium on PC

Developed and published by Bloober Studio (SA), makers of Layers of Fear, present The Medium, a game inspired by Silent Hill and other classic horror games. The Medium is more than a throwback to those games, it is a whole new experience that could bring old school survival horror back into the limelight! With a soundtrack scored by Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame and Arkadiusz Reikowski, responsible for the Blair Witch game soundtrack, there is very little to turn anyone away from this polish horror adventure. It is time to dive into the spirit world and see if it is possible to find the light: the light of survival horror's soul.

Opening with a haunting nightmare where a child is murdered in the woods, The Medium presents players with an instant sense of unease. This is followed up with an almost eerie similarity to the opening of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" where "Marley was dead to begin with...". Main character Marianne has returned home to put her adoptive father to rest. It's a morbid scene and it's filled with little nostalgic details that fill in Marianne's relationship with him. It's learned here of her connection to the spirit world when she has a rather saddening reunion. Someone reaches out to her requesting that she come to an old abandoned resort location which is known by rumours of a massacre there many years ago. This opener is as strong as it could be and from here the story picks up many new threads and is very well paced taking just enough time to build up and reinforce information before moving onto the next topic or closing threads.

This opening sequence provides a safe location for learning the controls and discovering how thorough the developers expect players to search environments and pay attention to small visual cues. It's rather amazing just how much this first area packs in, not to mention the way its atmosphere is so uneasy and melancholic. Each room presents new interactions which range from simply picking up an item and looking at it in detail to putting together simple item puzzle objects to, say, feed the cat or open a lock. This also shows the entire intent of the visual design with the fixed camera angles highlighting areas of interest as well as showing the backgrounds off in incredibly cinematic ways. As the movement is traditional 3D movement it is possible to get caught in the age old trap of walking one direction, then another when the camera swaps. It is by no means a game breaker but it is noticeable in more frantic moments. Tank controls would have been a cool option for those who like them.

Screenshot for The Medium on PC

Moment to moment gameplay is quite slow and methodical with lots of investigating objects and listening to Marianne's thoughts on the situation or reading flavour text. This is where the really satisfying adventure dialogue and information that is key to building the grim world where these characters live is found. These investigations frequently switch the perspective into first person as well. During the story Marianne meets a variety of spirits who have freaky "mask" faces, like broken porcelain dolls. These characters all have their own charm and interesting but dark backstories. Meeting spirits and interacting with their world is where The Medium brings in its unique gameplay element. The game is designed with multiworld traversal as a key feature.

At these points Marianne exists in both worlds simultaneously, those worlds being the real and spirit worlds. These moments are awesome and open up some interesting puzzle mechanics. It's during these segments that Akira Yamaoka's tracks play, giving the otherworld a hearty dose of familiar Silent Hill unsettling atmosphere. Interactions in both worlds are split across the controller. A controller is recommended for this game as it began life as an Xbox console game. It is also possible to enter a trance-like state for an out of body experience allowing Marianne to traverse the spirit realm only but in this corporeal form she has a limited time before she has to return to her body. This mechanic adds some much needed tension to the exploration. User Interface design is nice and minimal which stops it from detracting from the gameplay but it does hover buttons for interacting quite frequently which seems unnecessary.

Screenshot for The Medium on PC

It's not an easy ride with the exploratory puzzle difficulty being quite high on occasion and the later scenes are essential extra tense puzzles with an enemy involved. It's all great but when playing the opening there were around 10 minutes of confusion looking for the item that continued the story which felt a little off the mark. This was instrumental to discovering how the investigating mechanics worked however so it gets a free pass.

The visual language of the world is very strong. Using real places, the Polish setting feels very authentic and unique, featuring lots of imposing architecture with incredibly dense and detailed interior designs. It breathes a lot of life into the areas players have to explore and gives flavour to the places that could have been somewhat generic otherwise. This continues into the spirit world which is dark and twisted with lots of otherworldly funk going on as well as a disturbing amount of grot. Seeing both together is really interesting as it draws an interesting picture of the world these spirits are trapped in. However, it is when both are being rendered that it becomes obvious that this game has a few performance issues on older PC hardware. It was pushing the Nvidia 1080 to the edge with very stuttery areas at times. When it was only one viewport things were stable but as soon as the second one got brought in it was a lottery to see if the PC could or couldn't handle each place.

Screenshot for The Medium on PC

While environments are sublime the character models sometimes stand out from them due to some janky animation or slightly last gen appearance. In a way it harks back to the characters from the Playstation 2 era of horror games and it shares the same uncanniness during some scenes. This isn't overly distracting and often the characters look excellent and their designs are fantastically appropriate for the setting and story. Marianne stands out as a new favourite female lead in the horror genre with her cool leather coat and sick motorbike. This game also supports ray tracing for ambient occlusion and reflections leading to those beautiful environments having much more accuracy and depth than without. This absolutely hammers performance however and even the strongest gaming PC's out there will struggle to top 30 frames per second. When these features are on however they make the environments and characters feel a little more congruous.

Luckily the scares here are mostly a creeping dread rather than a shed load of jump scares. There is one prominent jump scare in the beginning of the Niwa Resort exploration that is both expected and unexpected causing it to be fairly effective. This creeping dread is sometimes replaced by panic with a small smattering of sneaking and running from threats when they begin to rear their heads later in the game. A large part of the spooks is the amazing soundtrack by Arkadiusz and Yamaoka. Arkadiusz is mainly focussed on the non-spirit realm with some dark ambience, unsettling but not tremendously twisted which builds an unforgettable atmosphere when paired with the areas. Yamaoka, however, is focussed on the spirit world and has created some absolutely twisted tracks that are almost uncomfortable to listen to. They do however carry that unforgettable sadness and charm that his previous soundtracks portrayed, giving this game an absolutely amazing feeling just to vibe with.

Screenshot for The Medium on PC

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The Medium isn't an unflawed masterpiece. It's got some performance issues on PC and some jankeyness in unexpected places. However it has got this absolutely unique horror atmosphere, beautifully crafted worlds and some absolute heart-string pulling story moments. This is a successful return of the "horror adventure" game style from those golden oldies everyone fondly remembers. Bloober Team has done an outstanding job making this title and it's one hundred percent recommended to all fans of horror.

Developer

Bloober Team SA

Publisher

Bloober Team SA

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

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