Two places at once

Whether fair or not, The Medium has a lot of eyes on it at launch. It is the first true Xbox Series X console exclusive and is being touted as one of the first games only possible on Microsoft’s next-gen hardware. That said it is also worth noting that the team behind the game is known for their prowess in the horror genre. The Medium feels like a game from Bloober right from the outset. It is built with a psychological thriller mentality that draws the player into the world only to terrify them. Combat is light, puzzles are interesting, and the hook of duality is definitely one of the features that will have players entertained throughout.

The Medium drops players into the role of Marianne. Like the title, she is a medium who decides to visit an abandoned hotel in Krakow, Poland after having visions brought on by the death of someone close to her. The game takes place in the late 90s and involves some genuinely creepy locales and atmosphere that unravel as the game progresses. It is best to avoid too much detail as Bloober has done a nice job of setting the table on the story, without unleashing the full course meal for players leading up to launch.

MSRP: $49.99
Platforms: XSX (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $49.99

Bloober has made their name with their game play style. The Medium is no different. The game gives off a sense of Silent Hill thanks to the visual aesthetic and of course the soundtrack by famed composer Akira Yamaoka. This is not however the same type of game. There is almost no combat in The Medium. Instead it focuses on solving puzzles and uncovering the mystery of what happened. There are some stealth and chase sequences, but for the most part this is a game about wits as opposed to tactics.

The hook of The Medium though is its duality. Marianne learns early on that she has the ability to be in two places at the same time. One in reality, and the other in a darker world. The game literally splits the screen during these segments, and this is where the puzzle-solving really takes shape. Players will manipulate items in one reality to affect those in the other realm. It is a cool mechanic that starts off simple and evolves into more complexity as the game goes on. One example early on that truly impressed me was a clock that would advance time in the alternate realm. Being able to move it forward to unveil more clues and even a path to another area was really a cool idea.

This all happens in real time too. The game renders two worlds on the screen simultaneously. This is likely why the game requires more powerful hardware as it is essentially rendering two entirely different games at once. Thankfully the controls are nailed down so managing two versions of Marianne is never complicated or hindering the game play. Controls feels like Silent Hill in that you have a fixed camera angle and the directions change as I moved from scene to scene. It takes a little while to re-acclimate to the pseudo tank style, but it works.

Marianne gains a host of abilities as the game moves on, but nothing like a skill tree to upgrade. This is a game about solving a mystery with a sprinkle of stealth and terror here and there. The story manages to remain interesting throughout with some excellent performances. The game also looks good. While it is not going to set the world on fire or showcase the power of next-generation, the dual worlds is really impressive. I did have some issues with scenes being extremely hard to see, and the gamma bar didn’t seem to always work as intended. The frame rate is also not steady. I found it to jump up and down during some transitions making for an uneven experience. Since there is no precise combat though, it rarely hindered my game play.

The Medium is a strong outing for the team at Bloober. It is easily my favorite game they have released to date. The eerie soundtrack and locales set the mood nicely. The story is interesting, and I loved the duality in the puzzle-solving. This is a strong first game for Series X in 2021 and I hope their slate only improves as the year goes on. I wish this had been available at launch, and I am sure Microsoft does as well. It would have been a great showpiece for the console. Still it makes a nice early year title for owners of the new Xbox to dive into.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Duality puzzles
  • Great narrative
  • Genuinely creepy
  • Frame drops from time to time
  • Overly dark in some areas
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.