Platforms: PS5, Xbox Series S/X
Location can be everything when it comes to horror. FromResident Evil‘s macabre mansion to the claustrophobic confines of the Nostromo inAlien, whether you’re playing or watching, the setting can play a major part in cultivating a sense of fear. InThe Medium, it’s an abandoned communist worker’s resort lost deep in the forests of Krakow – a faded, decrepit, brutalist complex where untold horrors occurred years before the game’s 1999 period setting.
Drawn to the Niwa resort following the death of her adoptive father, Marianne – the eponymous medium – finds herself digging into the past of the site, investigating legends of a massacre that lead to its closure. Stalking her is The Maw, a gigantic spectral monster that wants to wear her skin, and can also cross between worlds.
It’s a spooky enough locale in its own right, a labyrinth of dimly lit corridors and crumbling architecture that feels more sanatorium than Center Parcs, but for Marianne there’s twice the terror, as she can cross into the world of the dead, where the layout is the same but filled with remnants of the anguished dead.
Hopping between the veil is ultimately a narrative conceit to establish the game’s impressive technological clout. While certain sections of the game will see Marianne fully in one world or the other, most often you’ll explore both at once, the screen split in half with ‘mortal’ Marianne and ‘ghost’ Marianne controlled in concert. It’s rather impressive, and a real selling point for the Series X in particular as it handily powers the rendering of two distinct worlds simultaneously. For those with a 4K HDR TV, this is one of the most graphically impressive titles you’ll have encountered, with only the uncanny valley effect of the human characters’ faces breaking what is, for all accounts, near-photo realism.
For those with a 4K HDR TV, this is one of the most graphically impressive titles you’ll have encountered.
Despite the glossy production values and frankly stunning visuals, The Medium is, structurally, something of a throwback to point-and-click adventures of yore, right down to exploring set areas with fixed camera angles. Most of the game consists of navigating the twin worlds, attempting to piece together the mystery of what happened at Niwa. A passage may be blocked in one world but opened by powering a fuse box in another, for instance, or items may need to be combined to solve a particular puzzle. Beyond the spectacle, The Medium is surprisingly, yet satisfyingly, old-school in its approach.
Even Marianne’s abilities are tailored to mystery solving. Her spiritual ‘insight’ highlights hidden or invisible objects, while traversing worlds – either by going for ‘Out of Body’ walks where you’ll shift solely to the ghost world, or by climbing through mirrors – lends itself to solving environmental puzzles. Her few active skills are also used to overcome particular obstacles more than anything combat oriented, too – an explosive burst of energy might be good for escaping The Maw if it catches you, but you’ll use it more often to power supernatural circuitry, while an energy shield is mainly used to pass through swarms of ghoulish moths.
Because of its more cerebral focus and linear narrative, the occasional action-oriented sequence struggles by comparison. Trying to escape The Maw in an early chase sequence comes down to pattern memory and learning when to zig or zag, rather than actual speed or skill, while stealth sequences where you have to avoid the monster’s detection feel more down to luck. ‘Metal Ghost Solid’ this isn’t. It’s also a little hokey in places, with ropey dialogue that takes itself too seriously and characters that are a touch too literal – a young girl ghost called Sadness, for example.
Still, The Medium represents a major levelling up from developer Bloober Team, which already delivered solid chills in 2019’s Blair Witch game. The story is tighter and the world more interesting than the studio’s past efforts, while its technological chops make it a real stand out. Horror fans looking for a more focussed interactive experience will be well served here.