Bloober Teams has made a name for themselves in the video game horror genre with some heavy hitters like Layers of Fear and Blair Witch. So when The Medium was announced, we had an idea of what to expect, a horror survival game with puzzles that focused heavily on telling an engaging story. But then Bloober Teams announced during the Xbox Series X event that this would be one of their most ambitious projects yet. So how does The Medium rank against its predecessors? It dominates the competition. The story, visuals, atmosphere all come together to create a game that will have you thinking about it days after the credits roll.
DISCLAIMER: The following post contains spoilers for The Medium.
It All Starts With a Dead Girl
The Medium tells the story of a medium named Marianne who can communicate with spirits and travel between the land of the living and the dead. The story begins just as Marianne is preparing to say goodbye forever to her beloved foster father, Jack. Through these events, I was introduced to a few of Marianne’s special abilities. Using her insight, I was able to find items that were hidden behind or under items. Within the funeral home, I was introduced to Marianne’s ability to walk between both worlds. Here the screen becomes split, almost like two players, and as I moved around in one world, the other would do the same.
On the spirit side, Marianne looks different. She sports white hair and has almost bark looking protrusions on her left arm. The room itself takes on a more dystopian look as the desk becomes a hard mound of dirt along with other objects within the room. Marianne spots Jack behind the desk in the spirit realm, searching for a missing notebook. On the living side of the screen, Marianne is talking to herself, while on the spirit side, I watched her comfort the spirit of Jack and helped him pass to the spirit world. Following Jack’s departure, the screen shifts back to one as Marianne gets a mysterious phone call.
The cutscene introduced me to the main storyline of The Medium. The mysterious man on the phone tells her he knows about the dream she has been having and promises to answer her questions if she meets him at the Niwa Resort. Marianne’s dream is of a girl who runs to the end of a pier only to be shot by a man. Marianne decides it’s best to seek out these answers and travels to the abandoned government-run resort. As Marianne approaches the facility, she can feel the unsettling aura surrounding it. I was introduced to the spirit known as Sadness, who would become a sort of guide through the rest of the game.
Uncover the Mystery and Escape The Maw
During exploration, I interacted with items that gave more insight into Niwa’s past events. One of Marianne’s abilities is to recall memories from certain objects. As I came closer to one, I would hear the faint whispers until I found it. By focusing in, I was able to listen to these memories. Most of the time, they would contain clues to certain puzzles I was currently working on. When I came across areas haunted by traumatized spirits or the terrifying Maw (hauntingly and beautifully voiced by Troy Baker), I would be thrown into the split-screen mode.
These parts of The Medium were my favorite as I needed to focus on both worlds to progress. While searching the office of Thomas, the owner of Niwa, I was thrown into both worlds. To uncover the secret room behind the office, I needed to interact with a clock in the living world that changed the time in the spirit world. By reaching different times, I was able to find and reconstruct memories within the spirit world that led me to the secret door. During this puzzle, I was also introduced to my favorite of Marianne’s abilities: the out of body experience.
In this mode, Marianne leaves her living world body behind and travels to the spirit world for a short period of time. Here I could move through areas that were once cut off because of locked doors or blocked pathways. This is used with more puzzles later on in the story and allowed me to explore ahead to know what things I was going to be encountering. The need to use multiple abilities while trying to solve puzzles really helped strengthen this part of the gameplay. All of the puzzles felt different enough, so I wasn’t constantly doing the same things, but the abilities still helped tie the puzzles together.
The Medium Has Just Enough Ambigouity to Keep Us Guessing
The Medium‘s shining moments come through the story itself. Marianne’s draw to Niwa is to find the answers behind the dead girl. But the more I explored and uncovered; I learned how the world of the dead and its denizens were corrupting the people of the living. The Maw caused the Niwa massacre itself and he controlled the Niwa Resort nurse Ursula who murdered her patients. It was uncovering these moments during my playthrough that left me with that unsettling feeling that I enjoy most in horror games.
During the playthrough, I was given quite a bit of information that at the time felt confusing. But the further I progressed and the more I learned, these mysteries began to solve themselves. Even with answers, though, I found myself thinking about the story even after I finished. I replayed different portions in my head using the information I learned to see if there was something I could have missed. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the ending. The ambiguity left me trying to decide exactly what happened.
I didn’t experience any bugs during my gameplay. However, I was not thrilled with the fixed camera setup. This gave the movement a clunky feeling that took quite a bit to get used to each time I started a playthrough. I ended up swapping from a keyboard and mouse to a controller to have better control over character movement. The toggle helped make the camera and movement feel a bit more natural. Thankfully, the chase scenes all kept the same camera angle, so I was entirely immersed (and terrified) through those events.
Overall, The Medium was delightful to play. While it doesn’t have the traditional jumpscares or non-stop horror, it has a terrifying atmosphere that eats away at your sanity the longer you play. There were moments I needed to walk away and listen to something else just to get the music out of my head long enough to settle down. The story itself presents enough mystery throughout that kept me guessing but also tied up nearly every loose end to provide the answers I needed most. I highly suggest adding this to your playlist and pick a night where you can immerse yourself for several hours to feel the full effect.