When I see the name Bloober Team, I always think of high quality atmospheric psychological horror thrills. Between their work on Layers of Fear, Observer, and Blair Witch, they have really established themselves as one of the stand-out teams to bring eerie chills to players as they embark on dark and deadly adventures.
Whilst The Medium isn’t their first foray into this generation of consoles (the brilliant Observer: System Redux released at launch), it is the first that was built from the ground-up with the current gen of consoles in mind. It’s an Xbox Series X|S console exclusive for the time being too, meaning the console finally has another big-name title to get Xbox gamers salivating with excitement.
Is it actually any good though or have Bloober Team missed the mark with this psychological romp?
The Medium puts players in the role of Marianne, the titular Medium who is able to communicate with the dead via her special abilities. After returning to her home of Krakow following the death of her father, she receives a strange phone call that requests her presence at the nearby dilapidated Niwa Hotel. It’s connected to some mysterious visions she had recently haunted her, so her intrigue sees her heading there to find answers.
It’s clear from the get-go that The Medium’s narrative is certainly a harrowing one, with the subject matter found across its plot threads heading into difficult subject matter that might not necessarily be for everyone. That’s not to say it’s distasteful; whilst there’s an air of melancholy and darkness to a lot of what’s going on, it never feels outright exploitative or that it’s trying TOO HARD to be dour for the sake of it… it might just touch a few nerves here and there for some players throughout its storytelling.
The story still manages to remain one of the highlights of the experience though, with the twists-and-turns experienced as Marianne keeping the tale feeling engaging from start to end. The voice acting is top notch across the board and helps add to the game’s cinematic vibe, whilst the collectibles that you find during your journey help flesh out the lore and reveal more about the peculiar cast of characters you’ll meet along the way. It isn’t always pretty, but understanding more about them always made me feel that little bit more invested in the world.
It’d be easy to look at The Medium and think that it plays out in the style of a typical survival horror such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill thanks to its third-person perspective, but it’s actually more similar to Bloober Team’s previous work with its biggest emphasis placed on exploration. This isn’t a world that’s full to the brim with monsters for you to gun down, but rather focuses on sights for you to uncover, puzzles to complete, and, of course, the occasional nasty to try and escape from. It’s what Bloober Team have been known for in the past, so why fix what isn’t broken?
The big unique hook that comes with the gameis based around Marianne’s ability to enter the spirit world, with The Medium’s events often playing out in a dual-reality where the screen splits and players have to control Marianne in both the real world and a decrepit spirit world at the same time. It’s a clever mechanic that ties into exploration and puzzle solving nicely, with the actions that you take across both realities affecting each other in creative and meaningful ways. Sure, the system runs out of ideas a little by the time you reach the latter portion of the game, but it’s still something that I enjoyed toying around with and that helped set The Medium apart from its horror counterparts.
The only real issue I had with the gameplay came with exploration. The game uses fixed camera angles throughout that adds to the cinematic presentation and that SHOULD make it easier to traverse the environment when playing through the dual-reality sections. The problem is, it can actually make it more difficult to make things out in the world itself, with the restrictions not allowing players to see some of the finer details of the disturbing environments or the route that they might actually need to go. It’s not a big problem by any stretch of the imagination, but it could still prove frustrating as I tried to navigate my way through each locale.
Puzzle-wise, The Medium mostly delivers with some clever conundrums in place that require players to use both realities at the same time whilst also thinking outside of the box a little. I had plenty of satisfying ‘eureka!’ moments as I figured out what the game wanted me to do, with the dual-reality mechanics really lending themselves well to some creative puzzle scenarios.
That being said, it does embrace the survival horror trope of simply having to gather items from around the environment and put them in the right place at times too; they’re fine, but they did lack some of the imaginative nuances that the game’s more clever enigmas embraced, especially when it came to the connectivity between the real and spirit world. Hey, I’m probably nit-picking a little bit because there’s certainly more good than bad… just expect some puzzles to feel a lot more clever than others.
Remember how I said that you won’t gun down enemies in The Medium? Well, that’s certainly true, but there are still instances where Marianne will have to protect herself from the many vicious creatures lurking around. These mostly play out in one of two ways: as a chase sequence or with a bit of stealth.
There’s a malicious being known as The Maw that will hunt Marianne down as she runs and attempts to hide, which can certainly ramp up the tension. Listen, I’m a sucker for a good chase sequence and these are all presented in an over-the-top manner which changes the pace from similar sequences in other horror titles, so I was a fan. The stealth sections on the other hand were a bit predictable and drab, with the path that Marianne has to take being obvious from the get-go and requiring little thought from the player. You’ll watch enemies, wait for them to move out of your path, and then go, with little offered in the way of creativity when it came to avoiding their wrath.
I enjoyed playing through The Medium and uncovering its harrowing story, whilst I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant soundtrack (I’ll always love the work of Akira Yamaoka) or impressive visuals yet. There are plenty of frights to be found too – some of which come from the occasional jump scare and others from the intense atmosphere, so it’ll definitely tick boxes for horror fans.
The Medium is another thoroughly enjoyable psychological horror romp from the experts at Bloober Team, even if it could have done with a little bit of tweaking here and there. Exploration could be a little cumbersome thanks to the fixed camera angles for example, whilst the stealth sections felt like they broke the pace of the game as opposed to adding to the excitement.
Everything else though? It was of the same high quality you’d expect from Bloober Team. With its harrowing yet engaging narrative, fantastic visuals, and great sound design, The Medium really has all of the most important pieces in place to offer a memorable horror experience.
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Bloober Team
Platform(s): Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed on X), PC