Sunday, 14 March 2021

The Medium (2021) - Horror Video Game Review (Xbox Series X)

The Medium
is the first next gen console game I played and was something I hadn't actually heard of before the middle of January. I was pleased to discover the game had headed to Xbox Game Pass immediately upon release and so it was the first game I downloaded upon finally getting my rotted claws on an Xbox Series X. The game comes from Bloober Team whose previous games Blair Witch, The Observer and Layers of Fear all had merits to them, even if they were each flawed in their own way. The Medium too is flawed, but like those others it does have its merits to make it feel unique.

Marianne, a spirit medium (whose power allows her to coexist simultaneously within the real world and the spirit world) is mourning the recent loss of her foster father when she receives a strange telephone call from a man calling himself  Thomas. He tells the woman that he knows she has special abilities and that he knows she also has a recurring dream about a girl getting shot dead by a lake. He tell her that if she heads to the abandoned Niwa Workers' Resort complex out in the Polish wilderness he will be able to explain this haunting dream of hers. She heads to the complex and as she explores she encounters a malevolent spirit called the Maw who she discovers was responsible for a massacre at the site many years previously. As she investigates she slowly discovers the truth about the Maw, about the man named Thomas, and also is shocked to find out this all is somehow related to her past.

The Medium is a third person combat free adventure game that for the most part is all about exploration and solving mild puzzles. The big idea with the game is that Marianne co-exists in both worlds at the same time. This is represented on screen with much of the game taking place using a split screen format. The left side of the screen shows Marianne in the real world, the right side showing her in the spirit world. Occasionally there will be moments when either one of these viewpoints takes over the whole screen. This was a cool concept to use and I never got bored of the many ways this is used to create puzzles. By holding the B button you are able to go out of your body, able to navigate the spirit world through obstacles your real world counterpart cannot get through. You also get the ability to travel through mirrors which let you dip into the spirit world or vice versa to get past locked doors and other obstacles stopping your progress.

The game looks fantastic, the lighting in particular was a highlight. The look of the spirit world is heavily inspired by the paintings of Zdislaw Beksinki, this makes that side of the game look hellish in a way that changes it up from the Silent Hill looking place you might expect. Talking of that game there are plenty of similarities, the most obvious being the two different realities. This at times felt like Silent Hill if you were a character entering it as a person with no personal demons, the spirit world is mainly as lifeless as the real world so there is no feeling of much danger. Occasionally there will be an evil spirit which you have to stealth your way around but these moments are few and far between, and they can be frustrating at times. I miss Silent Hill a lot, it was fun getting to play a game similar to that but the story was not as engaging here. My last bit about that other series,  the soundtrack for The Medium is co-composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski and Akira Yamaoka, the later of course being the legend behind the soundtracks of the Silent Hill games.

The story here was all a bit bland. Mainly it is pieced together from notes and letters dotted around the environments, memories that are attached to specific objects, and the formation of ghosts who play out particular moments from their lives. It was only in the last hour that the story finally became interesting. Up to that point it was all about discovering what the deal with Thomas was, and what the deal was with the spirit of a little girl you find. It may be bland but it is at least something that covers mature subjects respectfully, along the way there is murder, torture, child abuse and even rape is covered. I did find myself in a constant battle to remember what I was meant to be doing, I even struggled at times to recall just why I was at the abandoned complex in the first place.

I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy The Medium, I really did, however the sedate pace of the game, and the simple story meant it felt like it was always on the cusp of being plain boring. Thankfully the game looks fantastic, the biggest draw for me was seeing where I would end up next. With the complex, the surrounding forest, bunkers and ruins there was a decent amount of variation, I just wish the game had made an effort to be scary. I really do miss the tone of the Silent Hill games and while this filled the gap a bit, it more than anything made me realise how much I want a new entry in that other series.


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