With our five senses we perceive a lot of the world around us. But what if there is another world beyond what we see? What if a second reality is just behind the facade of our experiences? And what if this reality is full of ghosts that we cannot see or touch and that pass by us every day? The Bloober team tries to explore this mysterious spirit realm with their enigmatic horror adventure The Medium. Unfortunately, the Bloober team’s vision for an invisible reality isn’t that exciting to look at.
Marianne is a supernatural medium who can speak to the dead, but when she receives a mysterious phone call calling her to an abandoned hotel on the outskirts of Krakow, Poland, her talents are truly put to the test. When Marianne arrives at the resort, the only residents she meets are tormented lost souls and an invisible monster that forces Marianne to wrestle with her past. The medium’s narrative starts out promising, but quickly loses steam. Marianne doesn’t have a lot of personality and is little more than a cipher to move the plot forward. Additionally, certain details are hard to keep track of, and the medium’s few interesting twists and turns (towards the end of the game) feel undeserved.
It’s unfortunate that The Medium’s narrative doesn’t shine because a solid story dragged me through the uninspired gameplay. While Marianne communicates with the dead, she occasionally has to solve simple puzzles, e.g. For example, divert power to a car lift or find the missing parts on a broken mirror. Unfortunately, only a small handful of these puzzles ask the player to look for clever solutions. For example, I enjoyed looking for clues around me to decipher the passcode for a locked door, but most of the time I felt like I was doing grunt work and lugging random items from one end of the area to the other, so I could put them back where they obviously belong.
The only unique element of the medium is dealing with the spiritual realm. At certain points in the story, Marianne inhabits the real world and the spirit world at the same time. During these sequences, the screen splits in half to show Marianne’s position in each area. A space that is blocked in the real world can be open in the spiritual realm, which encourages you to carefully explore both realities and find a way forward. This is a nice idea, and I enjoyed manipulating objects in one area to affect the other. But even in the mental realm, most of the puzzles boil down to putting objects back in their proper place. The realm of the ghosts is also incredibly monotonous, and its overtly grotesque design has diminished my enthusiasm for crossing realities. I love a good, creepy atmosphere, but the medium’s environments are just grotesque environments made of human skin and not places of terrorism.
Like many modern horror games, The Medium eschews traditional combat mechanics to heighten fear – but that’s not enough to add tension. The medium sets the stage for some daunting moments, but often doesn’t deliver results. For example, Marianne occasionally comes across a powerful animal that forces her to either run or hide. These moments seem exciting at first, but the monster is so easy to get around that it quickly no longer feels like a threat. The stealth sequences are especially disappointing because they’re so linear that there’s no question of where to hide yourself. These moments are more like tests of patience waiting for the monster to move on so you can sneak your way to the next hiding place.
Some of the best horror games of the last decade have offered non-combat horrors. After all, abandoned buildings are scarier when you can’t push back against the shadows. The medium’s lack of struggle, however, underscores the challenge of creating a horror experience in the atmosphere and puzzles. The idea of exploring split realities is neat, but the Bloober team needed another gameplay hook to hang their hat on as this horror show is a bit flat.