Perhaps the most ambitious title to launch in January, psychological horror adventure The Medium is Bloober Team’s latest. On consoles, it’s exclusive to the next gen Xbox systems, but it’s also out for PC – which is the platform we tested the game on.
Of course, Bloober Team has crafted quite a niche for itself with their horror titles in recent year. With Layers of Fear they went into a new direction for the company, and after a sequel, the excellent Observer (System Redux) and an adaptation of the Blair Witch franchise we’ve now reached a new phase for the company. The Medium is the biggest title the studio has released so far in terms of technical scope and gameplay innovation, and builds on the next gen foundations that we saw in Observer: System Redux.
In The Medium, you’re a woman named Marianne, and your ability is that (you guessed it) you can communicate with the dead. You’ve had visions from a young age on, and as you’ve grown up you’ve learnt to harness your abilities and use them. Early on in the game, the game showcases this when you’re guiding a spirit to the realm of the dead, but the real story lies where the material and spiritual worlds intersect.
At a facility in Poland (Bloober Team’s home county) during the time when the Soviets still controlled it, Marianne and her powers get caught up in a mystery amidst spirits and haunting visions of the past. I won’t ruin the narrative, but the most striking way this all plays out is through The Medium’s new “dual-reality” mechanic, which allows you to navigate both the physical world and the spirit world at the same time.
During these moments, two versions of a scene are rendered at once – which is of course technically impressive in the sense that you’re essentially running two games next to each other at the same time. While both locations are similar in layout, the spirit world is often distorted with surreal and frightening imagery – sometimes making it look as if hell itself has tainted it.
Playing like this would probably be overwhelming if it had to be done for the entire length of the campaign, so this dual reality mechanic only kicks in during certain scenes. Here, your unique abilities help you investigate the scene, but they’re also needed to overcome puzzles as you reach different areas of the scene. Calling it a simple puzzle mechanic wouldn’t be doing The Medium justice though – the visible connection between Marianne and her spirit world alter ego (one reacting to the other) also add tremendous dramatic effect to the game.
This mechanic does come with a drawback though, and it’s mostly technical in nature. The Medium’s ambitious dual reality gameplay is demanding on PCs, so make sure your system specs are up to scratch. Not equipped with the latest Nvidia/AMD tech, we had to dial down the detail settings in order to make sure the experience was smooth. Having said that – the game is future proof in the sense that it supports features like 4K resolutions and raytracing for when you system is ready to support it.
Even without the 4K ray tracing treatment, The Medium looks excellent with the details set to high on a 1080p resolution. Part of that is Bloober Team’s usual attention to visual detail (which Layers of Fear and Observer are also great examples of), but the dual reality scenes mark a step forward in art and cinematic direction as well. In a visual way, The Medium reminded me of the highly cinematic games that Supermassive has been putting out under the Dark Pictures Anthology banner in recent year – though Bloober’s effect features more traditional gameplay.
Comparing The Medium to Bloober Team’s previous Layers of Fear games tells me that the developer is producing more and more polished games, but that storytelling still isn’t their strongest suit. While the visual storytelling had me on the edge of my seat and really drew me in with the dual reality system, the story itself loses momentum at times and doesn’t come to a satisfying conclusion at the end of an eight hour journey.
Although it’s not perfect, The Medium is an excellent new horror title from Bloober Team and the first game of this generation that PS5 owners should regret missing out on – though I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a port for it at some point.