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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

[Review] ‘The Medium’ Echoes Classic Horror Games, But Still Has Its Own Modern Identity

When the first trailer for Bloober Team’s The Medium debuted, my heart skipped a beat. Based on the look and feel, I was certain it was the long-rumored Silent Hill reboot. While it’s clear that the team was heavily influenced by the classic horror series (the Polish developer even went as far as to get composer Akira Yamoaka to work on their score), it has created something unique that stands out in the genre.

One of the biggest things that echoes back to Silent Hill is The Medium’s dual-reality gameplay. Much like the classic series, there’s a more sinister version of the world, and The Medium’s protagonist Marriane has a unique power to be able to interact with it. During certain parts of the game, you are presented with a split screen, showing both the real and spirit worlds, allowing you to navigate them simultaneously. 

In the spirit world, Marianne has access to powers that can help her change the world to open up pathways in the real world. While it seems a bit gimmicky at first, it eventually creates opportunities for clever puzzles that force you to fully explore and engage with the abandoned Niwa Hotel that the game takes place in. Some sections you’ll see the split screen, some you’ll be in fully one or the other, and some you’ll be allowed to switch from one to the other, constantly keeping you on your toes. You’re also given an Insight ability that resembles the Detective Vision from the Batman: Arkham series that highlights important or hidden objects in the world.

Despite the new wrinkle of dual reality gameplay, exploring the Niwa feels like a classic horror game. Instead of giving you control of the camera, you have semi-fixed camera angles, allowing the game to control what you see and build tension at its own pace. Bloober Team clearly isn’t doing this just for nostalgia; they find smart ways to frame the scene so you can see something round the corner just at the edge of your screen before having to confront it moments later. 

Puzzles are handled in classic Silent Hill-like fashion as well, usually involving locating some object, then doing some light problem solving to figure out how to use it. I found myself busting out a Post It note at one point to keep track of information during one puzzle, which was incredibly fun. You will frequently have to rotate objects to access psychic imprints, which can get tedious but doesn’t detract too much overall.

As a medium, Marianne communicates with spirits to help send them on to the next world, so many of the game’s puzzles involve finding out about the person’s life, smartly marrying gameplay and narrative to create a beautifully satisfying moment when you solve it: not only do you get to progress, but you also set a victim free from the hellish spirit world they’ve been trapped in. There were some puzzles that ended up being slightly frustrating, but there’s usually enough breadcrumbs to find while poking around with your Insight ability to find your way through.

Even though it takes a lot of inspiration from older survival horror games, there’s no bullet-counting resource management in The Medium. Much like many other modern horror games, there’s no combat, forcing you to hide from creatures and figure out ways around them. For the most part, it’s a host of stealth sequences in simple mazes, but there are a few encounters that add clever twists to the formula. This does tend to cut the tension of the game because you always know if you’re under threat or not, but they do manage to ramp up the creepiness with some wonderful voicework for the creatures. 

In addition to taking atmospheric cues from the Silent Hill series, the developers specifically were inspired by Polish surrealist painter Zdzisław Beksiński, creating a hellish vision of loneliness and sadness. The real-world hotel section is beautifully dilapidated, and the spirit world reflects the tragedies that took place within its walls. The mood is topped off by a haunting score composed by Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka and frequent Bloober Team collaborator Arkadiusz Reikowski. 

This dedication to mood goes to enhance an already well-told and resonate story that plays out over roughly eight hours. After a brief, melancholy intro that effortlessly gives you both character exposition and gameplay tutorial, we’re presented a vague but intriguing mystery that slowly becomes more and more personal, with plenty of twists and turns that kept me on my toes until the very end. As Marianne uses her abilities as a medium, she discovers more and more about the events that caused the Niwa Hotel to end up abandoned, full of sinister creatures and trapped ghosts. The development team isn’t afraid to explore mature themes, and does so with a deft touch that never feels exploitative, exploring how tragedy can shape our lives. 

The Medium is a big moment in the evolution of Bloober Team as a studio. After making it big with some well-liked first person horror games (Layers of Fear, Observer), it moved on to being trusted with the iconic Blair Witch license and now, with this game, is positioned as a big, early Xbox Series X exclusive. The Medium feels like a real labor of love from a studio that’s been learning from each title. Its move away from the first person perspective has paid off, creating a game that is reverent of past horror titles while still having a modern-feeling identity all its own.

With its inclusion on Xbox Game Pass from day one, there’s no reason not to check it out.

The Medium review code for PC provided by the publisher.

The Medium is out January 28 on Xbox Series X/S and PC to buy and through Game Pass.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3649782/the-medium-review-xbox-series-xs/

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