We do love a bit of Bloober Team here at Expansive, giving high praise to the likes of Blair Witch and Observer: System Redux in recent months.
On the surface, the concept of The Medium looks really exciting with the screen being split in half and you seemingly playing two games at the same time, stretching across two plains of reality. It also feels like one of the first true next-gen games we’ve seen in terms of the processing required to keep it steady and stable.
For the most part, it accomplishes that task, with frame rates keeping mostly stable – though surprisingly dropping during the game’s cut-scenes. And the core idea behind the mechanic isn’t as gimmicky as I feared, with players actually having to use both dimensions to make progress. Moving something in the real world will enable you to travel past as a spirit, for example.
Being able to compare the interpretations of the world side by side is a really cool aesthetic. For example, in our world you see a rundown hotel full of cobwebs and broken stairwells, but in the spirit world you see a much darker and more twisted variant that seems alive in the worst ways.
Early on in the game, you need to power an elevator in the real world in order to get to the second floor, so you need to find energy in the spirit world in order to rejuvenate the supply. However, you move simultaneously in the spirit and real world, so if your progress is blocked in either one, you can’t move forward.
This is where the game also introduces an ‘out of body experience’ mechanic, that lets you temporarily move away from your body in the spirit world to get into previously inaccessible areas. However, you can only do this for a limited time before you have to return to your body, so it’s all pretty time-sensitive.
Later on in the game, you’ll also be able to switch between realities at will using a mirror, and there are a few other tricks the game keeps up its sleeve.
Throughout your playthrough, The Medium keeps mixing things up, though many things remain crucial to your progression, like examining scenes in order to find hidden items and even using your senses to find echoes that reveal audio clues.
This is definitely Bloober’s most ambitious game, and when you consider how they approached Observer that is quite a feat indeed. But continually switching between realities and the Resident Evil style progression of back-tracking to previous locations in order to move forward is also extremely welcome.
The game isn’t exactly sure what it wants to be, though. One minute, it’s a thriller, the next it’s trying to do horror, and then it appears it’s skirting the lines of the supernatural, playing a bit like Control. I guess it sort of fits in the middle of all three.
There’s certainly some unsettling and grotesque sights – like having to cut skin doors open with a razor – and you do encounter some pretty horrific creatures who apparently want to wear you like a piece of clothing. But I can’t say it ever really scared me, which surprised me a little considering the studio’s pedigree.
It also doesn’t help that the game’s second half really lets the opening section down, especially from a narrative perspective. Without openly telling you the game’s story, The Medium introduces you to a character that it wants you to empathize with but there is absolutely no way you will want to empathize with them. Let’s just say that’s putting it mildly.
Bloober Team do not handle the incredibly sensitive subject matter well at all, and it’s almost impossible to look past as the game rolls onto its conclusion, undoing a lot of the good work that comes before it.
The game also has its frustrating moments, like annoying stealth and chase sequences which end up being trial and error and lead to repetitive death cycles which are slowed right down through unskippable actions and loading screens. You’ll also have to be quick on the trigger with your timing which can sometimes go against the slow-paced puzzle solving you’d been doing up to that point.
But for the most part, The Medium steadily introduces mechanics to the player. The narrative slowly comes together, piece by piece, at a good pace, and the game itself feels quite well balanced and structured.
Achievement hunters will love The Medium, as well, as they seem to pop every few minutes for relatively minimal effort. The game loves to reward you for exploring its mostly non-linear setting but to be fair there’s some lovely graphical detail here to also compliment the game’s unique aesthetical direction.
Ironically, then, The Medium really is a game of two halves. I found the first half to be an enjoyable mystery which well-matched my expectations coming into the game. I wanted to learn more about the characters and how the crossover between worlds occurs. Bloober absolutely led me in that direction and I found myself glued to the screen with only a few hiccups inbetween.
The second half was a convoluted mess which essentially ruined the game for me, between the scattered mechanics and a grim storyline that made me feel wholly uncomfortable.
My expectations were high coming in, and, in some part, those expectations were met. At times, I would go as far as to say that The Medium feels the best thing Bloober Team have ever done.
But it clumsily attempts to handle subject matter which cannot just be brushed over and several mechanical missteps really jar and grate at the wrong time.
If you own GamePass, this is worth dipping into to see what the talented team at Bloober can be capable of. But this one does not stick the landing well at all and it isn’t the first of their games to introduce controversial themes into their narrative and poorly handle them.
+ A smart dual-screen mechanic that doesn’t feel entirely gimmicky
+ First half of the game feels well-paced and enjoyable
+ Lots of rewards for Achievement hunters
+ A really stunning looking game at times
– The second half is all over the place
– Unwelcome narrative arcs poorly handled
– Chase and stealth sequences grate and get frustrating quickly
– Slight stutters in frame rate during cutscenes
The Medium is now available on Xbox Series S l X, Xbox GamePass, and PC
Tested on Xbox Series X
Code kindly provided by PR