The Medium shows that the best horror games don’t solely need to rely on jumpscares and clichés. Instead, Bloober Team has crafted an unnerving psychological horror bolstered by its unsettling characters, tailor-made score and often unpredictable story. However, pacing issues in the latter part of the game makes it difficult at times to keep up with the narrative and at times it felt like the game was too linear.
On paper, The Medium’s story could be misconstrued as another stereotypical horror game. You play as Marianne, a powerful Medium, who is able to exist in two different realities: the ‘real’ world and the spirit world. Haunted by images of a dead girl, Marianne travels to the dilapidated Niwa Hotel, following a tip that the rundown resort may hold the secrets to the visions – and her past.
The Medium sees Bloober Team leaning into its Polish history, with the game set in post-communist Poland – a thread that runs throughout the heart of the game’s narrative. As such, the Niwa resort is the epitome of brutalist architecture, cold and vast, the perfect setting to keep you uneasy: you’re certainly not welcome here.
Marianne’s transversal of the Niwa is all pretty linear, with the game setting a clear path ahead of you for where you’re meant to go, and fairly straightforward clues as to how you get there. Most of your progression relies on solving puzzles: primarily finding the applicable item to use which will remove the obstacle in your way and allow you to move forward or uncovering the item that unearths more of the story. This is a tried and tested method which has worked well for the likes of Resident Evil, but Bloober puts its own stamp on it with the inclusion of the ‘split’ feature.
As previously mentioned, Marianne exists in both the ‘real’ world and the spirit world. In the real word she sees things as any of us would (which means she can’t see some things, but we’ll come back to that later), but in the spirit world the Niwa turns into a hellish nightmare realm strewn in decomposing bodies, black tar and the occasional creeping tentacle. For the most part, we play as Marianne in the real world, however at certain points in the game the screen splits, showing in real-time Marianne existing in both the real world and spirit world. This is the key to a lot of The Medium’s puzzle-solving, as there are instances when Marianne sees things in the spirit world which she can’t see in the real world, and vice versa.
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