'The Medium' is a Haunting Throwback to Classic Survival Horror
While discussing his adaptation of The Shining with Stephen King, visionary director Stanley Kubrick once suggested that all ghost stories are inherently optimistic since they imply some form of life after death. This hopeful light at the end of the tunnel might be one reason behind our obsession with these morbid tales, but it’s also what makes Bloober Team’s new horror title The Medium such an impactful experience.
Bringing back cinematic survival horror with a modern twist, The Medium puts players in the shoes of Marianne, a young ghost-whisperer tasked with investigating the long-abandoned Niwa Hotel. Naturally, this haunted building harbors a dark past that can only be unveiled through Marianne’s unique ability to traverse the land of the living and the dead simultaneously. By solving otherworldly puzzles, communicating with spirits and evading monstrous entities, players will eventually reveal a complex narrative about love, loss and trauma in one of the most creative horror games of the past few years.
This isn’t Bloober Team’s first foray into horror, with the developers boasting ample experience in the genre after their Layers of Fear series (plus their underrated Blair Witch title), but The Medium is still a welcome update to their usual formula. With more than a little inspiration from Konami’s Silent Hill series, this new title manages to be a throwback to a bygone era of horror gaming while also innovating within its narrative and mechanics.
Like most classic survival horror titles, players navigate The Medium’s world in third-person as Marianne explores winding hallways and horrific hellscapes with constantly shifting camera angles. Bloober games are already known for their cinematic flare, but this one takes things to the next level by adding dynamic camera movements and gorgeous splitscreen effects inspired by the protagonist’s supernatural abilities. Not only do these additions make for a visually innovative experience, but they also make gameplay more intense as you have to take level variations into account when attempting to locate key items or hide from terrifying enemies.
Marianne is armed with a few spiritual powers, but there’s no real combat in the game, as most of these are used for traversing the environment and advancing the story. Most enemy encounters end up turning into stealth sequences, though there are a few thrilling chases thrown in for good measure. Thankfully, the puzzles remain consistently engaging as you mix and match items from different versions of the Niwa hotel, though I wish the game would allow players to experiment more with these interesting ideas.
Unfortunately, Bloober Team’s penchant for cinematic storytelling occasionally gets in the way of the overall gaming experience, as a significant portion of the title appears to play itself. With the campaign so preoccupied with its narrative elements, players are rarely given the chance to roam free in this melancholic nightmare, resulting in an overtly-linear experience with little to no replay value.
Even so, while it may take a while to get going, The Medium boasts some genuinely haunting moments that are only boosted by the nightmarish visuals. Both the graphics and art direction are impeccable, with the look of the Spirit World inspired by the art of famed Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński. Unfortunately, a lot of the facial animations feel uncharacteristically stilted when compared to the rest of the game, though the gripping voice-acting mostly makes up for this.
Of course, a horror game is only as scary as its sound design, and The Medium excels in both its ambient sounds and the terrific soundtrack, co-composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski and survival horror veteran Akira Yamaoka. Not every track stands out, but there’s an appropriate phantasmagorical quality to these tunes that helps to sell the game’s chilling atmosphere.
While it often treads on familiar ground, with obvious influences from media like The Sixth Sense, Odd Thomas and the aforementioned Silent Hill franchise, The Medium ultimately mixes these ideas together in new and exciting ways. The fixed camera and forced stealth segments may not be to everyone’s liking, but the compelling story and characters make everything worthwhile. I can only hope that this game will inspire other developers to also try their hand at bringing back some of these classic gameplay tropes, as I feel we’re past due for a true survival horror comeback.
THE MEDIUM VERDICT
Despite its linearity, I’d argue that The Medium is a genuinely chilling ghost story that’s sure to leave a lasting impression. The splitscreen effects make for quite a few memorable moments, and there’s no denying the growing sense of accomplishment as you solve difficult puzzles and make your way through the cursed resort. It may not be on the same level as some of its inspirations, but I’d definitely recommend The Medium to any fan of classic survival horror.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Navigating a moth-infested labyrinth as I attempted to outrun a horrifying demonic entity.
Classic Survival Horror thrills
Little replay value
About Luiz Coelho
Born Brazilian, raised Canadian, Luiz is a Gamer and Filmmaker that spends most of his time writing and waiting for a new Silent Hill.