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Everyone’s got their own special talents. Y’know, you’ve got that one friend who can wiggle their ears or curl their tongue, right? Marianne’s special talent is that she can speak to the dead! If it doesn’t sound like much of a gift, that’s because it generally isn’t, but Marianne’s gotten through her life dealing with ghostly interference here and there without too many issues. That’s not going to last forever, though, as we see in The Medium, the latest horror title from Observer developers Bloober Team.
When Marianne’s adoptive father dies, she receives a strange call urging her to visit a mysterious resort. Someone’s in trouble and she’s the only one who can help thanks to her spirit medium abilities. Answering mysterious phone calls and doing as they tell you isn’t always such a great idea, but that doesn’t stop our heroine from heading up and checking the place out, where things predictably go poorly in a spectral sort of way.
That might sound like a recipe for a survival horror adventure, but in practice The Medium is closer to a walking simulator. There’s the odd simple puzzle here and there, but generally Marianne’s ghostly journey mostly revolves around simple themes like collecting items and taking them where they need to be. Don’t come in expecting the sort of brain-bending scenarios you’ll find in Silent Hill (or, for that matter, the sort of tense combat you’ll find in Silent Hill) and you won’t be disappointed.
Marianne’s got a couple of spooky tricks to help with this, such as shifting between the physical and spectral realm; this manifests largely as a split-view mechanic where you control Marianne and her spirit on both planes at the same time. Solving a problem on one plane might also solve it on the other, such as when Marianne uses a spirit energy discharge to activate an electric panel in the real world.
When necessary, Marianne can sort of hold her spiritual breath and move entirely in the spirit realm as well, allowing her to delve into areas that might not be accessible as a meatbag. It’s a cute idea, reminiscent of something like Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver or Shadow Man.
Though The Medium’s definitely not a survival horror game, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any scares. The overall sense of unease throughout the resort is palpable. You’ll learn all about the resort’s residents, their caretakers, and the horrible occurrences that have plagued the place since its opening. The Medium’s high point definitely lies in making the most of that atmosphere and turning a game without all that much danger into something uniquely spooky.
That’s not to say you’re entirely safe, though, particularly when you’re attacked by The Maw, a demonic antagonist that shows up to chase Marianne around from time to time. This tends to lead to some unpleasant and unavoidable deaths as The Medium’s preference toward Resident Evil-style fixed camera angles leads to our heroine charging directly into a wall and, immediately thereafter, directly into The Maw. They’re not the highlight of the game by any means.
Given The Medium’s status as a narrative-focused game, it’s no surprise that plenty of attention was paid to making sure it looked and sounded as good as possible, especially as its pegged as a marquee launch title for the Xbox Series X. From both a graphical and audio standpoint it’s hard to argue the game’s overall presentation isn’t great, though it’s not without its pitfalls.
In particular, The Medium’s performance on PC is shockingly iffy. Even high-end hardware that can crush more impressive-looking games is going to struggle. Presumably a patch or two will help out a little bit here, but it’s still shocking that it runs into issues at all.
Your take on The Medium is probably going to vary somewhat based on what your expectations for the game were going in. If you think you’re getting a high-action horror romp, well…nah, not happening. Likewise, if you want your mind to be torn to bits by difficult puzzles, that’s not really here either – they’re there, but mostly solved without too much fuss. If you’re really into the idea of horror as an atmosphere of dread, though, The Medium is here for you. It’s on Game Pass. Give it a shot.