What is a medium? They are people who are able to speak with spirits. Think of a more peaceful Ghostbuster. They aim to find out why the people who have died remain in our reality. Whether you believe in ghosts or the paranormal, there’s no doubt this practice makes for an excellent main character power. Marianne’s adoptive father has passed away. She gets a call from a man who beckons her, claiming to reveal her lifelong questions. Being a medium means you’ll be dealing with death for the entirety of The Medium. It’s eerie and sad. You won’t be fighting anything but will instead be using your powers to navigate in two different realities: one of which is the living world, and the other, a decaying version. The world is full of puzzles and a story that pushes the limits on specific sins without being specific on what happened. You can only imagine.
Here’s what I liked:
A Real Stunner — Series X/S titles seem to still have a long way to go before reaching the full potential of the machine. That said, if The Medium is any hint of what’s to become the norm, we’re in for a treat. So far I haven’t had any real idea what ray-tracing is. I had to disable it in the latest Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War in order not to have my Xbox crash. What I’m now discovering is that it’s downright impressive. In The Medium, shadows and lights dance around the screen so smoothly you almost don’t notice them. Colors in the real world are bold and stunning. During alternate reality sections, they are dull but detailed, and you can almost feel the rot and death. The environments are so good that they make the character model look out of place when in movement. If you only play games based on graphics, then you might as well stop reading and go play it.
A Love Letter — I typically don’t like using the phrase “love letter” but it’s hard to describe this any other way. The game is in a weird bubble of what genre it is in. Many don’t consider it a horror but more of a walking simulation. I disagree with that statement. I believe it most certainly does belong in the horror genre. It’s creepy, tense, and absurdly disturbing. In fact, the music may sound familiar because it’s made by two masters of the horror genre, like Silent Hill! The way the camera follows the character might remind you a lot of Resident Evil (the first few). One item you find in the game is bolt cutters. I don’t know if we need any more reminders of why this is not a walking simulator but a next-gen reminder of classics.
Dual Reality — Ever play split-screen with a friend and one of you is accused of looking at the other’s screen? That’s sort of how it feels. Sometimes you even forget to look at the opposite screen because you’re so focused. Somehow it all works. There is also a contrast in colors and environment, one looking full of life and the other a barren wasteland. When in dual-screen mode, there’s usually a puzzle to solve or an area to pass. You must switch which screens you are looking at in order to solve some puzzles as well as to progress other story elements. It adds depth to problem-solving unlike you’ve ever seen before.
Death Detective — In television, there are a lot of ghost-based reality shows. A few of them have mediums who are people who can talk to the dead. Their goal is to find out who is haunting a place and figure out how to convince them to stop in a peaceful manner. Along the way, you will find people who have died and their resting place is blocking an item or area you need to get to. You set off to find a mask for their face as well as to figure out their name. This name-hunting quest is brilliant and clever. I would play an entire game dedicated to this mechanic. Besides those, other puzzles are unique and fun. My absolute favorite one is in a burnt-down home. You find a dollhouse and can move a small mirror around the rooms. In the game, you use a real mirror to teleport to these rooms. It’s the kind of freshness I needed.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
The Long Road — There are tense moments – story-heavy, absorbing moments – and then there are a few times you wonder if a path will ever end. The pacing is a little off in some places. You would think this encourages exploration but they’re normally straightforward with little to see or do. This is especially true when you are playing as the alternate character. I won’t mention who that is to avoid potential spoilers. But these sections using the character take forever and there is nothing to collect or explore. In fact, they reuse a lot of the environment. You’ll run through the same hedge maze three times! The character even says, “Well, this is tedious”. Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Lack Of Extras — It’s almost designed as if to force you to play again if you want everything completed. There are tons of collectibles but in order to get achievements for them, you must get them in one playthrough. There is no chapter select to mention. Want to look at what you have collected in the menu? You can’t, you must basically be at the end of the game to look through them. Without manually saving, you must rely on autosaves that happen fairly frequently. This is quite a let-down considering there are so many characters and backstories that it wasn’t possible to absorb all the information, even in two full playthroughs. I also wouldn’t have minded an art gallery to look at, as it would surely be magnificent.
Hard to Follow — The story is really good, from what I perceive to be happening. There are many names you will hear and some of them seem introduced quite randomly. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. I played through the game two full times and still have questions about who some people were. Now if we just had some extra content in the main menu, like a bio of each of the characters, that would be perfect. Instead, it appears a search on the internet is the best way for clarity.
Finally, a Series X/S game that seems to utilize the system for more than just loading times. The beauty is both bright and dark, delivering not only one atmosphere to appreciate but two. While the story can be a bit confusing and hard to follow, it still manages to at least put an idea in your head that you can work with. There are a few areas that seem to go on a bit too long but maybe that’s just because I played it twice. The lack of extras and chapter select is especially unfortunate because of there being so many collectibles. It’s a very unique game that has excellent voice acting and terrific music and sound effects. Only a few times did I see stuttering and sometimes there were weird light issues. The things I think need improvement happen to have a very big impact for me when it comes to an overall package. Otherwise, everything else was really well done.
Score: Highly Recommended
The Medium was published by Bloober Team S.A. and developed by Bloober Team on Xbox One. It was released on January 28, 2021, for $49.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.