In the vernacular of football, you’re chasing the game. You’re trying to learn as much as you can about your opponent, and conversely, you’re also trying to learn as much as you can about yourself. What you do after that? It’s all about the preparation.
So, I’ve been meaning to write a review so I went ahead and bought the Medium. The Medium is a beautifully designed device that’s been praised for its tactile feel and use of high quality materials. I also had high hopes for it, since it’s been described as the future of computing. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling the magic.
In April of 2014, we covered the then-new Apple Watch in our blog post: The Apple Watch Is a Bit of a Mess. However, the worst thing you can say about the Apple Watch is that it’s a mess. It does many things well. It’s a great fitness tracker, it’s a nice companion for phone calls and it works as a generally-useful health and fitness app. The Apple Watch is a very powerful, but not a complete, watch.
The latest game from Bloober Team, which comes from a long line of adventure and horror games, deals time and again with the themes of trauma, childhood, and being shaped by trauma. For a Polish team that likes to work with gritty materials,The Medium is by far the most ambitious game yet – and probably the best. What was yesterday defines who we are today. The same goes for the characters , the mediumand the team that gave them life. The Medium is reminiscent of previous Bloober Team work in that it eschews survival horror mechanics in favor of a haunted house attraction with more effects, but with a more old-school style and interesting central mechanics, it makes for an entertaining horror story.
The Medium Review: What was in the past has become prologue
Medium Marianne, a former orphan who has come of age, mourns the loss of her surrogate father, Jack, who also hires her as an assistant in his funeral home. Marianne is a hard worker because she can communicate with the dead, even though she usually doesn’t want to. She usually feels mentally divided, simultaneously living in her world and in another surrealistic world with clay. She won’t always know why this happens, but answers like this make the plot of the game exciting. To show Marianne’s nature, the game uses a unique dual-reality view where the screen is often split horizontally or vertically and the player controls Marianne in both worlds at once, with one world changing the other. This dual reality feature is touted as something only newer consoles like the Xbox Series X|S can do. I’ll have to take the studio at its word, because even with the X-series, the presentation fails from time to time, usually in the form of on-screen tears, which were fairly rare throughout the game, except for one moment deep in the game where they were commonplace for a few minutes. Perhaps it would have been much worse on the last generation of platforms. But it’s easy to understand why the game was delayed, and now that these problems are no longer so pervasive, they are still present and sometimes annoying. In its split-screen style, which is often, but not always, the right way to play,The Medium cleverly highlights the differences between the two worlds. In the surreal world, Marianne can talk to a child holding a toy balloon, while in her own world she is alone in the house, floating in something that looks like a balloon but is dirtier and more haveless. For some portions, it’s like seeing a ghost, except that Marianne, and therefore the player, can cross over with the ghosts into this afterlife. In these moments, the mysteries shine through. Most of them, in theMedium, are well done in that they often got me to the point where I needed directions just before I solved them myself. This makes progress seem deserved, but it doesn’t prevent it for long. While much of the narrative explanation of this second reality is intentionally hidden from the player, the puzzles themselves unfold beautifully and maintain a consistent logic that prevents frustration. You’re shown the basic instructions, but the game frequently has you explore different paths before finding the solution, always keeping the answer at your fingertips. If you’re not solving puzzles, you’re probably on the run from well-designed monsters. In the best example of the game, Maw becomes Marianne’s major culprit, stalking her in various ways depending on where you explore. In Marianne’s world he is invisible, but he can’t see either, he follows you with sound, and in the surreal world he sees you – but you see him too. Combined with a rousing performance by Troy Baker, who would be unrecognizable without the credits, these dual-reality sections with The Maw are some of the best in the game, but there are unfortunately very few of them. Team Bloober established themselves as a horror studio a few games ago, but one of my longstanding criticisms of the team, which also applies toThe Medium , is that their games don’t have enough buggy states. Much of The Medium, likeLayers of Fear andObserverbefore it, feels more like a haunted house attraction. Unless you can suspend your disbelief and ignore the fact that the actors can’t touch you, it’s hard to be scared as you walk through these rooms. Also, the vast majority of the scariest sections ofThe Mediumrely on cinematic escapes that you have to get right in one go. It’s good for pacing, but bad for creating a real sense of terror or fear. When Mau gets a hold of you, the run screen also drags, which makes these few mishaps pretty annoying in and of themselves. Despite The Medium not having enough scary moments, it is still an exciting film worth watching to the end for two reasons. First, the look and sound are excellent. The game is set in the studio’s home country of Poland, almost entirely in and around the same building. The atmosphere of the game is strong, whether you’re moving from one world to another, exploring an abandoned pool hall haunted by ghosts from the past, or running through a menacing maze in the great outdoors. This is made possible by a musical score that holds its own dual reality. Arkadiusz Reikowski ofLayers of Fearand Akira Yamaoka ofSilent Hillwrote the music in tandem, creating a perfect combination of a more electronic soundscape for the former and ancient strings and piano for the latter. Elements like textures, lighting and characters are also of good to very good quality, especially considering the development team is much smaller than most that make games of this visual caliber. The barrel animation feels rather stiff and even slow at times, but what brings all these elements together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is the game’s solid camera work. Sometimes they are tightly angled, as inResident Evil , and sometimes they are wide shots, as inThe Shining. But no matter, they are still fantastic. They giveThe Medium a good taste of old-school survival horror, even if the scares never reach their previous heights. These angles are cinematic rather than problematic, as is often the case in horror games, and really bring out the story in every frame. There’s no photo mode, but the game manages to capture the scene so well that you’ll hit the record button often. The other strong point of The Medium is what this studio always gets done, and that’s the story. After a few hours inThe Medium, I realized that I wasn’t looking for the next evolution of Bloober Team’s horror games, but rather the style of horror adventure they had returned to. But what got me over my initial disappointment was the story. You move not only between two worlds, but between multiple time levels to tell your story, which makes it elusive, but ultimately enjoyable. Many things inThe Medium are not explained, but rather than feeling aggrieved by the lack of answers, I think it fits in with the world the story is set in. Scary monsters profiting from trauma, families torn apart by tragedy, and childhoods taken away by circumstance – as always with this team’s games, this is a tough one. WhileThe Medium doesn’t convey that sadness very convincingly, it does offer a turn-of-the-century survival horror that I found increasingly endearing as the game progressed.
The Medium Review – TheConclusion
- A depressing story worth following.
- Cinematic and elegant presentation
- The puzzles confuse, but never stop
- Two composers create an inspiring mix of characteristic sounds
- Certain vision disorders
- Too few emergencies to be scary
- Colors in the lines of the studio
Calling this the studio’s best game and only giving it 7 points may sound like a curse on the Bloober team, but I’m not saying 7 points is worth it anyway, justThe Medium shows huge signs of growth from a team making a horror game for the fifth year in a row. The characters and plot are stronger here than in anything this team has done before, and the world is rich in detail and atmosphere, enhanced by the atmospheric soundtrack. All of the successes ofThe Medium come from areas where the team has already shown talent, such as story, visual design, and atmosphere. Where the Bloober Team needs to improve is in creating truly terrifying moments. The Medium lacks this, but as a genre story it’s still worth wading through in search of the real and the surreal. [Note: TheBloober team provided a copy of The Medium used for this review].
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