The Medium Review
The Medium is a game about duality. It’s telling a story about two worlds coexisting at the same time. It uses the duality of these two worlds to create interesting and fun to solve puzzles. The screen is often literally split down the middle showing two versions of the main character acting in unison. However, The Medium falls victim to a duality that prevents it from being the truly awesome game that it has the potential to be. While the characters, narrative, and world building of The Medium are all enthralling, the game suffers from technical issues and low quality polish that ultimately holds it back.
To be fair, The Medium was given a task that is almost too much to ask of any game, let alone a 3rd party indie studio. The Medium is the first game that is exclusive to the Xbox Series X, which is regarded as the most powerful next-gen gaming console. So when I went to play this game, not knowing anything about it, I was shocked to see that the character models and animations seemed straight out of a mid gen PS3 game.
Before I go too deep into the technicalities of this game, let’s start with it’s premise. You play as a woman named Marianne who is, you guessed it, a medium. She is able to talk to and walk through the spirit world, but the twist is that she does so while also still existing in the physical world. She receives a phone call from a desperate sounding man and is told her help is needed. When she arrives at an abandoned hotel in Poland, the spookiness begins as she explores the property and starts to unravel the mystery of the Niwa Massacre.
Ok, now that the basics are covered, we can get into the details. I need to start with the negatives that I previously addressed. This game is riddled with technical issues. Frame rates that tank fairly regularly, textures loading in long after the camera cuts, and weird artifacts and blips that come and go at random. As I mentioned, the character models were surprisingly very low quality for a game made for the most modern consoles. The animations of all of the characters felt so stiff and robotic; it always just felt off to watch. I can’t help but feel that this game would have benefited from a more stylized, less realistic art style. The backgrounds and lighting in particular, however, did look very good and really added to the creepy atmosphere of the game.
Another aspect that really made it hard to fully invest in the characters was the voice acting. Unfortunately, stiff and robotic end up being the perfect words to describe the speech patterns of some of the key characters, most notably the main character Marianne. I kept thinking to myself, “no one would ever speak so confused and aloof to themselves, especially a character as smart and witty as Marianne.” Controlling her also felt clunky. All of her movements were slow and (again) stiff. Long stretches of Marianne moving at her max speed (a jog only slightly faster than walking) made me tense up in frustration at times. The movement is also inhibited by Resident Evil style locked camera angles, although I got used to these quickly.
The Other Side of the Mirror
Now I know I’ve only beat the Medium up until this point, but remember, I said this game was about duality, and now that the bad is out of the way, I can rave about the good. The mechanic of the spirit world is used very smartly throughout the game. Whether the screen is split down the middle with both worlds running simultaneously, taking a limited “dive” from your body into the spirit world, or fully bouncing back and forth between the two, it allows for some pretty neat and unique puzzle solving moments. It requires you to think in a new way, similarly to the way the Portal series had us doing.
The music is a standout part of The Medium. While it is used very sparsely to give way for creepy ambient sounds and general horror droning sounds, when it does pop up, it really fits into the theme of the game. The game is set in the early 90’s and the soundtrack often uses cool synth sounds similar to that of some 80’s horror movies. It always pumped me up when the music fully kicked in, and added to the ambiance of the world.
However, the best part of The Medium and the main driving force to get you past all the technical issues is the narrative and the mystery behind it. I don’t want to give anything away, seeing as it’s the core reason to play this game, but this narrative just gets more and more interesting as it goes. The more you learn about Marianne and her powers, the more you want to know. You get invested in the weird paranormal events and spirits that she encounters during her journey and want to see them through to the end. It’s like watching some of the best episodes of The X-Files - cool supernatural shit and interesting lore behind it that gets delivered in a compelling narrative.
The Medium is a compelling paranormal narrative that pulls you in and gets you lost in the world. Unfortunately, the technical issues, poor voice acting, and PS3 era character models with stiff animations pulls you back out a little too often. However, I recommend that anyone who already has Gamepass or is a fan of supernatural mysteries give this game a shot. Watching Marianne’s story and learning about her role as a medium are definitely enough to make this game worth playing.