|Bloober Team SA
|January 28th, 2021
|PC (Steam, GOG, Epic Store), Xbox Series X|S
|ESRB: M for Mature (17+)
Step into the shoes of a medium named Marianne, and prepare for a dark journey. The game opens with a cutscene of her talking to someone across a table. There are several more cut scenes like this, but you won’t find out who she’s talking to until late in the game. In the first level, she prepares for her father’s funeral. Suddenly, she receives a strange phone call that will send her on an unsettling journey to uncover the dark past of the abandoned Niwa Resort. In The Medium, you will explore both the physical and spirit worlds, sometimes simultaneously, to uncover dark secrets of the past. Upon getting inside, you’ll soon bump into a young spirit girl called “Sadness”, who helps you from time to time. You will discover and face the terrible personal demons that tormented several different characters in the past, as your journey unfolds. Not long after meeting “Sadness”, you will come face to face with “The Maw”, a horrible monster born out of a terrible trauma and responsible for the “Niwa Massacre”. This monster haunts both worlds, but it is not the only one you will have to face. Marianne will unexpectedly uncover her own past, but before all is said and done, a sacrifice will become inevitable. The deserted Niwa Resort is a prison filled with terrible echoes of the past, and stained by the scars of pain, sorrow, and rage. Are you strong enough to walk into the darkness and unearth the truth?
Upon finding a way to enter the lobby of the abandoned hotel, Marianne steps up to the counter to look around. Suddenly, she hears a sound and turns around to see a ball rolling down the stairs by itself. As she steps toward it, something triggers her medium powers and she falls to her knees. At that moment, the two worlds (physical and spiritual) collide for the first time in the game. Marianne can see both worlds at the same time when this happens, and in this case she looks up to see a young spirit girl named “Sadness,” always seen with a mask covering her face. She will help you several times during your journey, but most of your time is spent exploring alone. “Sadness” is one of the spirits that are trapped here by “The Maw,” and a pivotal character in the story. For a while, it seems that Marianne’s discoveries yield more questions than answers, though.
As you explore the deserted Niwa Resort Hotel, you’ll have to solve puzzles to get around. They’ll have you going back and forth between the two worlds, as sometimes your spirit form can access an area your physical one cannot. Some puzzles involve finding an object and returning it to its proper location to restore a spirit well in the spirit world. Once active, it can be used to refill Marianne’s energy gauge, which she can use to unleash a burst of spirit energy. This can be used as an attack on monsters, or to charge electrical panels that need power. Combat is really not a focus of the game, but there are some tense chase scenes where you are pursued by “The Maw.” Marianne also has an insight ability, that can help her by adding a subtle highlight around special objects, or revealing otherwise invisible trails in the air when a spirit is trying to lead her somewhere.
The spirit world in The Medium looks even more forsaken than the abandoned hotel in the real world, while being just as atmospheric. While exploring this unnerving realm, you’ll be able to use a couple of special abilities. In addition to charging powerless electrical panels and fighting off monsters, Marianne can also use her energy gauge to power her spirit shield ability. It forms a shield around her that protects her from swarms of moths in the spirit realm. However, using it will deplete her energy after a short time, and she’ll begin taking damage. If she escapes the moths before she dies, her health will refill on its own. There are no healing items for this reason, but “The Maw” can kill you easily. Marianne can also deep dive into the spirit world for a short time, which makes it take up most of the screen. This takes a lot of focus and as a result, she can only maintain this state for a short time. This ability is needed when you have to venture into an area your physical body cannot access. You’ll notice that her spirit form begins to disappear, bit by bit, during a deep dive. This mechanic forces her to return to the physical world after a few moments, where she belongs. The player can start and stop deep dives at will in areas where it can be used, and it does not consume your energy gauge.
After exploring the abandoned hotel for a while, Marianne eventually makes her way into the Day Room. This is where the dark, hidden secrets of this doomed place really start to emerge. Things take a very dark turn when Marianne starts to uncover the backstory of the spirit girl, “Sadness,” and another character named Richard. That’s as far as I’ll go to avoid spoilers, though. This is somewhere around one quarter to a third of the way through the game, when you begin to face the true darkness that dwells within these walls. However, the rest of the game does not all take place within the hotel itself, as Marianne will venture through the woods again, and find her way into a bunker.
The gameplay in The Medium is very atmospheric and moody. The environments are highly detailed and evoke emptiness and despair, especially in the spirit realm. This makes them very interesting to explore, and you’ll find documents along the way containing clues and insights into what happened here. You’ll also find certain objects that contain memories, known as echoes. You must rotate the object until you find a small crack of light shining out of it, at which point you can listen to a memory that is attached to the object. There is also a type of echo in the spirit world. These require you to manipulate an object to bring them into focus, forming a ghostly image. Once you hold it in focus for a second, it will be restored and an audio clip of a memory will play. You’ll also experience cinematic cutscenes along the way. After a major one mid-game, you’ll play as a different character for a while.
The gameplay is fairly simple overall, as the game is about exploration, puzzle solving, and unraveling the story and the dark secrets of the past. For example, you sometimes need to move objects, or use things you find to overcome obstacles. The most useful item in the game is the bolt cutters, by far. You’ll see them several times before you can finally get them. The bolt cutters are used to remove chains and locks from doors to open new paths. In some ways, The Medium is reminiscent of classic horror games like the Resident Evil series, as you never get to control the camera, and movement is somewhat clunky on purpose. You’ll find yourself getting hung up on objects on occasion, but this is mostly just because of the fixed camera angles in some cases. However, the camera is not always fixed, as it sometimes moves with you down paths and corridors. You won’t die much, and if you do, you’ll just respawn.
The sound effects and music are both very well done in The Medium, but they also have to be for an atmospheric game like this to work. The voice acting is pretty good. For example, voice clips for “The Maw” portray a scary, deranged creature, making you want to be as far away from it as possible! The fact that it is nearly invisible when it shows up in the physical world, adds to that atmosphere. The soundtrack also includes a couple of tracks with lyrics, one of which is the credits song.
The Medium is a very dark story dripping with moody atmosphere and ambience. It has an old-school horror feel like the earlier Resident Evil games, but without jump scares. The thick ambience makes the environments very interesting to explore, as you uncover the twisted truth. I very much enjoyed my time investigating the cursed Niwa Resort, and uncovering the truth of the “Niwa Massacre.” However, it should be noted that the story includes some very dark subject matter, including child abuse. Players will get a glimpse into the minds of a number of characters along the way. It is a thought provoking story with an intentionally ambiguous ending. The weak point for The Medium may be replayability, but it does have a bunch of achievements and collectibles to get. The story is good enough that it will still easily be worth replaying again later on. I finished the game in 11 hours according to Steam, with the vast majority of the achievements. The Medium is available on Steam for $49.99, as well as on Xbox Series X|S. Are you ready to brave the darkness, free trapped spirits, and uncover the twisted truth of the abandoned Niwa Resort?
Review copy provided by publisher.