Fans of Silent Hill will no doubt be looking forward to Bloober Team’s The Medium, a psychological horror game that wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeve. In this 2021 horror adventure, the player must flit between realities, taking care not to mess their strides at many unexplained hauntings. It’s spooky by design, and one of this year’s most ambitious Microsoft exclusives. The game will launch on January 28th for PC and the Xbox Series X and S. It will also be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch, if you’re subscribed.
If you’re not into reading, we also prepared this neat video review.
While I’m not all that familiar with Silent Hill, I am a complete sucker for old-school adventure games, and The Medium positions itself between these two inspirations with its fixed camera, tank controls and aloof puzzles. But while it may be homaging the past in a lot of ways, The Medium certainly looks like the future.
It really is quite a striking game, especially when you’re focused in on one of the two realms. The fabric work and lighting effects are seriously impressive, at least on PC — I was running the game at 1440p with an RTX 3080, and it was smooth all the way through. You do get to appreciate a lot of gorgeous 3D assets up close, spinning and studying every tiny detail that makes them — even if it does just amount to inspecting old pairs of shoes, at some points.
Twice the realities, twice the horror
Where it gets really interesting is when the game introduces the Insight mechanic (accessed by pressing LB) which lets you look beyond the pale to unravel clues and solve puzzles. Eventually, this develops and you shift into your abilities as the eponymous medium, where you can literally see between worlds.
The screen splits in half, and you’ve got the spirit world on the right and the material world on the left. To complete puzzles, you need to use what you can see in the great beyond to clear paths and move forward in real life, and vice versa. It’s a fascinating mechanic, one that is very easy on the eyes and it extrapolates out into certain clever systems. For example, you can engage in an out of body experience, where you leave your real body behind and walk through the spirit world to a new location and complete a puzzle. Others let you pull up a Spirit Shield to protect Marianne from danger, or channel a Spirit Blast to power broken machinery.
When you’re not engaging your abilities, you spend most of your time playing paranormal investigator — looking into forgotten spaces to unravel the tragedies that once defined them. It’s good fun, especially if you can deal with the heavy gloom. Don’t expect rainbows and roses, as The Medium can be extremely bleak. Its characters are often tortured by something, and this is reflected in their unique spirit world designs, flexing eye-popping viscera and muscle tissue to shock the player.
The game is narrated by the main character Marianne, which helps The Medium to maintain such a melancholic atmosphere. In that sense, it does a great job of aping the dread so present in the games that inspired it, such as the Silent Hill series. One thing that may not land well with certain players is the intermittent jovial tone of the protagonist — Marianne is often spouting irreverent quips and unnecessary exposition that can sometimes disrupt the thick atmosphere the game works so hard to create.
Akira Yamaoka’s master class
On the flip side, the way The Medium uses its fixed camera angles to frame danger and thoroughly scare its players with eerie flair is seriously effective. This is certainly helped by the beautifully realised Brutalist Polish buildings you find yourself travelling through too.
But, by far, my favourite thing about the game has to be the soundtrack, composed by Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka. Unusual instruments fill the space in these wide open, decrepit environments to spine-shivering effect. It’s a soundtrack that is constantly playing with your expectations, and I felt it tied the entire experience together. Sound design wise, cutting open flayed skin to access new areas with a bone razor is just as disgusting as it sounds, with similar freaky engagements elevated by some meticulous audio work. Headsets recommended… if you dare!
The Medium launches on January 28th for PC and the Xbox Series X and S and the Steam version is available right now on the Green Man Gaming store.