Smoking…good thing the game has a trigger warning at the start!

The Medium opens with a pulse pounding sequence of a young girl being chased through the woods before the scene can reach a grisly climax then game quick cuts to the protagonist, covered in mud and clearly disheveled talking about a dream while fixing not one but two drinks, to whom is she talking, who’s this second drink for? We don’t know and nor are we going to find out just yet. 

The Medium then takes us back in time, to Marianne having to sort her recently deceased adoptive fathers belongings this is when we are given control and the mystery really begins…

I wasn’t kidding, it really does have a trigger warning.

It was at this moment I disabled subtitles, the game features an impressive set of accessibility  options as far as its subtitles are concerned, while they still appear in chunks as opposed to in time with the progression of speech it’s nice to see a developer making more effort with accessibility. 

The Medium doesn’t beat around the bush in terms of your powers, mercifully they come up and are used almost immediately. It’s a pleasant change from games that have you play for far too long before letting you get to grips with your skills, after-all it’s never a surprise to the player that the protagonist has powers so it’s nice to forego the pretence. 

The game used fixed camera placement reminiscent of classic survival horror titles such as Resident Evil, both then and now it serves perfectly to restrict the players field of vision and creates a chillingly claustrophobic tension. 

Combine the claustrophobic camera with the chilling score and The Medium manages to perfectly recreate fear, not the fear of a undead creature but a fear of the dark, or more accurately what could be in it, the most human of fears, that of the unknown.

“The Split” which is what the game calls playing in two realities at once sounded like a gimmick when I first read about it but wow is it effective, seeing both worlds at once, the physical and the spiritual was surreal and unnerving. Exploring both worlds at once gives the spirit world sense of reality while at the same time a creepy otherness, seeing a mundane part of the physical world revealed to be a nightmarish hellscape in the spiritual is incredible and more then a few times I felt a chill run up my spine at the notion that a menace may exist just beyond the edges of my perception.  

“The Split” in action.

The Split isn’t constant, it’s comes and goes as the level of spiritual activity fluctuates and it never overstays its welcome. It stays just long enough for your comfort levels to being adjusting to the “otherness” before you’re back in just the plain and drab physical world.

At one point while you’re only able to see the physical realm you’re lead though the eerie socialist summer camp by a spirit flickering lights in succession to lead Marianne to her next objective, it may be a rather cliche way of engaging with a spirit but it works brilliantly when combined with the fixed camera angels as your worry changes to one of not what’s in the dark but what are we about to uncover in the light. 

The biggest challenge with writing this review was trying to work out exactly how much to tell you,  there are moments within the medium that genuinely frightened me, which is a rare occurrence in modern horror gaming. However, if I were to explain which moments they were, I feel I’d be spoiling the experience for you. I will tell you that I became rather suspicious of the mirrors in my home immediately following a play session. I can’t remember the last time a game or movie for that matter left me feeling on edge after I’d pressed stop or switched off the console but The Medium did so on more than one occasion and it left me entirely enamoured by the game.

All the spirits wear death masks, a creepy touch I really enjoyed.

As always I try to keep reviews as free from spoilers as possible, so let’s just say that you “gain access” to a power set that lets you delve deep into a characters psyche, these sections of the game are stunningly presented and for a psychology nerd like me make the game worth playing in their own right. 

The Medium is also full of surprises and I don’t mean shocks, I mean surprise in a narrative sense. Just as I began to feel like everything was adding up, the story was falling into place neatly a new revelation would sudden flip the script and the mystery I thought I’d started to uncover would suddenly appear much more epic in scope than it had mere moments before. This would consistently lengthen gaming sessions, what was meant to be a quick jaunt into a nightmare would suddenly become a stint stretching into the dark hours of the morning (I should probably point out that being a horror game I refused to play it during the day, only once the sun had set would I join Marianne.

My complaints are few and didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the medium but nevertheless it wasn’t all perfect. The main stay of the game are its puzzles and they aren’t difficult in the slightest, which was a tad frustrating, one can only imagine the how the satisfying the accomplishment would of felt if I’d been intellectually challenged while being emotionally ravaged.

Not only are the puzzles too simple they are also ridge in the way they must be completed, if you aim is to work out D, well you can normally do so as soon as you see A, but The Medium insists that you interact with both B and C in turn before allowing you to solve the puzzle, like said, not game ruining but it removed me from the haunting horror long by consciously remind me that I was playing a game. 

Unfortunately the atmosphere isn’t the only horrific aspect to The Medium, this is where The Maw comes in, think of him as a Spirit take on Mister X from RE2. While the character himself is disturbing, perfectly designed and wickedly performed (by Troy Baker) it’s his implementation that’s horrific. The Maw pops up from time to time and means two things, a chase sequence and or a Stealth section. The chase sequences aren’t to bad but the stealth sections are awful and are among the worst I’ve ever played. Your possible hiding places are counter intuitive, you never actually sure if you’re making the correct choice and it’s only possible to tell depending on if you’re greeted by a game over screen or not. It’s in these moments horror gives way to monotony and frustration.

The Maw!

There are also some transitional bugs when moving from game play to cutscenes, it’s normally a slight judder or assets weirdly “popping out” just before the cutscene starts. Only once did I come across a gameplay bug and that’s after a mirror sections. Certain puzzles will require you to go through the looking glass, after one such puzzle a mirror shatters, well the prompt didn’t disappear, so I stepped “through” the broken mirror only to be stuck on the other side forcing me to reload an earlier save. The game auto-saves often so it wasn’t a huge inconvenience but I felt it worth mentioning.

Fundamentally it’s the characters, narrative and atmosphere that take The Medium and elevate it above its few flaws. It’s been a long time since a new IP managed to grab my attention in such a manner and even longer for a horror title.