Recently during a Twitch stream, someone asked me what I thought about The Medium. I told them I enjoyed everything about the game except playing it. The story is well told, atmosphere and tone blend together and the game’s main bad guy is not easily forgotten. It has all the elements of a popular Netflix series. It’s just not that fun of a game.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start The Medium are the visuals. The lighting and textures are what you would expect from the initial batch of next-gen games. However, the visuals are not without their flaws. Marianne, the game’s protagonist, suffers from wooden facial animations and stiff player movement. These faults weaken the experience. Cutscenes with closeups create these moments where you feel lost in the uncanny valley. The Medium feels like a half step instead of a full leap into the next-generation. The world is beautiful, but our main character feels left behind.
Telling a horror story in a video game isn’t easy. Repetition slowly erodes the impact a monster has on the player. Bloober Team decided the best way avoid repetition is by removing as much player agency as possible. Following the traditional point and click adventure model, There is little you can do to go off the rails the game has built. You give up camera control for set pieces based on a designer’s intent. But that lack of camera control brings up various issues. Without control of the camera I found myself wondering around a room looking for whatever environmental item will push the story along. The lack of camera control also works against me whenever Marianne encountered The Maw. Chase sequences, moments that are supposed to inspire fear, fall short because you can’t see your character or clearly define the run route.
The game’s dual world mechanic is good, but not great. As a mechanic to solve puzzles, it adds variety to the limited actions given to the player. However, during cutscenes the dual world feels unnecessary. For example, scenes with Marianne interacting with a creature in the spirit world feel silly when you see her squirming around in an empty room alone in the real world.
The storytelling is the star of The Medium. It’s definitely a slow burn. The story is supported by great voice acting, with the actors delivering their lines without being overly dramatic. Backstory unfolds in various books and tapes scattered throughout the campus. The star of the show is The Maw, the game’s only “enemy”. From the voice effects to the writing, The Maw is creepy af. Hearing it talk about wearing Marianne and then deposing of her after he’s worn her out is unnerving. The Maw’s encounters are strategically placed, never feeling overused.
The Medium is a Netflix series waiting to happen. Horror/thrillers are difficult to translate in gaming. You have to balance set pieces and player control. The decision to limit player agency was a strategic choice but it keeps the game from being great. Thankfully, it doesn’t hinder the story, and it’s worth playing just to uncover the secrets awaiting you at Niwa Workers’ Resort.