The Medium (PS5) Review
Polish game studio Bloober Team specializes in making psychological horror-thriller games. Their stable of games include Layers of Fear, Observer, and Blair Witch, to name a few. Some of these games were released in PSVR too – most notably, Layers of Fear and Blair Witch. Their newest game is The Medium. Given its nature, this game is not likely to see a PSVR release.
Released last January on the Xbox and PC, the Medium has finally come to the PS5. Upon initial release, the PS5 version did not feature ray tracing, but thankfully, this was quickly patched. The game plays at 4K and only 30 FPS. Bit of a shame that a 60 FPS option is not available. While the game employs a unique split-screen mode, the current-gen of consoles are powerful enough to support 60 FPS.
Since Bloober Team is a Polish developer, they decided to embrace their culture and history for this game. The Medium takes place in 1990s Poland in an isolated and abandoned hotel, the Niwa – which means cornfield in Polish (another Stephen King shout-out perhaps?) – is out in the middle of the fictional Kiwa Forest. The game is rife with homages to older horror works, be it from the cinema, literature or videogames. A possessed hotel is a direct nod to Stephen King’s Stanley Hotel from The Shining. The Death’s Head moth from Silence of the Lambs appears too. On the videogame side, The Medium uses the locked down camera framing from early installments of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games.
Horror References in Abundance
The focus of the game is Marianne, you guessed it, a medium. She is driven to discover how she possesses her spiritual powers, a mystery that is tied into the discarded carcass of the Niwa Hotel. This journey of discovery drives the game. Marianne can traverse two worlds, the one we know as real and the other is the spirit. The two sides affect each other. Actions taken in one world often affect the other side, either directly or indirectly. It is this interaction that Bloober Team uses for the more unique gameplay aspects. Often, an action on one side is used to overcome a barrier or puzzle in its mirror counterpart.
In the real world, Marianne adopts a Chuck Norris, Good Guys Wear Black style. She is all dark from head to toe: black hair, leather jacket, jeans, and boots. While in the spirit world, she takes on an ethereal presence with white hair and grayish attire. Actor Kelly Burke voices the character and does yeoman work here, given the somewhat muddled presentation of Marianne. Sometimes the character is all dour and self-deprecating, while other times she is peppy and bubbly. I have to assume this resulted from trying to portray the character through the lenses of the two different worlds. The end result is a rather schizophrenic personality.
Marianne has a suite of powers that work in both worlds. She can sense psychic traces of people on objects. Through these traces, she can either hear conversations or reconstruct ghostly scenes that can lead to clues or aid in puzzle solving. She also has a psychic shield, which is used in the mirror world to either repel malignant forces or overcome certain barriers. Marianne can only store so much energy, which is visually represented in the mirror world as a series of fungal looking growth on one arm. The more energy she has, the more rings there are.
Another useful tool is one of astral projection with which Marianne can travel the mirror world. This talent is time-limited and if she stays out of body too long, she will die. You use this projection ability to solve puzzles that only exist in the alternate world. Sometimes these puzzles include finding an object like the bone-based straight razor. Mirrors also let Marianne step into the other world and back while in single screen mode.
Sometimes the game breaks out into split-screen mode where you control Marianne in both worlds. You can flip between the worlds with a button press. This mechanic is not controllable. You enter split-screen mode when puzzles require manipulation in both worlds. So a multi-step puzzle will have you flipping back and forth between the worlds to solve them. It’s the closest implementation of a single player in coop mode you’ll ever find.
Haunted and Haunting Art
Even though the look of the mirror world is based on the paintings of Polish artist, Zidizslaw Beksinski, they come across as very Gigeresque. The same holds true for the look of the straight razor. Biological growths infest the mirror world and oft times look like tumorous skin mated with bizarre spider web support structures. Naturally, the color palette of the mirror world is very drab. Disappointingly, this holds true of the real world as well. It would have been more striking if the color contrast between the two worlds had differed more.
Besides Marianne, there are only a few other characters. It is good then that two of them are standouts. One of them, called Sadness, you meet early in the hotel. Sadness exists in the mirror world only and is a one-armed girl with a wooden mask for a face and skin not entirely covering all her joints. Her look invokes empathy and pity, which if further heightened by the expert voice work by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.
The other character is the antagonist known simply as The Maw. Troy Baker provides the voice work and he is very effective. In this game’s version of Mr. X from Resident Evil Two, is The Maw. The Maw relentlessly pursues you. Since there is no combat in the game, you play cat and mouse with him, first in the spirit world and then later in the real world. This character adds a much-needed dose of action and tension into what is basically a quest game.
The Medium uses the fixed multiple camera views of the early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games to create tension and a claustrophobic ambience. The downside to this approach is a constant sense of disorientation when you leave one view and progress to the next. You will find yourself course-correcting quite often. The game makes use of DualSense feedback. It’s amazing how even a little dose of controller feedback can make the game feel so much more immersive. It doesn’t beat playing in VR though! The best uses come when you are using your psychic abilities.
Music is sparse and uses a low throbbing presence to make you feel isolated and burdened with a heavy load. Sound and environmental cues are excellent and also highlight the mood with disembodied voices moaning or a mournful wind chime tinkling.
With each game they release, Bloober Team continues to make strides, and The Medium is another such step. It has an intriguing story with intriguing characters. The game also has a nifty mix of old and new gameplaying elements.
*** PS5 Code provided by the publisher ***
• Intriguing story and protagonist
• Unique gameplay mechanics
• Atmospheric soundtrack
• Fixed camera angles can disorient
• No replayability