After reaching the end of The Medium, Polish developer Bloober Team's latest creation, we couldn't help feeling confused, tired, yet somewhat satisfied. It's a game about characters being trapped between parallel realities, so maybe that's why we felt that way? As the title says, a part of us loves The Medium and truly enjoyed and respect the story the devs put so much time and energy on... but this game is as flawed as its characters, and we get why another part of us kinda hate it.
Setting the Mood
The Medium takes a lot of inspiration from old-school survival horror games, but it's far from being one. In reality, it's a psychological horror walking simulator with puzzles and occasional enemies that will make it harder to move forward.
What The Medium does brilliantly—and probably what we love the most about this game and kept us playing it—is highlighting the beautifully eerie atmosphere of all its environments. Everything from the lighting to the disposition of things fits perfectly, and every place you visit has something unique about it that will make you pause and explore every inch of it. To be honest with you, at one point, we started taking staged screenshots, and they all look amazing. However, this is a psychological horror game, which means that enemies are not abundant, and once you understand that regardless of how depressing and distressing it all feels, nothing is coming after you, it's hard to actually feel scared. In fact, The Medium seems to acknowledge that, and it's sad to see it depends on some silly—although effective, in our case—jumpscares to actually shake things a little bit. Another clever trick is The Medium's minimalist approach to things, and if you don't know for sure where to go or what to do, anxiety takes over you. Plus, there's no need for inventory management, so your only focus is on this spooky holiday resort called Niwa.
You Don't Scare Me, You're Just Annoying
We already mentioned one of the things we love about The Medium, so let us talk about what we totally hate: the annoying final-boss-that-is-not-a-final-boss. But hey, let's start from the beginning. In this game, you play as Marianne, a young medium who lives in both our reality and the one where the dead go. Although she uses her powers to contact the dead and help troubled souls reach the afterlife, she knows nothing about the origins of such talent—that's why when a mysterious man who claims to also have those powers calls her on the phone asking for help in exchange for some answers, she agrees to go to Niwa and find him.
Once you arrive at Niwa, and after meeting a special someone, you learn there's a repulsive monster roaming the corridors of the Split World, an alternate reality that's almost the same as Silent Hill's Otherworld. Maybe he has something to do with Thomas, the man who asked you to come to Niwa in the first place? The only thing you know for sure is that this creature wants to "wear" you... as in, possessing your body and slowly absorbing whatever makes you a living person.
It's not like we hate this monster the same way we hate Nemesis or Mr. X for chasing us and showing up at inopportune times. At least it's fun to escape from them. We hate this one because the game controls are so clunky they won't allow you to avoid coming in touch with it and die. Other than a blast of light your Split World self can shoot from time to time—that will only buy you a few seconds anyways—there are no weapons in The Medium, so you can only crouch, hold your breath, and hope for the best trying to stay away from its path. Tank controls were the norm 20 years ago, but now they just feel archaic, exactly like the weird camera angles The Medium goes for when exploring or running away from the monsters.
Repeating the same section almost 10 times because Marianne wasn't really responsive or the game suddenly decided to use the worst camera angle ever in the middle of a chase was annoying as hell, more so given the fact that you can't save manually in The Medium. To be fair, it also happens when the creepy moths attack you in the Split World and running through them is the only option, so... it's not our atrocious friend's fault.
A Remarkable Story, Just Not the Best Storytelling
Another problem with The Medium is its messy storytelling. We love the symbolism, we love the atmosphere, and to be fair, all puzzles—although fairly easy—are well thought out too, but there's something about the plot that's too confusing. The Medium's road is paved with clichés and side-stories that go nowhere. Maybe if they weren't so enigmatic just for the sake of being enigmatic, they could really contribute to the story, but that's not the case.
Once you finish the game, and despite its predictable open ending, several things finally make sense and click... but getting there won't be easy if you're too distracted or get bored easily. Since most of the characters are introduced via notes, echoes (old dialogues attached to objects) and memory shards (old dialogues and blurry scenes attached to objects or places), it's troublesome to keep track of who is who and who did what.
One of the premises of The Medium is helping the victims of the "Niwa Massacre" find peace and reach the afterlife. At one point, though, and without noticing it, we were in the middle of a Nazi-related sub-plot that seemed to be quite interesting, yet we failed to find enough information to understand it and genuinely care about it. There's a trend in horror narrative where everything is left to the viewer's interpretation, and that's okay if you know how to use it without abusing it, but some things need to be simpler to be more impactful.
For a game that takes place in Poland and is "very Polish," all these Nazi/Jew elements help giving context without feeling out of place or forced into you. Sorry, we really tried our best to understand it, but that interesting idea you had in mind doesn't translate well into the game—and we're not that curious to go for a second playthrough...
To be honest with you, The Medium has everything it needs to become a modern cult classic. Nonetheless, it's far from being a great psychological horror video game, and being so short, many people are likely to forget about it in a few days. Monotonous and ambiguous as it is, this walking simulator with occasional puzzles fails to deliver an enjoyable experience in terms of gameplay and narrative; the former is too simple, linear and clunky, while the latter tries to be more than it should.
If it wasn't for the messy, slow-paced plot, we'd love to play it again. After 9 hours of dealing with everything we mentioned, however, we're just happy to have enjoyed this experience and keep several spooky screenshots as a souvenir of our visit to Niwa.