The Medium Review

Richard Walker

It seems timely that in this present era, when the world is seemingly split into two separate realities, along comes a game where that is quite literally the central premise. The Medium, another foray into psychological horror from developer Bloober Team – whose previous efforts, Layers of Fear, Observer, and Blair Witch, have tapped into chilling the spine via a first-person perspective – casts you as Marianne, a woman blessed/cursed with supernatural powers that enable her to exist within the real and spirit worlds simultaneously. Horror games have enjoyed dalliances with alternate realities before, of course, not least in the Silent Hill series, in which its protagonists could enter grimy realms of untold terror. And The Medium is the closest we've come to a Silent Hill experience in far too long a time.

In the spirit world, Marianne gets a fancy platinum-blonde 'do. Like Dante.

Set in and around Poland's Niwa Resort – an abandoned hotel suspended in its 50s-60s style of wood panelling and dusty marble – The Medium presents all manner of puzzling possibilities that are seldom fully explored. Things start off simple enough, with Marianne able to initiate an 'out-of-body experience', and control her platinum-blonde spirit world counterpart for a limited time before she dissolves into dust. This enables you to power junction boxes in the real world using spirit energy absorbed from the bleak, grime-encrusted and sepia-hued spirit world, before graduating to slightly more complex puzzles, which require journeying back and forth between both realms. Most of this is delivered by dividing the screen in two (vertically or horizontally at different junctures), with Marianne moving in synchronicity through both realities; holding down the B button, meanwhile, allows you to focus on the spirit world and take direct control.

The Medium feels like something of a horror throwback, with its fixed camera angles and slightly clunky movement. It's even set in 1999, and wouldn't be entirely out of place within the same timeframe as Resident Evil 3 and Silent Hill, both of which released during the very same year. Of course, The Medium's core premise of straddling two worlds is brought to startling life by the internal grunt of the Xbox Series X|S, ensuring that Marianne can traverse to the other side instantaneously, be it via mirrors or directly through the game's split-screen sequences. And while the Niwa hotel is an interesting and evocative time capsule, brimming with eerie The Shining vibes, the underlying spirit world inspired by the macabre artwork of Zdzisław Beksiński is all sand-coloured rock, gnarled tendrils, hanging human limbs, stretched slabs of fetid flesh, and muddy, darkened corners.

The spirit world isn't supposed to be appealing, of course, and on that front it succeeds in being a place you don't want to spend too much time exploring, lest gangly creature The Maw (voiced with almost unrecognisable menace by Troy Baker) snatch you up in its spindly, grasping digits. Whenever the monster deigns to turn up, you're either forced into a painfully slow stealth section, Marianne having to crouch behind scenery to evade the blind beast's searching, holding her breath when it draws near; or you'll be sprinting out of danger, the beast relentlessly giving chase. These sections prove especially irritating when The Maw manifests in the real world as a nigh-on invisible entity, appearing in a similar guise to the Predator with its shimmering camo – each occurrence is a cause for deep sighing and eye-rolling rather than terror, as an inevitable non-skippable death sequence is bound to ensue. It's a shame that these encounters are less scary, more an annoyance.

While in the spirit world, Marianne is able to wield spirit energy, burning away encroaching whispers of moths by projecting a shielding bubble, or powering on switches that can be used in the material world. This requires charging up said energy using wells of swirling white light, which can make temporary visits to the spirit world somewhat urgent, as her spiritual projection slowly flakes away to ash. Your guide through The Medium's orangey beige plane is a little girl named Sadness, whose porcelain-masked identity is a mystery throughout, even when Marianne eventually goes beyond the confines of the Niwa's walls. It's these latter parts of the game that provide the real intrigue, as Marianne closes in on the truth behind what became of the denizens of the hotel, and a smart, unexpected twist gradually wriggles its way out of The Medium's plot.

The interplay between Marianne's two worlds proves a consistently compelling mechanic, the back and forth from place to place keeping things fresh. Sadly, however, the more intriguing environmental puzzles that arise from the game’s dual-reality traversal are all too scarce. It’s a shame, because many of the more arresting sights are saved for such conundrums, like a room with an imposing angular sculpture of an angel at its centre, in which moving the hands of a grandfather clock shifts time and the environment itself, unlocking an otherwise inaccessible doorway. Still, as a slice of cinematic Silent Hill or Resident Evil-style horror, albeit without the survival aspect – there's no combat here – The Medium proves engaging from start to finish. Bloober deploys cinematic camera angles to great effect, making the Niwa hotel, its surroundings, and the spirit world feel at times both oppressive and claustrophobic.

Welcome to the Niwa Resort - not a million miles away from The Overlook.

Arkadiusz Reikowski (material world) and Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka's (spirit world) superlative soundtrack ensures you're kept on a knife-edge, and a succession of dreamlike sequences and images will live on in your head after you've finished the game. Yet, it's a leap to claim that The Medium successfully creates any genuine scares during its 10-12 hours – while the mood is one of suitable foreboding, you rarely experience the hairs bristling on the back of your neck with genuine terror, despite Bloober’s unquestionable proficiency in conjuring chills.

What it does do well is to engender a pervading unnerving aura without frequently resorting to cheap jump frights (there are some). The Medium is Bloober's best horror game since Layers of Fear, if not exactly its scariest, and proof positive that the Polish studio not only has a mastery of the medium, but is adept at building a thick, unsettling atmosphere and delivering an engaging narrative. It may not haunt your nightmares, but it will live on in your memory – The Medium is a striking and captivating psychological horror that demonstrably sees a developer honing its craft. Now, someone (Konami) give Bloober a massive budget and the Silent Hill license, for crying out loud.

The Medium

Layers of Fear showed early promise, Blair Witch demonstrated that Bloober could resurrect a dormant movie license to great effect, and Observer saw the studio successfully turn its hand to cyberpunk horror. The Medium is a similarly excellent game, serving as further proof of the developer's horror expertise and its credentials as an exciting creative outfit.

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A superlative score from Bloober's own Arkadiusz Reikowski and Silent Hill alum Akira Yamaoka elicits goosebumps, while the voice acting is uniformly excellent. As horror soundtracks go, this is certainly up there.


A detailed, attractive game, The Medium places you squarely in the late '90s, while successfully rendering two worlds at once. It's not exactly the best showcase for next-gen, but it looks slick enough.


If you long for the good old days of vintage Silent Hill, then you'll certainly dig The Medium, with its fixed camera angles and puzzles, albeit without the combat and inventory management.


Compelling from beginning to end, The Medium will get its hooks into you from the off, which only makes it all the more unfortunate that there isn't any replay value – no chapter select, no New Game+... nothing.


Collectibles all have to be gathered during a single playthrough, which is a pain in the arse, but otherwise, The Medium is very generous with its achievements, awarding a lovely, steady stream of Gamerscore as you progress. And there are a handful of inventive ones in the mix, too.

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