Games & Tech

Review: The Medium Does Many Things Well, but Frustrates with its Gameplay

There are so many elements to a video game. Doing some elements well does not guarantee others came together quite so nicely. The Medium is a game that does story, characters, dialogue and voice acting quite well. Unfortunately, it does not do gameplay well.

Gameplay is king because they are video games, after all. Playing The Medium was like going to a restaurant and enjoying the ambience, the drinks, the service, and the appetizers but getting a mediocre entrée. Enjoyed some of my time with it, had some fun — wouldn’t go again.

Screenshot: The Medium

The Medium, a third-person psychological horror game, came out on PC and Xbox Series S|X back in January and is coming to PlayStation 5 on Sept. 3, 2021. It is a new-generation game only, which is interesting, because for the most part, it isn’t going to test the hardware.

The main character, Marianne, is a medium who can interact with the spirit world who finds herself in an abandoned communist resort trying to unravel its dark secrets by exploring both the physical and spirit world. There are moments in The Medium where you have to interact in the material world and the spirit world at the same time. Something that blocks you in one of the worlds will prevent you from moving in both worlds. This mechanic was similar to Titanfall 2’s time shift, which had you going back and forth to traverse blocked sections of a collapsed building.

Screenshot: The Medium

Running two screens at once is probably the only thing that tests the hardware, but even then, the camera is fixed, movement speed is never fast and the visuals are good, but nothing a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One couldn’t handle.

Developer Bloober Team did take advantage of the DualSense 5 controller though. Audio logs are heard through the controller speaker (a touch I am quite fond of), there’s plenty of vibration, and the lights on the controller flash and change color. Of course, the PS4’s controller could do all of those things, but they are additive features nonetheless. The haptic triggers are used, but don’t add anything to the experience outside of making me squeeze the left trigger a bit harder to run.

Screenshot: The Medium

In many ways, The Medium feels like an older game despite the new hardware it resides in. You have no control over the camera. The camera moves with you when it needs to, but is often fixed. Sometimes you’ll go from a room with the camera behind Marianne and then it will be to her left in the next room and your controls will get all twisted. Her walking and running animations are a bit stiff. There are also lengthy cut scenes. As technology has improved, developers have tried to implement key story moments into gameplay. Not The Medium. This game will make you sit for a few minutes at a time, not that that’s a bad thing. The cut scenes are interesting. However, it all reminded me of things from a decade old, or older, game.

One thing that might have tested the new hardware is the dual realities. Your screen will have two different backgrounds, although neither are truly interactable so it’s not an earth shattering concept. The dual realities make for interesting puzzles, although most of them are simple and easy. The problem was mostly when I didn’t know where I could go. Those fixed cameras mean Marianne will sometimes be walking further from your view, and it is a horror game after all, so things are quite dark most of the time.

Screenshot: The Medium

Marianne’s story is a mystery. She is unraveling it as you are. Initially, it’s a bit slow and I was wondering where it was going, but it eventually comes together for a surprisingly satisfying ending. The more I learned about the story, the more I liked it.

Voice acting is one of the strengths of The Medium. Kelly Burke does a great job in the lead role. She reminded me of Courtney Hope’s portrayal of Jesse Faden in Control. Both Marianne and Jesse have supernatural abilities they are just beginning to fully understand and both add context with a lot of voiced inner monologue.

Troy Baker also clearly had fun playing the supernatural villain called The Maw. The Maw is a demon-like spirit that chases you at various moments throughout the story. Despite Baker’s unnerving performance, these moments are what turned The Medium from a good game to an average game.

Screenshot: The Medium

Many of the parts where The Maw is trying to find you are stealth sections. The controls and the camera completely clash. The changing perspective from room-to-room and the poor depth perception made these sections incredibly frustrating. Not to mention, if you get caught and have to restart at a checkpoint, for some reason it took about 35 seconds to get back into gameplay, which is bizarrely long for the typically lightning quick PS5.

Most of the other gameplay is standard walking simulator stuff. You’ll be searching around for items, keys, codes and letters.

It is a horror game by name, but outside of two or three of the freakier run-ins with The Maw, it’s not that scary. Part of that comes from the confidence Marianne has as an experienced medium. If she’s not scared most of the time, why should I be? You can take that as a diss or a good thing depending on your horror tastes. I was happily able to play through the game without constantly being on edge.

Overall, The Medium does a lot of things well, but it also does some things poorly. If you really like tense games with light horror and enjoy walking simulators, it might be for you. If you’re hoping to get good gameplay and get scared out of your socks, this isn’t what you’re looking for.

The Medium is available now on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store as well as  Xbox Series S|X and is coming to PlayStation 5 on Friday.

 

 

 

A PlayStation 5 key was provided to us for the purposes of this review. 

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