If you take a look at the line up of exclusives for the Xbox Series X during its first year of release, I’m sure that you’ll agree – especially when compared to the Playstation 5’s – that there’s still a lot to be desired. Aside from Halo Infinite there really isn’t that much to get excited about. While I am certain that their line up will improve as the years go on, at this point in time, in my opinion at least, there’s not really that much point in getting the console. That being said however, we have finally been given our first true exclusive to the Xbox Series X in The Medium.
The Medium was developed by Bloober Team, who are best known for developing Layers of Fear 1 & 2 and Blair Witch. The game was originally announced in 2012 for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii U, but they held it off as they wanted better technology for the game. The game was originally scheduled to be released on the 10th December 2020 but got delayed, and was eventually released on the 28th January 2021 for Xbox Series X, Steam and Epic Game Store.
In The Medium, you take on the role of Marianne, a spirit medium who has the unnatural ability to dive into the world of the dead and guide souls to their final respite and put them at peace. While grieving the death of her foster father, Jack, she receives a phone call from a man named Thomas Rekowicz who claims to know about her powers and can lead her to its origins, as well as the meaning of a dream that’s been plaguing her for nights. She then journey’s to the Niwa Workers’ Resort, the place of the infamous Niwa massacre, in hopes of meeting Thomas and finally getting the answers she so desperately desires.
It was said that the game was heavily inspired by the Silent Hill Franchise and it really shows. The atmosphere and the environment, both in the real and spirit world, have similar levels of foreboding and tension as those in Silent Hill do, while also taking on their own identity and not feeling like a clone. I especially love the look of the other world, probably the best comparison I can give to it is Limbo from DMC: Devil May Cry, though while that world is more twisted and anarchic, this world has more of a sense of ruin and decay. Though at the same time it doesn’t dampen the effectiveness of the real world. The Niwa building really gives you a good sense of isolation and does an amazing job at hinting on the events that happened there in the past while not out right showing them.
The game also looks great, while I wouldn’t preach that it’s pushing the Xbox Series X to its limits and does resemble something you’d probably find on an Xbox One, it’s still the best looking game that Blooper Team’s made. That being said however, the game doesn’t run that well, as there are numerous moments when the frame rate will drop by a very noticeable amount. This happens most consistently when the screen is split between the real and other world, during those moments the frame rate just cuts in half and becomes really distracting. Just for preference I played this on my PC – which mind you can play Mortal Shell, an already graphically intense game, and the frame rate is still very consistent – so you could just say it was me, however Calvin played it on the Xbox Series X and he also ran into the same frame rate problems. There were also some very odd glitches as well, for example one time when I was examining an item and Marianne was saying something, I exited the examination part way through her dialogue and she just abruptly stopped speaking but the subtitles continued as if she still was. Calvin also reported that at one point in the game he supposedly ran into a game breaking glitch whenever he died and had to reload to a previous save, however I never experienced that, so whether I missed it or it was fixed with an update I’m not fully sure.
Easily one of my favourite parts of this game was the music. The music was composed by Arkaduisz Reikowski and Akira Yamaoka, the latter of the two being well known for composing the soundtrack to every Silent Hill game. That was one of my biggest draws to The Medium as Yamaoka has written some of my favourite soundtracks in video games, hell, Not Tomorrow is one of my favourite songs of all time. The music in this game really fits his style, having a combination of haunting ambient pieces, to more somber and calming melodies that fits the mood of the moment perfectly. Though, just like the rest of the game, it takes on its own identity and never feels like it came from a Silent Hill game, in fact I’d probably say that I prefer it to some of those soundtracks.
Gameplay wise, you explore the Niwa Workers’ Resort, both in the real and other world, collecting items, solving puzzles and gathering information from the past, all the while avoiding the monster known as Maw. One of the main mechanics of the game is being able to split from the real to the other world. There are moments in the game where you’ll be in one world at a time, being able to swap between them when you find a mirror, or when the screen splits in two and you’ll be in both worlds at once. During these moments, you’ll need to explore both areas thoroughly to be able to continue, as your actions in one world will affect what happens in the other world and vice versa, which leads to some very enjoyable puzzles which feel so satisfying when you solve them. To help you with this you have a power called a spirit sense, where if you use it you’ll be able to sense any items that you’re able to interact with that are close by, as well as see things that you normally wouldn’t be able to.
Another way to solve puzzles is by using spirit energy which you find in the other world from spirit fountains; which sometimes you can just find in certain rooms, though other times you’ll need to construct from the real world by placing items in their proper spots. After absorbing the energy, you’ll be able to either perform a spirit blast, which if used on a fuse box in the spirit world will activate one in the real world, or will help to defend yourself if Maw notices you and give you a couple of seconds to flee, or you can use it to activate a shield which will protect you when you have to walk through a corridor filled with hornets.
While in split screen, there will be times when you can’t progress in the real world because the platform you’re on has crumbled or a door is locked, during those times you can go out-of-body and just explore the spirit world while your real world self stays in place which lets you explore further ahead, though you have to be careful as staying out of body for too long will lead to death. I really like this mechanic as it, again, leads to some very clever puzzles while also building up the tension and makes me more vigilant. Though I would have preferred it if there were consequences to using the out of body mechanic too often in a short amount of time as you can instantly cancel it when you get close to your limit and activate it again with no cool down or recharge period.
There are, however, some puzzles that can be somewhat frustrating, for example, there’s one puzzle where I had to try and find a code for a locked door, and I must have spent half an hour looking through papers trying to find what the code was, it eventually lead to the point where I just looked up the answer, and even then I couldn’t figure out how that person found it (yeah I cheated, don’t act like you never have). Luckily these were the rarity and most of the puzzles are fair and easy to get a grasp on while being challenging enough to be satisfying to solve.
Throughout the game you’ll be pursued by the monster known as Maw. Maw has a really cool design, which – while nothing unique – makes him feel very much a threat to you. He’s also voiced by the amazing Troy Baker, who adds extra life to the role by giving a somewhat flamboyant yet menacing performance, making the fiend feel like much more of a threat and making him more memorable. While the moments you interact with him are scripted, during your first playthrough you get a sense that he could pop up from anywhere, constantly putting you on edge. When you encounter him, you’ll either have to run away from him in a chase sequence, or you’ll have to try and sneak past him to get from one side of the room to the other. While effective at first, he’s sadly really easy to avoid, there’s always a set pattern that he tends to follow and when you learn it avoiding him isn’t much of a challenge, in fact the only times I actually died to him were the few times where I was a little confused on what I was meant to do rather than my own ineptitude.
One minor issue I had with the game was the length. I was trying to take my time with the game and there were plenty of times where I ended up stumped on a puzzle or not fully sure on where I was meant to go (I already mentioned that one puzzle where I was stuck for thirty-minutes), and yet I was still able to beat the game in about eight hours. I’m certain that if I were to go back and replay the game knowing what I know now, that I could easily knock off at least a couple of hours. In fact, if you look on Youtube, most of the full playthroughs of the game are about five to six hours long.
Despite its flaws and the somewhat disappointing length, The Medium is still a very good game. The puzzles are enjoyable, the characters are great and the story is intriguing the entire way through. While I wouldn’t say it’s as good as the first four Silent Hill games, I’d definitely say, especially if you have an Xbox Series X, that it’s well worth your time. In fact, at time of writing, it’s currently free on Xbox Game Pass, so you have pretty much no excuse to not pick up this game.
Anime Amigo, Nerd Consultant, and Guest Contributor
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