In a short time span, Polish developer Bloober Team has vastly improved its horror chops. The studio launched the fairly pedestrian haunted house adventure, Layers of Fear, in 2017. The next year, it followed with the sci-fi, psychological horror title, The Observer, then the one-two punch of Layers of Fear 2 and a game based on the Blair Witch films. The Medium is the culmination of that effort and expertise, a horror adventure that aims to sit alongside Silent Hill and other genre classics. Although it doesn’t quite hit that level, the $49.99 PC game provides a distinctly Polish spin on similar concepts. It just needs bigger frights and better PC performance.
She Tore a Hole in Our Universe
In The Medium, you play as Marianne, a young woman who has the ability to see spirits and travel to the spirit world. Marianne uses her ability to lay the restless dead to rest, but a mysterious message promising details about her past draws her to an abandoned resort hotel. In short, the Medium runs through the horror-adventure checklist: mysterious past, cryptic dreams, and something drawing our protagonist to a long-dead location.
Bloober Team’s previous games were presented in first-person fashion, but The Medium pulls the camera back into a third-person view. Even better, the camera uses fixed viewpoints that harken back to the horror classics like Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil (1996), or Silent Hill. This not only properly places Marianne within the scene—pulling back to show her loneliness or zooming in to capture her more emotional moments—but it also lets the developer focus your viewpoint on the amazing scenery its created.
This graphical might also applies to Hotel Niwa, a place where you learn about another facet of Marianne’s power: the ability to exist within the world of the dead. This dead, alien environment is where lost souls wander, a decaying monument to past trauma and lingering despair. The environments are inspired by the art of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński, whose work in “fantastic realism” includes vast, desert landscapes and misshapen flesh that’s dotted with the bones and pulsing fungi. The Medium sees Bloober Team drawing upon Polish culture and history in the same way CD Projekt Red did with The Witcher series.
The story weaves Marianne’s lost past with the incident that made Hotel Niwa fall. Not all questions are answered by the tale’s end, but most of the pieces fall into the places you’d expect. There’s one story tangent that’s a bit uneven, involving a mature subject matter that I didn’t anticipate the game touching. Bloober Team isn’t gratuitous in its handling of this plot point, but I don’t think it came together as well as intended. Thankfully, the rest of the adventure fares a bit better.
We Have Such Sights to Show You
Marianne interacts with the twin worlds in a many ways. In some cases, she uses mirrors to cross between worlds. In others, supernatural forces violently toss her into either reality. But many times, The Medium displays Marianne in both realities at the same time.
With this gameplay technique, Bloober Team showcases its technical chops by rendering two worlds in real time. This split fuels the game’s many puzzles; while a route may be closed in one reality, it’s open in the other. As a result, you must hop between worlds to figure out how to move forward. In some cases, Marianne can untether her soul from her body, letting her traverse farther in the spirit world for a limited period of time. The split-screen gameplay is impressive, and it holds an unnatural mirror up to the more common reality.
Rendering both worlds at once doesn’t always go off without a hitch, though. Textures slowly load when you open the inventory screen or use mirrors to jump between realities. Furthermore, I noticed a persistent, graphical microstutter while playing the game at a locked 60 frames per second at 1440p resolution. This is an issue that happened less frequently while playing the game at 4K resolution. On the upside, The Medium showcases the power of Nvidia’s RTX 30 series cards. The dilapidated hotel looks fantastic, with ray traced lighting cast on piles of dead leaves, skeletal trees, and ruined 1960s architecture.
Friction Between the Soul and the Outside World
A dual-world presentation is just a gimmick if it’s not used in an interesting fashion. Fortunately, The Medium’s story is one of Bloober Team’s better efforts, but it’s still not an entirely surprising one. Hotel Niwa is filled with grand dreams dashed against the shores of past trauma, something that’s carried onto Marianne herself. I saw many plot twists coming ahead of time; atmosphere carries most of the game.
Bloober Team has improved its horror chops within five years, but The Medium still has its fair share of problems. The game is largely a linear affair, with straightforward puzzles—find thing A, use in slot B. Additional exploration and a slightly larger map would better tie you to the location, a la Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. It would also give you a chance to wonder where a puzzle item should be used. As it stands, you’ll use an item in the same room in which you found it or the next one over.
There are dangers to Marianne’s safety, including a malevolent fiend and moth swarms that eat her soul. There are mechanics to deal with them, with Marianne drawing on light in the spirit world to blast away evil or shield herself. In the real world, you can crouch behind cover and hold your breath to make yourself invisible to your pursuer. Unfortunately, there are few sections where you need to keep quiet or shield yourself with the light of good memories to move forward. The game needs more tension, something The Medium’s Japanese counterparts understand. It’s beautiful and haunting, but lacks tension.
Can Your PC Run The Medium?
You’ll need a relatively powerful rig to handle the game’s strong graphics. The Medium’s minimum system specs call for an AMD Ryzen 5 2500X or Intel CPU Core i5-6600 CPU, AMD Radeon R9 390X or Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 55GB of storage. The game supports Nvidia’s RTX and DLSS 2.0 tech.
My rig contains an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, and 32GB of RAM. Playing the game at 4K resolution, with ray tracing on and DLSS off, caused the frame rate to dance in the 30 frames per second range. The frame rate rose to 60fps after I dropped the resolution to 1440p and turned DLSS on. That said, The Medium is a slower, more methodical PC game, so a 30fps frame rate isn’t a huge issue (outside of the aforementioned microstutter).
The Medium is available on PC via Steam, so it has many familiar Steam extras, including Steam Achievements, Steam Cloud, and full controller support.
You’ve Always Been the Caretaker
Horror happens when you step across the point of no return. You could die, you could become something else; the fear is in not knowing. The Medium treads upon horror concepts, but it doesn’t fully step across the line. Despite its flaws, it’s a game that’s worth experiencing for the dual-world mechanics. That said, if you want to experience genuine frights on PC, check out Capcom’s excellent Resident Evil series.
For more Steam game reviews and previews, check out PCMag’s Steam Curator page.
The Bottom Line
The Medium impresses with its next-gen graphics and unique, split-screenplay that lets you jump between the human and spirit worlds. Unfortunately, the horror game’s not particularly scary.
The Medium (for PC) Specs
|Product Games Genre||Action|
|Product Price Type||Street|
|Product Games ESRB Rating||Mature|
|Product Games Platform||PC|