Title: The Medium
Developer: Bloober Team
Publishers: Bloober Team
Platforms: PC, Xbox SeriesX/S, PS5 (reviewed)
Release Date: September 3rd, 2021
I want to preface this by saying that I am a big fan of Bloober Team games. I have given rave reviews for their games in the past including Layers of Fear 1 and 2, Observer and I didn’t all the way hate Blair Witch even though it didn’t do justice to the story in the way I hoped it would. When I found myself reviewing The Medium on PC earlier this year, I found myself struggling, both with the story and with the game itself. The controls were akin to old school tank controls that took a while to get a hang of. As a console kind of gal, I anticipated a console release so that The Medium could be played with the smoothness that was expected of it. Little did I know that I was about to be a bumbling idiot on two different platforms.
For those of you that haven’t had the chance to play this game, The Medium follows the story of Marianne who has returned to Poland in 1999 for her foster father’s funeral. Marianne is a spirit medium and she uses her abilities to help spirits pass from this world to the next. She even has to assist her father to pass on. While at the funeral home, she receives a call from a strange man offering an explanation for her abilities and all she has to do is meet him at a shady old resort that was the location of a massacre. Seems like a great idea. You can expect a metric ton of ghost business going down at the Niwa Resort, one of them being a massive baddie straight from Pan’s Labyrinth. You must avoid this monster while trying to unravel your past.
I had such high hopes for The Medium on PS5, I really did. The requirements to make this game run on PC is pretty intense, so I knew that my PS5 could really keep up and it did give a few dropped mouth animations during cutscene conversations. What I didn’t expect was the complete and utter frustration from the controls. First off, when you go to examine something in your space, if you so much as have a muscle twitch, your cursor will move from where you need it to be. You can use the controller to move the cursor but your PS5 will always read the Dualshock’s physical movement over the control. The novelty is cool for a few seconds and then the frustration begins to root. All of that is babytown frolics compared to the anger that comes with trying to move Marianne around.
I was accused of not understanding what tank controls were when I compared the movement in The Medium on PC. I am very aware of what constitutes tank controls and this game likes to ride the fence. Sometimes up always means forward, until it doesn’t and then Marianne will turn on her heels with no provocation right into the awaiting arms of something that wants to snuff the life right out of her. The very first chase sequence almost ruined this game for me entirely. The autosave checkpoints right at the start of the chase where Marianne is dropped into the maze. With my hand already on the controller and running forward, suddenly the camera is changed to a back view and instead of running away from the camera, we are now running toward it. Habitually, I changed my toggle position from up to down. Marianna decided to stop and turn around, running right into danger.
Okay, so that was wrong. Let’s try a different way. Instead of switching from up to down, I decided to keep holding the toggle in the up position. Marianne is dropped and…she turns around and runs into the monster. OKAY, so that was wrong too. Reloading the checkpoint, I switched into the down position preemptively and she did the exact same goddamn thing no matter what I did. To keep myself from throwing the controller at Marianne in an attempt to kill her myself, I turned the game off. Nothing can ruin a game’s experience worse than crap controls and I expected more from Bloober Team.
I know what they were trying to do with The Medium. The dual world controls allows you to do things in the spiritual realm that you can’t in the physical realm and vice versa. That part of the mechanics works. The soundtrack was composed by Akira Yamaoka so you know the music and the sound mixing is spot on. Troy Baker plays the voice of the big baddie and he is phenomenal as usual but all of that means nothing if the controls are so irritating that you don’t want to play. Not only do the controls decide which way it wants to go on a whim, but Marianne constantly feels like she is walking through molasses. There’s an overbearing weight to her movements that feels unnecessary.
I hate being so frustrated with this game because it has such potential. Bloober Team pulled out the stops for The Medium for its audio design on all fronts but the controls are so irritating that you almost have to psych yourself up to play and deal with it. I would recommend watching someone play The Medium rather than play it yourself. That way you can absorb the environment, the creepiness and the actual horror elements that are there and really good without wanting to break your controller in half like a broomstick.
With a story that’s just okay and controls that make you want to pull your hair out, the great audio and voice acting are overshadowed. Watching someone else play it would be the more satisfying route to experience The Medium.