Full disclosure: I am a wimp. Horror games? Can’t do ‘em. So it is with a modicum of surprise that — and I say this hesitantly — a couple hours in, I’m not scared of The Medium. At least not yet.
The Medium, developed by Bloober Team, is billed as a psychological horror game, and is one of the first games you can play on Xbox Series X and S but not on Xbox One. (It’s also playable on PC.) Set in late-’90s Poland, you’re cast as Marianne, a medium who can communicate with, if I’ve correctly grasped the game’s initially vague plot, the spirit realm. At the start, Marianne receives a phone call from a man named Thomas, who claims to be aware of her powers. Thomas instructs Marianne to head to the Niwa Worker’s Resort, a communist-era vacation lodge — in the middle of nowhere, conveniently — that was abandoned after an indeterminate number of guests and employees were mysteriously murdered.
Most of the “action” involves solving environmental puzzles from a fixed-camera third-person perspective. But the gimmick is that Marianne can occupy both the real world and the spirit world simultaneously. Solving puzzles usually means fiddling with something in one realm to remove an obstacle in the other.
I’m not typically one for horror, but, given the dearth of games right now, I’m playing through it in the interest of, “Eh, it’s on Game Pass, so why not?” I know Kotaku’s Zack Zweizen wasn’t exactly a fan — having panned both the slow-starting plot and uninspired puzzles in his review of the game — but the dual-world mechanic caught my attention, and I wanted to see what one of the first truly next-gen Xbox games could do with upgraded tech.
That shouldn’t be enough motivation. Really, I’m not sure if it’s possible to express the level of baby I am. We’re talking hands-over-eyes, head-under-covers, jump-behind-the-couch levels of baby. Once, while visiting a cabin in the woods with some friends, I spent the entire weekend on edge because I had recently seen Cabin in the Woods. Just last week, Capcom announced a whole bunch of Resident Evil in a 20-minute digital showcase, and I refused to watch a single second — despite that literally being my job — because I am a baby. (Don’t worry, Ian had it covered.) Have I told you how I feel about spiders?
And yet, after an hour or two, The Medium hasn’t once made me leap out of my seat. For sure, there’s no shortage of unsettling imagery. One early scene features a dude missing precisely 33 per cent of his skull. Another has you drain a bathtub full of blood. (Eek.) At multiple points, you have to whip out a razor and slice through a portière of disembodied skin. Creepy stuff, but by and large, The Medium is devoid of the jump scares and cheap tricks that so often define games (and film, and TV) in the wide world of horror.
Even the way you move through The Medium isn’t scary. You’re never waiting for some walking nightmare to jump out from around a corner and pulverize you. (I’m told that there are chase sequences, but that they’re fairly low intensity.) Most of the puzzles involve backtracking (so much backtracking) and interacting with inanimate objects. Marianne, too, moves glacially. You don’t even learn how to run at the start — and when you eventually do, it’s still more of a light jog. Were it not for, y’know, those aforementioned walls of skin and tubs of blood, The Medium could reasonably be described as a “chill” game.
It’s nice, almost pleasant, even, to play a horror game and not have to constantly worry about pissing my pants. The puzzles aren’t stumpers, but they’re still engaging, and I’m intrigued by Marianne’s story. At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to seeing more of what The Medium ha- OH MOTHER OF FUCK WHAT IS THAT?!
Nooooope. Nope nope nope nope nope.