I consider myself a fan of Bloober Team, the group behind the Layers of Fear series and Observer. They're fine purveyors of psychological horror titles that never quite hit the mark. Their last title was Blair Witch, and boy was it a mess. An interesting mess with some pretty cool moments, but a mess nonetheless. I've always felt like their games were on the verge of being truly special, and when I saw The Medium I thought to myself "this could be the one." Alas it was not meant to be.
One of the major problems I've always had with the Bloober games was the way their exploration and "combat" systems never mesh. Combat is in quotes because they never have you directly confronting your enemies, instead they rely on stealth or chase sequences. These sequences have always felt bad in every single one of their games. They're the reason I never want to play Observer again. These sections are almost always more frustrating than intense, and are often damn near impossible to get right on the first try. Nothing sucks me out of an atmospheric story faster than a game over screen I don't feel I deserve. The Medium continues the tradition, albeit in a somewhat less obnoxious form. There are still a couple of chases that I failed the first time, but luckily none I had to repeat more than once. As for the stealth bits, they're all extremely telegraphed and hard to botch, but that's not really the point. In my opinion these things shouldn't be here at all. I wish this game had the same "safe mode" option Layers of Fear 2 added in a patch. A way to play through the game and absorb the story and mood without having to worry about losing progress engaging in half baked gameplay mechanics. I feel like they throw them in to add some sort of tension, but it rarely achieves that effect. They're prior titles have always felt oddly split because of this, which is a great ironic tie in to my next paragraph.
The big thing this game pushed in it's trailers was their trademark "dual reality" gameplay. Basically, they will at points split the screen and force you to play in two different worlds simultaneously through a split screen. Even though I saw it showcased in the trailers I was still blown away the first time I experienced it myself. It also makes for some pretty interesting cutscenes where you see one version of Marianne interacting with a character the other can't see, and it's definitely novel...at first. It's deeply disappointing how this system never really gets utilized a truly unique way. I'm one of the worst people I know when it comes to solving puzzles, but I never had a moment in this game where I didn't know exactly what to do to proceed. The dual reality mechanic is only used in a couple of ways that are repeated throughout the 8ish hour runtime. I guess my real problem is I imagined ways in my head that this split screen gameplay could have been used that never came to fruition. It screams of missed opportunity. Instead the game relies heavily on standard game tropes like the old "rule of three" where every task comes in thirds. Find 3 masks, flip three switches, arrange 3 pictures, etc. It's all very standard, just with a new paintjob. One thing I will say I greatly appreciated was the lack of any sort of boss fight. There are definitely monsters in the game that feel like they could have easily been shoehorned into a half assed battle, but are instead taken care of in cutscenes. Thank god for that, because if I got into another Blair Witch house situation I don't think I would have had the strength to push through.
The actual plot of The Medium is the most straightforward in Bloober Team history, but it leaves a lot to be desired. There's clearly some Hollywood influence here, but things just don't cohere in any interesting way. The opening is strong, but it soon becomes meandering and flat out boring in a way that made it difficult to engage. Things definitely pick up in the second half, but that's relative. The problem is that this story is deeply personal, and it needs strong characters to flesh it out. The main character, Marianne, is just not it. She's fine, but that's the highest praise I give her characterization. The twists and revelations are all easy to anticipate, and nothing really feels meaningful along the way.
The Medium is a video game, that much I can say. It's not the best, it's not the worst. It's an extremely okay title that doesn't really have much to say. The story exists, the environment is a place you sort of explore, and there are puzzles you solve. It's competent. It looked great on the Series X, and I had no technical issues, so that's a plus. It has an interesting aesthetic twist, but it's underutilized in a way that's more disappointing than compelling. I appreciate what Bloober Team was going for here, but I just didn't find it to be anything other than ordinary in the end.