The Medium Would Be A Much Better Game With A Shotgun

Bloober’s latest horror game takes inspiration from the best survival horror titles of the PS1-era, but it completely forgets that one key thing: ‘survival’ is what made them tense. Because it’s only interested in the horror element of its fixed-camera forebears, it has to rely on puzzles to keep you engaged. Most of the puzzles in The Medium are like those wooden shape-matching sets for toddlers. “Well done, little Timmy, put the square brick in the square hole. I’m so proud of you!”

The Medium uses a gimmick where the screen splits down the middle like you’re playing local co-op, giving you a view of the human world and the spirit world and allowing you to move between both simultaneously. In the spirit world, you might be able to reach a plinth filled with energy, suck it up, and use it to power a generator to make an elevator work in the real world. It doesn’t get much more interesting than this.

There’s one later on where you have to find the names of two spirits trapped in purgatory. One of them was in a meeting when they died, and you find their voice on an answering machine prior to entering the meeting room. You find another message in the room that tells you they didn’t want to sit opposite a colleague they didn’t like, and there’s a list of attendees.

So you look at the list, find the name of the person they hate, see what number chair they were sat on, and you check the number of the chair opposite, cross-referencing with the list to find the name. Simple, right?

I did this and I headed back to the body… nothing happened. I knew the name, but I hadn’t told the game I knew the name by interacting with a specific prompt on the attendees list. I would call it outdated design, but even the early Resident Evil games knew how to keep you an active participant in their puzzles. Don’t even get me started on the constant skin doors you have to slowly cut open in a painfully slow animation.

When you’re not ‘solving’ puzzles (or, more aptly, pressing on prompts in a specific order), you’re either traversing through an admittedly beautiful and well-framed world, or you’re hiding from a monster that can instantly kill you. This cat and mouse gameplay works in something like Alien: Isolation – a game where you have tools to use to distract, push back, or escape the threat, and where level design supports stealth – but The Medium feels like Dragon’s Lair. Most of the time, you simply wait in a specific spot until the monster does something. There’s no skill involved, it’s just trial and error.

I know it’s en vogue to say that video games can be more than just shooting things, but The Medium would be a far better game with a shotgun. Combat mechanics could have elevated the tension, which is almost non-existent here because the one threat that exists is transformed into an annoyance by the mechanics.

Proper survival horror games don’t have you dreading when a monster will turn up because it’s an inconvenience – they have you thinking about whether or not you have the supplies to deal with it. You also think about space and your mastery of space – whether it’s the Spencer Mansion or the RCPD, you become familiar with these places over time, and that familiarity gives developers room to throw in the odd curveball. You thought you were safe here? Think again! The Medium, on the other hand, pulls you through its world by the hand and never lets go. There’s no looking back, or any sense of how the place fits together – it’s a ghost train where all the actors’ masks have fallen off. Me? I’d rather remove their entire heads with a shotgun.

Next: The Medium Is Asking Players To Review The Game When The Credits End

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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.

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