Thank you to Bloober Team for providing a review copy for PC.
Xbox was missing one thing when they launched their next generation consoles back in November…exclusive games. The Medium was going to be the first major exclusive to launch, but it was pushed out of December to escape the giant called Cyberpunk 2077. I set fairly low expectations for myself going into The Medium. Bloober Team is a studio who has really only worked on AA games, so I was not expecting this to surpass the quality of a blockbuster title like Spiderman: Miles Morales. However, I was still really disappointed because The Medium is not very fun. The Medium has a ton of cool ideas but struggles to actually fully develop those concepts into great game mechanics.
As always, I am not going to post any major spoilers here. Majority of people reading this review are considering whether or not to purchase the game. So giving them my opinion on every major plot point will not do them any good. The narrative starts of on an unsettling note. The protagonist, Marianne, is saying her last goodbye to a loved one. After that, Marianne heads into the middle of the woods with zero supplies. Not even a flashlight or a knife. She eventually makes it to a hotel called Niwa, where she meets a character called Sadness. Did I mention that Marianne is able to see into another reality? Now I don’t want to give much more since this is where the pre-launch demo stopped, but I will give a few more final thoughts. I hated the first half of the story. It felt uninspired and very dull. However, the second half of the story was incredible. New characters were introduced, the cutscene quality went up, and the story all together started to make actual sense.
First things first, there is a semi-fixed camera. I must admit that in 2021, this is a major turn off for me. The developers have said that they wanted it to be similar to Silent Hill 2, but Konami used it because there were technological restrictions twenty years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did this to try and make the game perform better because its optimization feels dated, but more on that later. The Medium at its core is a walking simulator. I personally enjoy walking simulators since I adored games like Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch. When I played those games, I never felt like they could have gotten better by having a shotgun in them. However, The Medium could have really used a better combat mechanic to get through some of the more dragged out segments. The Medium is a boring game for the first half. Things are better during the second half of the game when the stakes are raised but the first half is pretty brutal, and once again I am someone who usually enjoys walking simulators. The main combat mechanic in The Medium is using energy to either shield your character from bugs or to parry (parry gets introduced fairly late into the game). The other way to deal with enemies is stealth. You crouch and hold your breath to get past the enemy. Some areas expand on stealth a little bit more, but all together it is pretty boring.
There are a few chase scenes as well that will get your palms sweating, but they won’t ever actually scare you. There were only two times that I was actually scared during my playthrough and one of those was a cheap jump scare during the first hour of the game. (I am not saying this to try and sound like a tough guy. It took me multiple attempts to complete the first hour of Resident Evil 7. My third attempt was finally the time that I got through it. I then managed to beat the rest of the game and loved it.) Quite a few of the puzzles in the game revolve around you just powering something using your energy, but there are a few puzzles that actually made me think outside of the box. The world has items you can interact with, which is a great way to add some lore. Even though the building is pretty much abandoned, The Medium does a good job at telling side stories in a unique way rather then having you read ten pages worth of notes.
The Medium is an optimization nightmare. Going into this game with a brand new Ryzen CPU and an RTX 3080, I really thought there was no way I would have any issues. I was wrong. I played on DX11 because DX12 was completely broken for me. This means raytracing was never even an option for me, but that may have been for the better since there was very little consistency with the games performance. I started my playthrough on 4K and was able to stay at 60 fps for the entire introduction of the game. However, once the game split realities, my performance would tank all the way down to 26-50 fps. I switched over to playing on 1440p and I still had similar issues throughout my playthrough. There were also times where the game would freeze to 1 fps during a body transition between realities. If I was playing on a normal hard drive then I would understand this, but I had The Medium installed on an NVME 4.0 SSD, so I can’t imagine speed was the issue.
The game had its moments where it did look good, but there were way more scenarios where things looked super blurry. I originally thought this was due to a poor use of DLSS, but changing that setting didn’t fix anything with the blur. Sometimes the background would look like a complete blur and other times it would be Marianne really out of focus. I even had a sharpening setting on 100 percent to try and make things look better, but it didn’t do much. If you are considering The Medium on consoles, I would recommend reading a review from someone who has the same system as you. Considering the amount of issues that I had on a high end PC, I would imagine that the experiences on the Series S and X were not perfect.
- There is a lot of flickering on your screen which may bother some people. For example, sometimes when switching in-between realities, the screen will flicker out of control for like five seconds. There is also a section that revolves around you following different flickering lights.
- Some of the settings like to change on their own in between play sessions. For example, it took me three sessions to beat The Medium. On my second session, my resolution changed. When I opened the game for my third session, my fps was capped at 30 when I originally had it set at 60.
- As mentioned in the tech category, DX12 was completely broken for me. The game just wouldn’t launch when using it.
- Dialogue audio gets really low at times during cutscenes. Since I am talking about audio here, I would like to note that the soundtrack was really good, but it wasn’t used enough. There were a lot of parts that could have used some ambient music in the background.
The Score: 7.3/10
The Medium does some really cool stuff but it gets dragged down by its flaws. Based on the first half of the game and all of the tech issues I had during my playthrough, The Medium would only be a 5/10 for me. However, the second half of the game really carried things and allowed my experience to end on a positive note. I understand that review scores don’t really translate to the average consumer so here are my recommendations. If you have Game Pass on Console or PC, then you need to check The Medium out. If you don’t and still want to explore The Medium, then I recommend you buying a month of Game Pass to play it. I really don’t think its worth its full price of $50. Waiting for a sale or playing through Game Pass is the way to go for The Medium.