FBT plays through Bloober Team’s medium effort.
I’ll play anything the Bloober Team does. They’re always original, and always serve up quality scares, eeriness, f’ed up twists, and headaches; they love a flash frame. Their last release, Blair Witch was a more subtle, creeping horror than the previous lightshows but in The Medium, dead-people-seeing Marianne travels to an abandoned hotel complex, which was evacuated after an unsolved massacre, to unlock the history of the ill-fated place and her connection to it. Looking forward to this, it’s gonna be epilepsy-warning-level good.
Aww man. This is like Quantic Dream remade Silent Hill. It’s one of those games where you play interactive tag with the protagonist. I lose a lot of time watching a cut-scene of Marianne reaching for a door, only to realise she’s now waiting for me to open it. I’ll get that shall I? Why have a 2-second cut-scene of a door, then have me open the door for a cut-scene of her walking into a corridor then have me walk her down the corridor? Either you do it or I’ll do it. And don’t get me started on the walking.
Rather than having freelook, the camera is locked in whatever cinematic image they think best suits the scene, and they’re wrong. I’m the director here. If I wanted cinematic, I’d go see a movie. While the setting is creepy and the angles Kubrickian, it infuriates me because the camera alters the direction I’m tapping in; I walk forward, the shot changes, and now we’re backtracking or walking into walls. Some psychic. Just walking up a spiral staircase nearly made me rage quit. I’m barely taking in the twisted story, amazing art design or the subtle scares ‘cos I’m busy yelling ‘not that way!’ or missing clues and walkways because the camera is facing the wrong way. All four direction keys are needed to walk down a corridor and we also have running and quick-fire abilities like psych-shield or sense, as well as interactions and even breath-holding; it’s like playing Twister with your fingers.
At times, Marianne enters the spirit world (which looks like Stranger Things' The Upside Down) but she doesn't fully enter – it goes into a cool split-screen where she will converse with ghosts on one side and the real world on the other, making Marianne look like she’s talking to herself while we see a ghost or threat in the other. It’s awesome looking, but mostly it’s just a gimmick; if real-world Marianne is stuck, Spirit Marianne will have a solution rather than two converging events.
Marianne can also do an out of body experience, which again is largely a mechanic for when she needs something out of reach. It’s a single-player version of a co-op game - Player One holds something open, Player Two walks through. Doing it drains her health, so you rush about, getting annoyed about the switching camera/controls and not paying attention to the world you’re in, which seems a waste given how creepy and twisted it looks. And her power needs to be recharged by finding ectoplasm emissions. It just feels a bit generic, beneath Bloober and the head-splitting insanity they usually conjure up. It is awesome-scary in the cut-scenes though...
Wandering the accurate representation of a modern day Butlins, Marianne delves deeper into the Overlooks Chernobyl Hotel, and a really disturbing, unpleasant story starts to emerge. As does ‘the Maw’, a lumbering beastie that appears at certain moments; it’s a hide/run/insta-kill deal. Of course, Maw sees her as an opportunity to escape the hotel it’s been trapped in since the massacre, forcing Marianne to go deeper to find an escape. At times it feels a bit laboured – disparate images that look like someone fed google image searches into photoshop and pressed ‘random’. While there’s flashes of real Bloober stuff, like the little girl ghost we first encounter who chills you to the bone – even though she’s missing most of hers – it feels a bit familiar; one threat is a horde of aggressive moths (moths?!) Oh, we’re into chrysalis imagery aren’t we. And all I could think about was the time Thane got killed by a Seeker Swarm during the ME2 Suicide Mission.
As Marianne unpicks the complex’s history and her past, there’s a ton of topics covered; but touching on subjects as varied and troubling as infanticide, human experiments and abuse via strobing flashbacks just feels shallow when we rush through them with barely time to let them sink in - it feels like every possible horror is thrown in to reach the ‘and that’s why you’re the Polish Whoopi Goldberg’ denouement.
Marianne is good company though, typically spunky and so self-aware she talks aloud to herself. She has a weirdly jokey attitude considering what she's going through. A killer line comes early on when she finds a supernatural box-cutter she can use in the netherworld to cut open sheets of skin blocking her way – “that was way more satisfying than it should have been” is her reaction, and unsettlingly, I totally got what she meant.
The Medium’s setting and story is Bloober’s playground, but it’s curiously muted compared to the batshit crazy stuff they’ve tortured us with in the past. It’s not fully exploring what could be done with having one foot in each astral plane. It’s often just plain, and it never escapes the Silent Hill reminders. The Medium feels like Bloober’s attempt to appeal to the mainstream. I just miss using my wife’s finger as a paintbrush.
Clearly, I’m hugely disappointed, but I love the world Bloober has created, as always; I didn’t get on with Observer or Layers of Fear 2 either, but I still loved the intent and exploring the worlds they created. But with this I’m frustrated I can’t navigate it on my own terms. As always, it’s honest and earnest; it plays it totally straight. So many supernatural games either wink or go Hostel on you, but Bloober knows what scares you - its way better than anything Quantic Dream don’t let you play. It’s also open-ended enough to suggest there’s a franchise here – and despite my moaning, I’d totally be up for Marianne returning to solve other events, so long as next time Marianne and I are going in the same direction.