Also available on PlayStation 5 and Windows
When The Medium was announced, I was excited about it for a few of the right reasons and some of the wrong reasons. Obviously, I was excited for a new horror game because that's one of my favorite genres, but I was also excited that Xbox Series X would FINALLY have an exclusive game even if it took two months. No more of that cross-gen crap; this was a genuine only-on-Xbox-Series X exclusive. And then it got ported to PlayStation 5, so Series X is back, as far as I'm aware, to zero as far as exclusives go with everything either being Series X and Xbox One or Series X and PS5. Oh well, back to the matter at hand, The Medium would have been a pretty solid exclusive to system even if not a system seller.
The Medium, like most games, takes a lot of inspiration from its predecessors in the genre, but it does so to pretty good effect. The premise of the game is that you're a medium (in case the title didn't give it away) who is investigating a mysterious call she received from a mysterious man who is mysteriously located in a mysterious Polish resort that was abandoned abruptly under mysterious circumstances. As she is a medium, she can not only sense but at times communicate with the spirits of the dead, so when she gets to the old Niwa resort, she very quickly realizes that the urban legend about the "Niwa Massacre" wasn't such an urban legend after all as the property is teeming with residual pain, grief, and rage along with the trapped spirits of the dead. As she investigates, she begins to learn that not only do her powers extend farther than she'd realized but that the spirit world poses more danger than she'd realized as well as aspects of her past that she'd long since forgotten thanks to the good old fashioned protagonist staple of "trauma-induced amnesia."
The first thing that I noticed during the introductory hour or so is that, at least from a visual standpoint, there's no reason for this game not to be cross-gen. Don't get me wrong; I hate cross-gen games, so I'm thrilled that this is current gen only. I don't quite understand it, though; other than some fog effects, there's nothing here that looked like something the Xbox One couldn't do, and even with the fog effects, I've seen effects that look similar on Wii U and Switch, so I highly doubt those would have been beyond the Xbox One's capabilities, either. A few hours in, however, I realized what I think the reason is; the game is so badly optimized that it relies on the power of the Series X to brute force a decent performance. The frame rate would occasionally (although not frequently) dip, the game crashed to the dashboard a couple of times, and - most damning of all - there were numerous instances in which the textures would pop in a full ten seconds after the game loaded and I started moving and playing. Keep in mind, I'm playing nine months after release and with multiple gigabytes of update data installed. I can overlook the frame rate drops given how infrequent they were, and this is by no means the only Series X game that I've had crash to the dashboard, but the texture pop-in is just absolutely unacceptable especially when you consider how average the textures are; the Series X has more than enough system resources to handle it if the developers optimize the game properly. Of course, having to render everything twice for the split screen effect is a more likely explanation, but given that consoles have been doing split screen for 25 years, I'm skeptical that this too couldn't have been done on Xbox One with the right team.
As is now apparent, there was a lot of The Medium that I found lacking, but that's not to say that I dislike the game. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part. The atmosphere gave me more of a mystery vibe than a horror vibe for the most part, but when it leaned into the horror, it was definitely well done although I'd still call it more "creepy" than "scary." The whole split reality aspect was really interesting, too, and while it took me a while to get the hang of moving through the physical world and the spirit world simultaneously, once I got a feel for it, it definitely made for a unique gameplay experience. Despite how impressive the split screen aspect was, though, the highlight for me was the story and the setting. The story itself and visual design of the world was fairly standard and gave me some HEAVY Silent Hill vibes, but the fact that the game took place in Poland in the late 1990s in an abandoned resort that had been built the Polish Communist Party as a "workers' resort" was absolutely perfect for a history teacher like me and immediately hooked me. Going through the resort, investigating the letters and journals left behind, and getting a feel for the general zeitgeist of mid-to-late Cold War Poland was a perfect recipe for keeping me interested.
The Medium is neither a masterpiece of storytelling nor a marvel of technical game design, but it is an enjoyable horror game that's perfect for October. It's a real shame that the visuals are so standard and the performance disappointing because beneath the technical issues is a really solid game that horror buffs and fans of supernatural stories will eat up. Having been ported to PlayStation 5 along with its Series X and Windows releases means that everyone who's moved to the current generation can access this game, and I definitely recommend doing so. Just make sure that you keep your expectations in check and go in understanding that this isn't a AAA game.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.