Bloober team is one of the most respected indie horror developers currently in the business. Their work on Layers of Fear skyrocketed their renown, so the countdown to The Medium was highly anticipated by many familiar with their work.
The game was promising to have a unique dual-reality mechanic that would split the screen in two at times and allow the player to see two different versions of the rooms from different realities.
For a horror game, I feel like there is a lot of possibility in that type of gameplay interaction. What secrets, puzzles, or enemies might the player need to learn to navigate while using that dual reality system? However, the execution wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.
Now I want to be clear, The Medium isn’t a bad game. It’s just not the game that I wanted. It tells a brilliant suspense story and the characters and lore are pretty interesting, but I want to discuss how I was hoping that the dual reality concept could have been used for scares rather than just storytelling.
How Dual Reality Is Used
The Medium chose to use its dual-reality concept in a few ways. The first and most interesting of the uses is when the screen splits and the player is able to see two different versions of the same room. This style allowed different puzzles to be seen and interacted with.
For instance, Marianne might be able to see a piece of a memory shard in the real world and in the alternate world can determine how to put it back together. These shards play out as a image with dialogue where something important or even traumatic happened to those characters.
The alternate world can also see characters exclusive to that side like Sadness and the Maw. It’s a world that seems like it would be right at home in Hell. Where the walls seem to be made of organic matter, the area is desolate, and there’s a smoky red aura to everything. It’s not a pleasant place to be.
Marriane can choose to see pieces of the other world by using insight. Insight allows her to see the Maw’s outline for example and see echoes that are trapped in real-world objects.
It acts as a middle ground between the worlds, things that might be trapped in the real world, and things that might be strong enough to seep in from the other world. The echos are an interesting way to understand a lot of the backstory and learn about other character’s struggles throughout the game.
From a story perspective, the dual reality is used pretty well to understand the world and in a different medium, this might be enough. However, when I think horror games, I don’t think Heavy Rain, I think of games like Outlast and Dead Space. Games that give a little more agency to the player to make the choices that will scare them but the main mechanic of the game plays more like a crime mystery than an engaging horror game.
What I was hoping for
Now if Bloober Team ever wants to revisit this world, I think there are a number of ways that they can make the sequel even scarier and more engaging for players looking for a little more to do.
They had a decent start with the sections that required players to use insight to avoid the Maw around a couple of sections of the game, but they could definitely take that it a step further.
Let the protagonist manage the two screens more often. For instance, people can be just as monstrous while they are alive as when they are dead, let them be something that needs to be avoided in the real world as well, and let there be additional enemies that are stuck in the other world and need to be avoided.
This might require that the game opens up a bit more and isn’t as linear as it was in the original. It would require room to move and think about the possible routes. A place like a carnival, outdoor concert, or mall could all be possible locations where the player might be able to maneuver more freely.
There needs to be more moving pieces. Something that will inspire fear in the player. They don’t even need to be active enemies. Let the other world have environmental dangers that are spontaneous or surprising.
A corpse falling from the ceiling, floors giving out at the last second, or something that traps Marriane, and she needs to rush to get back to her body. Surprises, time, variables, these are things that need to sit in the back of the player’s mind if they are to be actively scared and participating in the game.
There needs to be something lurking or things to be feared. The Medium currently acts like a “boogie man in your closet” horror game. The true horror being past acts that led to the current situation and the creation of the Maw. But it can be boring walking around a desolate world learning about the past. Rarely do things happen in the current moment.
The Maw moments excluded, Marriane will have to wait until the final seconds of the game for something to happen to her. It can often feel like you are waiting for something to happen, anything to build some more excitement or fear.
The Medium was an interesting horror story, but it delivered the horror that was more in the line of morbid curiosity than fear. Once I learned that there was almost nothing to fear in the game, then it was just a matter of playing supernatural detective to progress.
Even giving the Maw more dynamic movements like the Alien from Alien: Isolation would give a tremendous amount of life to the replayability of the game. How it is, I will probably never replay this game which is a shame because it’s clear that there was a lot of energy and passion put into it, but it needs a little more gameplay. Or at the very least, a faster character to experience the story in a more timely manner.