The Medium Review – PlayStation 5

I had the spine-tingling pleasure of reviewing Bloober Team’s magnificent supernatural thriller, The Medium when it released earlier this year on Xbox and PC.  Now, after a short period of exclusivity, the game has made its way to the PS5 with noticeable enhancements that make the most of Sony’s next-gen system.  Interestingly enough, the improvements were all added five days after launch via an update patch, so those who played and possibly finished the game during that time didn’t get to enjoy those PS5 perks.  The Sept. 8, 2021 update added stunning new ray-tracing features to the already-amazing visuals as well as immersive haptic feedback for the DualSense controller as well as improved performance that greatly reduce loading times.  Thankfully the patch arrived while I was still writing this review and streaming the game so you can see actual gameplay of before the patch and after the patch.

So what is The Medium all about?   When first announced, this high-concept visual thriller promised to make the most of next-gen PC and console tech with its unique split-screen presentation that totally changes the way we see and play traditional adventure games.  This latest PS5 version certainly delivers on that promise.  The opening prologue sets up the narrative nicely, introducing us to Marianne, a young woman with the supernatural ability to see “the other side”; thus the split screen effect, but more on that in a bit.  We quickly learn that her adoptive father, Jack has just passed.  Jack owned and operated a funeral home, the perfect place for Marianne to discover and learn to use her ability to speak with the dead; something you’ll experience shortly as you prepare Jack for his final rest.

The Medium uses a clever split-screen device to show the same motion capture performance in two very different settings.  You’ll see what Marianne is doing in the real world as well as the underworld, often with shocking and disturbing variations.  Many of these interactions involve a young dead girl named Sadness, seemingly innocent while missing an arm and wearing a porcelain mask.  The game determines when the screen will split, making this more of a presentation plot device rather than an actual game mechanic, although you do have the option to focus on either side when making some choices.  An easy example are the Spirit Wells that Marianne can absorb energy from in the spirit world then dispense into fuse boxes that will activate items in the real world.

A large part of the game takes place at the Niwa resort; the location of a horrifying massacre.  The resort is now abandoned and fallen into disrepair, which adds plenty of clever exploration options to the game.  Crumbled walls, broken floors, and missing staircases might keep Marianne from moving forward in her world, but those same locations can often be navigated within the spirit world.  Marianne can also invoke an out of body experience that allows her to explore even more inaccessible areas within the spirit world, although there is a time limit to her spirit walks as well as at least one cool puzzle that requires this ability.

While the player has no control over when the screen will split they do have the ability to fully enter the underworld by touching and passing through various mirrors found throughout the game.  The visual effect looks just like the sepia tone split-screen, but these moments are played out in full-screen with no visual reference to reality.  This creates an almost portal-like system that helps Marianne navigate the broken architecture of the underworld as well as explore a crazy dollhouse later in the game.

Most of the game is pretty standard adventure genre material with you controlling Marianne as she explores her detailed surroundings looking for anything that can be viewed or interacted with; sometimes examining 3D objects, spinning them around, etc.  Most of the collectibles are pure info dumps, expanding upon the confusing narrative or simply adding flavor to the game, but there are numerous inventory items, most of which are used almost immediately after finding while others, like the bolt cutters, will serve you until the end of the game.

Puzzles are relatively straightforward, but I did enjoy the one that required finding masks and learning the names of the deceased to set their spirits free.  There was also a very cool puzzle where you moved the hands of a clock in the real world to manipulate time in the spirit world.  Near the end of the game there is an annoying water pump puzzle that seemed totally out of place with everything else up to that point.  It was fun to figure out, and all the necessary clues were right there in the room, but the overly complex solution just seemed to stall the momentum the game had been building up to that point.

You have a sensory ability that will light up the area around you, revealing key items and even highlight things from the spirit world in the real world; a useful ability during the game’s many stealth sequences.  There are situations where you will either be chased or forced to hide and sneak past a particularly nasty demon-like creature who wants to wear your skin.  Chase sequences merely require you to run along a linear path until you reach a safe zone, but the stealth sections have you crouching and even holding your breath to avoid detection.  There are only a few of these chase/stealth bits and they helped add some intensity and suspense to the overall game.

The Medium promises a next-gen presentation, not only with its split-screen design but by making the most of ray-tracing and HDR tech and the PS5 delivers an experience nearly on par with a high-end PC.  I initially started my review prior to the patch and the game still looked fantastic, but after the patch the visual experience was downright stunning.  All of the visual oddities and glitches I experienced on the PC and Xbox back in May were no longer an issue.  The PS5 delivers a pristine 4K image with excellent HDR that helps enhance the lighting and shadows of this sinister game world.

I had a great time with The Medium.  Even though it often felt like I was playing a Resident Evil game with the fixed camera angles and tank-like controls, there were some really great concepts in both presentation and gameplay.  There is some really great DualSense support that allows you to look around using the gyroscopic function of the controller, as well as pressure sensitive feedback on the triggers when using the bolt cutters, and plenty of immersive heartbeat thumping in the controller when sneaking around a certain demon.

The plot did meander in the middle with these odd excursions as a secondary character, Thomas, but even these became relevant as the story wrapped up near the end.  Speaking of the end, expect a twist and lots of speculation on what the hell just happened when the credits start to roll; even the post-credit stinger won’t help.  Having played all three versions of The Medium now, I can easily say the PS5 version is clearly the best and most polished of them all with ray-traced enhanced graphics, immersive controls, and much faster load screens.  If you haven’t experienced the thrills and chills of The Medium then now is the time and the PS5 is the best way to play.

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