It’s a unique and slickly executed gimmick, with the interplay between worlds makes for satisfying strings of puzzles. You might for example need to power a machine in the normal world, requiring you to collect and redirect spirit energy in the paranormal. Or turning the hands of a clock in the real world could affect the manifistations of spirits and give access to different areas and information.
The difference in atmosphere between the mirrored worlds is enhanced by fascinating visual art and brilliant dual musical scores, but the clear tradeoff is a shallowness of interaction within the world. The jarring cuts between pre-determined camera angles and stiff, clumsy movement are likely necessary to make the hook work, but they give The Medium’s gameplay a distinctly late ’90s vibe. That’s a theme the game leans into by way of its archaic item management system, old-school puzzle design and the fact that it’s literally set in 1999, but there’s a good reason not many modern games set out to emulate the feel of Resident Evil 2 or Silent Hill.
Starting slow but building tension as it goes, The Medium unravels its central tale by way of an intertwined series of smaller character stories told through environmental puzzles, visions, audio echoes, perspective shifts and written notes. Some of the tales of shame and anguish are shockingly grim, and all are intensely personal, with the expert storytelling and ever-adapting atmosphere teasing out each revelation.
Some of my favourite moments explored planes of existence within a particular person’s mind, where their fears and awful memories create impossible landscapes and creatures illustrating their story. I was surprised to find sections exploring implications of child abuse and the Nazi occupation of Poland, but the end results — though powerfully uncomfortable — avoid feeling gratuitous or tropey.
Though the story does end up being of the “collect the evidence and make up your own mind” variety rather than the “neat little package” kind, and you’ll get much more out of it the more you examine and collect, I found myself scouring each location for notes and objects purely because the snippets of narrative they unlock always added something interesting.
The gameplay fares a bit less well as things escalate, with puzzles becoming increasingly and unnecessarily finnicky or unclear. Fans of old-school adventure games will know this is par for the course, but getting lost or wandering in circles here notably hurt the storytelling.
I ran into quite a few technical hitches late in the game too, which broke puzzles requiring me to load old saves, or resulted in having to attempt encounters over and over. In one instance I managed to solve puzzles in such a sequence that I locked myself in a room and had to go back quite a ways. Hopefully the experience becomes more stable post-launch.
Some frustrations aside, this is a wonderfully evocative horror experience, propelled along by its mature handling of some very dark themes and its constant drip feed of intriguing and horrifing ideas.