Nearly eight years after it was originally announced, The Medium has finally been released. I’m a huge fan of such horror games and – while I didn’t play Blair Witch – I did enjoy Layers of Fear 2, one of the more recent games from the same studio. So, I was pretty excited to jump into this one.
So the main thing setting The Medium apart from the crowd is its focus on dual-reality puzzles. These are basically split-screen segments where you control both sides simultaneously and can break off to control one at any given moment. It sounds fairly simple, but the puzzles are designed in a way that it’s actually pretty cool in practice.
For example, there’s a segment where you have to uncover a spirit’s name and find its missing face in order to progress. The face is hidden in the spirit realm, whereas the name you’ll find in reality, but both require you to hop back and forth to reach each other. It does this without feeling tedious and felt more like another layer of depth to what would have been an otherwise simple puzzle. The game can get creative with this mechanic, even towards the end when I thought I had seen it all.
That’s not to say that all of the puzzles are good though. It’s a bit of a toss-up, as a lot of them don’t take advantage of this dual-reality mechanic and can be something as simple as “find the object to open this door so that you can find the object in there to open the actual door you need to go through.” It never got to the point where it felt like I was doing busywork, but some of them definitely toed that line. When you aren’t solving the puzzles, the experience becomes more of a walking sim – which for me wasn’t even a bad thing because this is a narrative-driven game after all.
The camerawork also deserves a mention. Unlike most other modern-day horror games, The Medium is played through a series of fixed third-person cameras. This has both its pros and cons. It’s good in that it can open up certain areas visibly and provide more impactful story scenes through expert cinematography, but bad in that it does inevitably lead to some control issues.
You’ll be walking in one direction, only for the camera to suddenly shift and if you don’t adjust your movement in time, you’ll end up doing a little twirl, not heading in the direction you want. It’s definitely not as bad as some others I’ve played using fixed cameras, but worth a mention a regardless.
The main draw here though, at least to me, is the story, and I was rather impressed with what The Medium had to offer. It’s a psychological horror thriller mystery of sorts and one that I was immediately drawn into. The pacing is quick, yet maintains a degree of suspense, the characters aren’t cardboard and actually have a sense of humanity, and, best of all, it kept me guessing right up to the very end.
It’s the type of story where I thought I knew what was going on, but it just kept throwing a curveball my way and I quite like mysteries that can do this without going completely off the rails. And the story does this with a good grasp on the concept of “show, don’t tell.” I recent played through the latest Amnesia game and was disappointed with the amount of info-dumping relegated to notes, tablets, and other text-based objects. In The Medium, there are still text-based sources, but the story constantly flips between those, actual cutscenes, and otherwise visual methods of storytelling. It didn’t feel like it was leaning too heavily on any of them, offering up a nice balance there.
And on the topic of that ending, it’s definitely one of the more unique ones for the genre – a powerful finale and one I will likely remember for years to come. The story is certainly not the greatest I’ve seen from a horror game, but it’s some pretty good stuff and could probably be made into a decent movie.
As for the length, I remember reading that it was supposed to last 8-10 hours, but it only took me six – and I only missed a handful of achievements on top of that. I personally can’t see myself going back for 100% completion, but there are some challenge-type achievements for those that wish to do so.
Then there’s the soundtrack. I won’t deny, I was actually a bit disappointed there, especially given that one of the composers was Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame. It’s not a bad soundtrack, but I’ve now finished the game and none of the music really stuck with me outside of the ending vocal track (which is really good by the way). Perhaps I’ll just have to give it a listen on its own, but I was kinda hoping for more there.
Okay, so that’s good and all, but the big thing here is performance, and let’s just say that The Medium isn’t the greatest. In fact, it would be hard to call it anything other than bad. Now, I’ve played some pretty poorly optimized games before, but I was planning on going into this one with a fresh mindset, given that it was developed with the new Xbox Series X in mind and would likely be very difficult to run.
However, that kinda went out the window when the system requirements chart was released. Not only were the specs really high, but they were all targeting not 60 fps, but 30 – automatic red flag there. Having now played the game, yeah, I can confirm that the performance is bad. I’m using a Ryzen 3700x for my CPU and GTX 1070 Ti for graphics on the latest game-ready drivers for this game. And I know that card is now showing its age (especially with the 3000 series out now), but the vast majority of Steam users are still using something less powerful than it.
So seeing the system requirements, I went in fully expecting to have to drop settings to probably medium. What actually happened was a bit worse. I have a 1440p monitor, so I first had to drop to 75% resolution scaling (so the game ended up at 1080p). Then I had to drop each and every setting to either low or medium. Only then could I push 60 fps.
That’s half the problem though. The other half is that this fps was not constant, not in the slightest. Even at 1080p with low-medium settings, I was constantly running into 20 fps scenes (and this is below what the system requirements showed). I would go from 100 fps in one room, to 20 in the next and then back to around 40-50 before dropping again in the next area. This happened not only in gameplay, but during cutscenes too. And what made it worse is that there’s a really annoying stutter on top of that. Entering new areas, changing between reality and the spirit realm, or even just walking in a straight line, I ran into constant stutters and frame pacing issues. And this is with the game installed on a PCIe 4 NVMe drive, so it’s not like drive speed was an issue.
I mean, I understand the studio was going for a more cinematic look here (hence why the console version is locked at 30 fps), but when the fps fluctuates and stutters this wildly, there’s gotta be something wrong on the optimization front. And that’s not the only issue either. I also ran into some weird audio issues where music tracks would cut out and restart randomly and some voiced lines not playing entirely despite the subtitles showing for them. At least the controls were fine (I tested on both controller and keyboard and mouse), but the rest is just a mess.
With that said, I unfortunately cannot recommend The Medium, at least, not yet. The story may be interesting and the gameplay occasionally good (although it does have its ups and downs), but the performance really kills it. 30 fps and below with constant stuttering is a personal no-go for me and unless if you’re planning to run the game at that framerate, it’s a tough sell. I’m hoping the game will receive performance patches in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Honestly, if you really want to play it, I would recommend doing so through Game Pass. If you’re in the US, you can literally go out and buy a box of Cheez-Its with a 14-day Game Pass code on it, so you not only get to try out the game, but get to do so while eating the objectively best snack.
Quote: The Medium may have an interesting story and occasionally good gameplay, but the performance really kills it. Wildly fluctuating fps (even to 30 and below) with constant stuttering is a no-go on PC.
You can buy The Medium on Steam here. The game is also available through GOG, Game Pass, and on Xbox Series X/S.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.