The reviews are in for the Xbox Series X’s first big exclusive. The Medium, an atmospheric horror game developed by Bloober Team, pushes the new console to its limits with impressive tech spectacle. Critics are mixed on it. Some have praised the game for its creepy visuals, while others feel that it doesn’t quite reach its potential. Kotaku’s review criticized the game’s under-developed dual-reality system, noting, “This simplicity, coupled with a lack of combat, one enemy who is fairly easy to avoid and areas that look good but are filled with the same puzzles over and over made me lose interest.
One thing that’s immediately clear is that the game draws lots of inspiration from classic horror games. The fixed camera angles, object interaction, and creepy tone all harken back to genre classics like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. In addition to that retro influence, the game has some more psychological horror that’s more in line with modern games. It’s not the kind of game you’ll see streamers screaming about as it opts for more slow burn uneasiness than cheap jump scares. If you’re curious about whether or not The Medium is your jam, I’ve put together a sort of road map of games to check out before diving in. These four games will give you an idea of what to expect from the horror game, from tone to gameplay.
The Resident Evil series is the most obvious point of comparison. On the surface alone, The Medium uses the same type of fixed camera angles that the original PlayStation Resident Evil games used. That makes it so you’re never totally sure what’s around the next corner, as you’re at the mercy of a camera that actively hides things from players. Even more than the camera work, though, is the navigation aspect of the game. Much of the game is set in a decaying hotel, not unlike Resident Evil’s Spencer mansion. Players mostly pick up objects, read notes, and solve little environmental puzzles.
If you want a taste of what that’s like, I recommend trying out Resident Evil 2. While the recent remake ditches fixed cameras, the gameplay is still very much pulled from the PlayStation era that inspired The Medium. Rather than a hotel, players explore a police station that’s sort of like a big puzzle box full of objects to interact with and secrets to discover. The Medium is a much more linear adventure, but it borrows the same ideas to pack its creepy hotel with intrigue.
If Resident Evil 2 represents the retro end of the game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is its most direct modern comparison. Ninja Theory’s psychological thriller is a harrowing game about psychosis that’s seeped in Norse mythology. It’s horrifying, but not in the way you’re probably used to seeing in games. Instead, it’s an unsettling tone piece that visualizes its protagonists struggle with psychosis through dark visuals and intense audio. It’s one of last decade’s most emotionally challenging games and a must-play in its own right.
The Medium has many of the same strengths. It relies heavily on its atmosphere to create a sense of dread and doesn’t overload the screen with guts and monsters to produce chills. Most of the terror is purely in its tone and uneasy silences. The story is also particularly heavy, dealing with subjects like abuse and trauma in a very visceral, at times uncomfortable way. If that sounds like a lot to handle, you might want to try diving into Hellblade first to see how that kind of raw storytelling sits with you.
If you’ve never played a game by Bloober Team before, this is as good a reason as any to dip your toe in the studio’s backlog. The Polish developer is known for its mind-bending games that make bold structural decisions. If you’re not sure where to start, Observer is a good point of reference. That psychological horror game has a bit of a cyberpunk element to it, as players can interrogate subjects by hacking into their brains.
While The Medium doesn’t use that same mechanic, it does include a similarly inventive hook. The game features dual reality segments where players control the protagonist, Marianne, in the realm of the living and the dead at the same time. A split-screen view appears throughout the game, allowing Marinne to interact with objects in both spaces. That’s mostly used for some light puzzle-solving and genuinely creepy sequences. That idea allows for some visually impressive moments on the tech side that really get the most out of the Xbox Series X.
If you want to get a sense of The Medium’s tone, Control might actually be its most direct analogy. Mechanically, there’s few similarities between the two. Control is a big action game with huge explosions and tons of enemies, while The Medium is a quiet game with minimalist gameplay. They’re much more similar than they seem past that. Both games combine creepy environments and supernatural gameplay to build their mind-bending worlds. Atmosphere is king in both games, as evidenced by their aesthetics.
Marianne also isn’t too far off from Control’s Jesse Faden as far as protagonists go. Both have mysterious pasts that intersect with the weird situations they’ve found themselves in. Both have special powers that let them control the world around them. And neither hero is above dropping a good quip every once and a while, even in their darkest moments. Control is not only a good primer for The Medium, but a good alternative if you’re not sure you can handle its heavy themes and upsetting story.