Trauma begets trauma.
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Bloober Team was one of my favorite developers for a while there. They came out with Layers of Fear, which I largely adored. They also released Observer, which was a solid psychological horror set in a cyberpunk style universe. They had a couple of minor missteps with Layers of Fear 2 and Blair Witch, but I still held them in high regard. Now, they just released The Medium and man does it ever feel like a major step backwards for the company. If The Medium is the type of game that Bloober Team always wanted to make but couldn't, then they really need to go back to the drawing board.

Though initial previews likened the game to Silent Hill, The Medium is anything but that. There is no Silent Hill itch that it scratches. If you are looking for a Silent Hill fix, I suggest you simply play Silent Hill again because this is not it. The gameplay feels restrictive. The environments are linear. The stealth is passable albeit barely. The animations are stiff. The dual-reality bits are largely pointless. And the handholding? The handholding is something I would expect out of a studio's first game, not their 15th. Really, the only positives working in The Medium's favor are its art direction and audio work.

On top of all these issues is the biggest one of all: Using trauma as a narrative crutch. The main idea behind The Medium is that trauma begets more trauma. A traumatic event happened in one person's life and thus they make someone else's life hell and traumatizes them. The cycle then perpetuates, and you get the idea. The Medium touches upon the topics of the holocaust, murder, suicide, depression/mental distress, and even pedophilia. To tackle one of these topics in a video game is already a tough undertaking, but to try taking on all of them at once in one game? It's bold. Dumb, but bold. The problem in The Medium is that all of these topics were handled with all the care of an out-of-control freight train.

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In The Medium, you play as Marianne, the titular "medium" that can utilize psychic powers to exist in both the real world and the psychic world. It is in this psychic world where people's feelings, mainly their fears, manifest themselves as monsters. One such monster in The Medium is called the Maw. To make a long story short, the Maw is a manifestation of the trauma Marianne's sister, Lily, conjured up in her mind after she was molested by her father's former mentor, Richard.

Speaking of Richard, he is revealed to have a monster of his own: The Childeater. This monster of Richard's was created as a result of the trauma he experienced as a child. See, Richard's father died in World War II. His mother remarried a new man. This man began to abuse his family and even raped his mother. Oh, and the audio of all this? It's in the game for the player to experience. In addition, Richard's friend, Rose, and the rest of her family were executed. All of this culminated in Richard's mind to create the Childeater monster, a crutch that Bloober Team uses to justify the reason why he would later go on to molest Lily.

Spoiler alert: The game reaches its big climax when Marianne finally reunites with her sister, Lily. Lily says that so long as she is alive, the Maw will continue to cause harm. She says that the only way to stop the Maw is to have Marianne kill her. She begs Marianne to kill her. Marianne instead suggests that she will kill herself, as she believes she is the only one who would be able to control the Maw in the psychic world. Marianne struggles with Lily's request, torn between killing Lily or committing suicide. Ultimately, the screen fades to black and you hear a gunshot with the ending left up to the player's interpretation as to what Marianne decided to do.

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There sure is a lot to take in here. None of the above is handled with the sensitivity that these topics need. None of it. It hits the player over the head that trauma begets trauma. It suggests that depression and trauma can never be overcome, and that the only way out is to die. It suggests that these people are weak and cannot get better. In some cases, it even suggests that there are literal demons inside of a person that cause them to do despicable things to others or to themselves. It gives those persons an "out" and may even lead the player to feel empathy towards these horrible people.

I cannot say that I experienced severe trauma in my own life, but I am someone that suffers from depression. I have been clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety and take medication for it. I have been better because of the help that I sought out and the support of friends and family. The story, on a personal level, is downright insulting. To even suggest that everyone that suffers from a mental disorder, a disability, or an illness are nothing but lost causes is offensive to those that suffer or have suffered.

This is my main takeaway from The Medium. It is not the fact that the environments, especially the ones of the psychic world are hauntingly beautiful. It is not the fact that the audio, save for some flat line delivery, is excellent. It is not the fact that the game holds your hand most every step of the way making the core gameplay an absolute breeze. It is also not that the much touted dual-reality system is largely pointless and serves mainly to severely hinder performance. It also is not that The Medium is severely lacking in the "horror" department despite being billed as a horror title.

No, my takeaway from The Medium is that it's offensive to those who suffer depression or trauma. It uses people who suffer as a narrative crutch to tell its story. The Medium is insulting to those who have suffered similar trauma. It does not take anything more than a surface level examination of how trauma can impact a person or their life. I expected better.



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Additional Information
  • The Medium
    • Developed by: Bloober Team
    • Published by: Bloober Team SA
  • Price: Starting at $49.99 (USD) via Steam
  • Platform reviewed on: PC
    • Reviewed on: i7-6700K, 32GB RAM at 2666, GTX 1080 Ti, and installed to a Crucial MX500 1TB SSD
    • Also available on: Xbox Series X|S
  • Release Date: January 28, 2021
  • ESRB: M for Mature 17+ (Blood, Strong language, Violence, Use of tobacco, Sexual themes)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.