The Medium, in many ways, feels like an interactive pitch document Bloober Team made for Konami in order to get the greenlight for a Silent Hill game. The two entities are collaborating on something and all signs (including a VideoGamesChronicle report) are pointing to it actually being another entry in the dormant horror series. But The Medium (which was just ported to PlayStation 5) isn’t proof the Polish team should be given the keys to Konami’s franchise. Instead, it’s just another example of why Bloober shouldn’t handle Silent Hill and why it probably can’t, barring some major changes to the team and its philosophy.
The Medium, first and foremost, is not scary. Zdzisław Beksiński-inspired environments can be stunning to look at in all of their crusty, hellish glory and the decent soundtrack, half of which was helmed by famous Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, is ominous, but neither can overcome the absolute vacuum of terror in the game. These tools aren’t effectively used to create dread as protagonist Marianne is just left to wander empty levels and do menial tasks with the level of tension found in the pillows aisle at Target.
Silent Hill, in its many iterations, is a foreboding place that is spooky from top to bottom. Thick fog creates a layer of mystery. Disturbing creatures roam its bloodied streets and rusted halls. No crevice or corner feels safe, despite their mundanity. While technically archaic in the earlier titles, the artistic direction of the series, even in a few of the weaker ones, often does its job in making the player feel uneasy at almost all times.
It’s bad enough that The Medium doesn’t have a scary setting, but it’s even worse that it relies on predictable and ineffective jump scares instead. It’s an amateur shortcut meant to jolt the player out of their micronap caused by the utter lack of gameplay, which is the bigger issue in almost all of Bloober’s games, especially The Medium. It’s a glorified walking simulator under the guise of a typical horror game. Walking simulators are a worthy genre, but The Medium falls apart because of its stubborn adherence to it as this genre that works against what a good horror game is supposed to do: make the player feel unsafe.
With a couple of exceptions, The Medium doesn’t have any enemies. And since the game doesn’t have regular foes, there’s no combat to speak of nor is there any sort of stealthy or gadget-based alternative to fighting. Players will almost always feel completely at ease as they traverse through rooms they don’t have to search through because there are no items like ammo or a first-aid kit that they need to look for.
Lacking combat or ways to deal with enemies causes ripples that are particularly devastating to horror games. It’s boring to slowly saunter through nearly obstacle-free environments in almost any genre, but especially in horror where danger is so crucial to the pressure it thrives on. There’s no pressure because players know nothing dangerous will happen because there’s no mechanical way for the game to support such danger. The gameplay here has almost all of the danger of watching a cutscene; the player knows they are not in danger either way. Running away from the one main enemy in The Medium is not only telegraphed ahead of time, but also insultingly simple and, therefore, not scary either. Its scant puzzles are also mind-numbingly easy.
Although the quality of Silent Hill games differ drastically, almost all of them have bad combat. It’s wonky, stiff, and not always effective. But just its presence means that there are enemies around, resulting in the stress and constant dread the series is known for. Searching for supplies to stay alive is also a key part of that gameplay loop as it forces players to take risks in order to scrounge together enough resources to keep limping along.
The Medium’s narrative presentation and overall story is one of the biggest reasons Bloober should stay far away from Silent Hill. Marianne is a bland protagonist that speaks too much during gameplay in an attempt to ruin what little atmosphere the game has, but the narrative problems are much deeper than a plain Jane.
While it originally starts as a simple tale of Marianne trying to learn more about her powers, it veers into glib territory by opening up threads about assault, mental health, trauma, and more. Games should be allowed to tackle darker subject matter, but The Medium spectacularly mishandles these topics by haphazardly throwing them around. There are more than a few examples of Bloober’s carelessness (particularly in Thomas’ sections, which YouTuber bobvids thoroughly explains on Twitter), but it is most obvious in the game’s ending where Marianne’s sister Lily begs for death because she can’t stop the monster she created otherwise.
The monster named The Maw, who is weirdly voiced by Troy Baker, is the obvious external manifestation of Lily’s trauma. Lily begging for death because there is no other way irresponsibly skips over the mental health allegory because it posits that those with mental health struggles cannot get better. Death is the only solution and inevitable. Marianne can also kill herself at the end to stop the beast and who actually gets shot is left ambiguous, but the text of the scene is wildly tacky. Bloober’s other titles have also had remarkably bad takes on mental health that pin the victims as hopeless, but it’s at its most obvious and cynical here.
Silent Hill’s nuanced depictions of darker themes contrast heavily with Bloober’s woefully inadequate storytelling. Silent Hill 3’s ability to show horror through the specific lens of a teenage girl is well done, but is often overshadowed by the successes of its predecessor, Silent Hill 2. Silent Hill 2’s rumination on guilt is masterful and partly why the game is still so highly regarded almost two decades later. Even some of the less well-regarded entries have more tact than The Medium.
Bloober isn’t damned to making a mediocre Silent Hill game as it’s possible that the team assembles to create a worthy (or worthy enough) successor. But the odds are stacked against it as The Medium is not even the only Bloober game that shows that the team is ill-prepared to undertake Silent Hill. Layers of Fear, Observer, and Blair Witch are all rotten with repetitive and predictable jump scares, nearly absent gameplay mechanics, and poorly told stories with anemic scripts that, in more than a few cases, are riddled with problematic elements. The Polish developer has repeatedly shown that it doesn’t have what it takes for Silent Hill, but The Medium is just the most recent and most glaring example of that.