I finished playing The Medium a few weeks ago and had some time to digest my experience.
If you are not familiar with my background, my expertise is in UI / UX design.
From this perspective, I have analyzed and experienced first hand how the fixed camera angles in The Medium really ruined the experience.
Fixed Cameras – Unique Gimmick, Poorly Executed
Let’s start by mentioning that the game was not really advertised as a “fixed camera” experience. The trailers look more like a typical horror game with good music.
However, I would like to say that The Medium does not really offer much of a typical “horror” experience. The story has a few dark moments and the atmosphere is pretty creepy.
The game itself doesn’t really have any scary interactions, monsters, or jump scares. Instead, The Medium offers a pretty mellow experience.
It plays more like an interactive storybook than an actual video game.
Why is the Fixed Camera so Bad?
Fixed camera games feel like a relic of the past. The Medium stands out from other games by simply having a fixed camera, but I felt that the fixed camera was not utilized to its fullest potential.
Horror movies usually feature a “POV” camera angle where you might see the main character through the eyes of a predator or lurker in the bushes. The Medium offers no such camera angles.
The fixed camera angle leads to very boring gameplay where you, as the player, can’t actually see where you’re headed.
You can’t plan or observe, you must patrol the entire area blindly until you find whatever you’re searching for.
The scene in the image above is the parking lot scene of Niwa. This occurs in the first 30 minutes or so of gameplay and was the beginning of my frustrations with the fixed camera.
You are supposed to search for a screwdriver, so your character can unlock a GLASS DOOR. (The logic of this game is not well thought out.)
The more I played the game, the more I found my character inching along the perimeter of every room I entered just to make sure we found everything we needed to find.
The movement speed of your character is slower than most games, most likely to combat the switching camera angles. But this also leads to very slow and drawn out exploration.
Fixed Camera Makes the Game Less Scary
The fixed camera makes the game feel more like a movie than a video game, perhaps this is what the developers intended. What they probably did not intend was for the fixed camera to create distance between the player and the character.
I don’t feel like I am playing AS the character, I feel like I am merely controlling the character on screen. So if there is ever any scary moment or risky encounter, I don’t feel like I was personally attacked, more like a spectator.
The game has a few stealth sequences (this is seen in the trailer, so not technically a spoiler), and the stealth sequences are also ruined by the fixed camera.
Normally, you would have to take a risk, get closer to your enemy to observe their walking pattern.
However, due to the height of the fixed camera, you can easily observe the enemy’s walking path from afar and plan your getaway without much of a challenge.
There’s Nothing to Do in This Game
This is more of a puzzle game than a horror or action game.
There are very few encounters with anything that is capable of killing you in this game.
You will spend the majority of the game picking up items and doing a lame “puzzle” where you search for this glowing light on the object which triggers an audio recording.
This is completely optional by the way.
They could have made this part more challenging, such as the mirror puzzle in the Lord of the Ring’s Shadow of War games. However, this portion of the game serves literally no challenge to the player whatsoever.
I am not sure what the developers intended when they made this feature, but it gets very lame after a while.
The creepy atmosphere in this game is really well designed and unique, and it’s really quite a shame because after the first hour or so of gameplay, the player will probably realize that there is nothing in this space that can hurt you.
The suspenseful music and creepiness quickly dissipates into boredom and tediousness.
How they could have fixed this: Put some type of enemy in the game! Yes there are technically some enemies during the Thomas sequence, we’ll get into that later.
But the “normal” world is completely harmless to the player, literally nothing in this world can hurt your character. Why not put some kind of enemy or combat so the player is more focused and engaged on both screens. There’s literally no risk or reward because almost nothing can hurt you in this game.
Why not put an annoying security guard who patrols Niwa during the night? Or have some creepy hobo who went insane follow you around and try to stab you?
There are so many ways in which this beautiful and well made game could have been more of a “game” and less like an interactive storybook. As a result, the game feels not memorable aside from a few moments.
The Most Disappointing Boss Fight EVER *Spoilers*
If you don’t want spoilers, then you can skip this part!
There is a part in the game where you get to play as Thomas. This is by far the most interesting and intense part of the game. The cutscene that plays prior to this sequence is so powerful and emotional, it really took the game from 0 – 60 emotionally. I was hooked and totally invested in the story finally! (It only took 4 hours…).
However the excitement quickly dissipates after this moment, as this is probably the peak of the game.
Yes there is finally some kind of combat. While not really a challenge, Thomas gets attacked by tentacles and has to time his shield right before they strike in order to kill the tentacles.
It added SOMETHING to the game to keep the player’s attention, a welcome addition. However, this sequence seemed to drag on for too long.
Much like how the camera is stationary, the tentacles are also stationary and can’t follow you or attack you. Once again presenting little to no challenge to the player at all.
Then we reach the end of the sequence and see this gigantic, multi-armed monster in the background.
The game had conditioned us up until this point to activate timed shield defenses from tentacle attacks, so I was expecting for one of these huge hands to come falling down on us, and we would have some sort of mini boss fight sequence or something.
NOPE, one simple attack , one simple press of R trigger, and the sequence ends completely. HOW LAME!
How this could have been fixed: This could have been a memorable and epic moment in the game, but it ended up being remembered for the huge letdown instead of for its epicenes.
That monster might as well have been a cardboard cutout at this point.
The Game has “Game” Logic
As I described before, one of the early sequences of the game has you searching for a screw driver so you could open a GLASS DOOR, so you can get a dumpster so you can scale the roof and enter the building through the only broken glass panel in the building.
The game makes you do things because “game logic” doesn’t have to make sense, they just need to give the player something to do.
The second hour(s) of the game is spent searching for these bolt cutters.
Niwa is littered with trash, random tools, brooms, and building materials, but the game expects us to go on this entire roundabout search for these bolt cutters instead of having our brilliant young Medium figure out a better way to get a hold of these.
The real problem with this whole sequence also comes back to the fixed camera….
The Fixed Camera Breaks the Area of the Game
Because you have fixed cameras transitioning between different rooms, at all kinds of different angles, the fixed camera does not allow for the player to properly build a mental image of the game’s world in their mind.
Likewise, you might find yourself re-visiting the same area twice without even realizing it because every movement feels like you’re moving forward.
It’s not like the game really utilized the fixed camera to do any perspective tricks or classic horror scenes, so why have it? The game could have functioned perfectly fine without the fixed camera, and probably would have enhanced the player’s experience by allowing them to build a mental image of the world in their mind.
I have watched streamers play The Medium and get lost, while complaining that the game has no mini-map or any indication of where they are at.
The Fixed Camera = Bad UX.
Bad Character Motivations *Spoilers*
Well, let’s assume you finally made it to the end of The Medium. You finally get to meet your sister Lilianne!
As it turns out, all of the horror and death that you witnessed throughout the game, was caused by her.
However, she basically explains that she was too scared to kill herself (which would have ended the monster as well) and that somehow she knew that Marianne would come find her. Too late as Thomas was already killed at this point.
What would have been epic: After realizing that the dead guy in the tent was her father, Marianne has a flashback to that scene and screams uncontrollably after realizing that she just saw her own father’s rotting corpse before her eyes without even knowing it.
Back to your little sister, after you finally meet her after all these years, she literally hands you a gun and asks you to kill her…
The game tries to play this up as an emotional scene, however since we literally know nothing about Lilianne or her personality or anything up until this point, it doesn’t have a strong emotional connection. It’s not a strong as the Richard scene.
Because of the fixed camera, the player already has a severed connection to Marianne. So seeing Marianne sad about her sister has almost no emotional reaction at all. Also because Lilianne is technically the bad guy in this situation, I was pretty much rooting for Marianne to either be a hero and have a final boss battle with this monster (therefore sparring her life) or just killing Lilianne and also ending it all.
Sadly, the game ends with a cliché cut to black, and a gunshot sound.
The Verdict: Some Interesting Moments, Mostly Boring
This game is 100% story driven. There are very little “key items” to pick up in this game. There’s no weapons, upgrading mechanic, or any combat to speak of.
So while in other games, such as Resident Evil, exploration is rewarded in the form of rare items, ammo, or upgrades, in The Medium, exploration is not rewarded at all and feels more like a chore.
The game starts off strongly, with an emotional scene of Marianne saying goodbye to her father (not her true father), then the game gets boring for about 1 – 3 hours, before becoming suddenly and surprisingly extremely intense and interesting during the Richard moment, and then back to boring until the end of the game where I was glad it was over with.
Much like the duality between the real world and the spirit world in the game, the player should quickly see through the façade of this “horror” game and realize that every encounter and area has literally nothing to threaten the player. You really can’t die in this game except in a few scripted moments.
While the game drags on for what feels like an eternity towards the end, the entire time you might be asking yourself why Marianne was even doing all of this in the first place?
Are we moving forward because Marianne has some deep motivation to find out her true past, or are we moving forward because the door behind us is locked and forward is the only direction we CAN move?
The main character’s motivations in this story (besides Thomas) are not very clear. Much of the game just feels like we are forced to explore / do the thing because the game wants to give the player something to do while slowly sprinkling bits and pieces of the story here and there.
While I loved some moments of The Medium, I would not recommend this game to anyone who is new to horror games. It feels like this game was made for people who have little gaming experience at all and want to watch a movie rather than to have an enthralling gaming experience.
As such, while The Medium has a lot of potential and cool moments / scenes, it ultimately disappoints and feels more like a DLC or mini-game rather than a fully fledged $60 game.
I was really hoping to like this game, but it is unfortunate that the game (and the story) just felt unfinished or underdeveloped in so many ways. This probably would have been better as a movie than a game.