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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews The Medium.

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Transcript[]

You know what, Konami? I don't even care about Silent Hill anymore; you make all the pachinko machines and arcade shooters and Pyramid Head-shaped suppository kits you like. I loved Silent Hill once, but you know what? Getting us attached to name franchises is how they get you; that's why Disney can sell haunted Zyklon B canisters just by sticking C-3PO on the front. I don't want a new Silent Hill; I want interesting, new horror games that benefit from Silent Hill's influence. I like bands influenced by Nirvana, but I wouldn't like it if they nailed Kurt Cobain's body to the front of the drum kit.

"Well, you're in luck, Yahtzee, me driveling old game-reviewing giant sea turtle, 'cos here's The Medium, a new original survival horror game not only inspired by Silent Hill, but featuring music from Akira Yamaoka himself!" Yeah, all the shitty Silent Hills had music from Akira Yamaoka; so did the Dead by Daylight expansion, and Shadows of the Damned, and... World of Tanks?! Akira Yamaoka apparently has trouble saying no to people. And why are you trying to cover the developer logo? "Um, 'cos it's by Bloober Team." Ugh, fucking walking simulator merchants; wish they'd simulate walking over to a fucking whiteboard and coming up with some new ideas, for once. "Oh, but this isn't another first-person walking simulator; it uses a fixed third-person camera in direct reference to classic survival horrors." Hmm, consider me on board for now, Bloober Team, but the moment you make me backtrack through a door that inexplicably leads to somewhere different, I'm making you play my new "Get Kicked Up the Arse" simulator.

For you see, that camera thing tells me something significant: that someone gets it. Someone gets that the third-person fixed camera adds to the atmospheric sense of detachment that survival horror benefits from; feels more like you're being watched from the shadows by parties unknown, and less like you're nestled up against the protagonist's nice, warm buttocks the whole time. Some people might say The Medium hardly needs it, though, since the atmosphere of detachment is adequately created by the personalities of all the characters, but those would be some terribly cruel people. Anyway, The Medium is about a twenty-something girl who wears clothes of a size somewhere between small and large, and also has the ability to perceive the spirit world and talk to the recently-dead; she gets called out to an abandoned vacation facility and site of a famous massacre to uncover the sinister truth behind both it and her mysterious origins and get some material for her urban exploration YouTube channel.

This might sound weird, but it took me a while to figure out that this fixed-camera survival horror game with a gloomy atmosphere about exploring both a decrepit real world and an identically laid-out scary netherworld that looks like it's made primarily out of ham was supposed to be Silent Hill-inspired; talk about missing the otherworld for the crucified bodies on spikes. I guess I just wasn't picking up the same vibe; it reminded me more of Dark Seed, that old point-and-click adventure game about exploring an H. R. Giger-designed parallel dark world as the protagonist struggles to overcome the horror of their mustache. Silent Hill feels organic and visceral and wet; The Medium felt more dead and dusty and as dry as a newlywed Baptist who doesn't believe in foreplay.

Some kind of combat element might've helped. I don't say that because Silent Hill had combat; Silent Hill combat was like the stick in the ice lolly: serving a purpose, but not the part you want to chew on. It really seemed like The Medium was going to have a combat element, but then it didn't; all the pieces were in place. We establish that ghosts can hurt us, and that we're going to a place with more ghosts than the bargain bin at the Call of Duty shop, and that the main character can load up her arm with spirit juice to fuel a blast attack and a shield, so I was like, "Great! Ghost laser tag? Let's Luigi's Mansion this bitch!" But then, we don't get that.

Your blast attack is used mainly for clearing clutter out of the way like it's a fucking astral leaf blower, and the closest thing to combat is the odd forced stealth/evasion sequence against a recurring monster who kills you in one hit, which is about as engaging as such things ever are; that is, as much as holding in a fart at a distant cousin's wedding. And then at the end of each act, the main character - who I seem to remember having a name, but it’s one of many things about The Medium I struggle to hold in my memory - confronts a big, elaborate monster spirit form of whoever's been stirring up the trouble most recently, and it really seems like a setup for a boss fight, and then Whatshername just defeats them in the same cutscene with no bother.

Look, I'm not asking for an exchange of ectoplasm bullets as our flaky protagonist dodge-rolls about like Sonic the Hedgehog, but the artists seem to have put a lot of work into the monster designs, and I'm sure it'd feel a lot more worth it if we had a chance to explore all their jiggly flaps looking for the weak spots. (On the monsters, I mean, not the artists.) Combat isn't just a distraction to keep the twitchy kids occupied while Mum and Dad are stroking their chins at the random document pickups; to a horror game, it adds context and engagement. Having to use a machete to hack aside the undergrowth in your path is what separates jungle exploration from a nature hike.

The running theme of my time with The Medium is that I always felt like I was more skating along the top of it than getting immersed. The gameplay didn't grab me; it's the usual survival horror inventory puzzle stuff - explore environment, find door blocked by rabid polecat, explore a bit more, find can of rabid polecat repellant, etc. - but the level design constantly herds us towards progress, and I never felt like I was the one coming up with the solutions. Case in point: there's a bit where the recurring monster is stomping about and we have to evade it until we find a way to restart a generator, at which point, Main Character Lady says, "Aha! Now I can turn the tables on the monster!", and I was like, "You can? It's really not clear how. You going to plug in a karaoke machine and challenge it to a something stupid-off?"

I also wasn't grabbed by the story, although that might be retroactively because of the ending; if your plane ends up crashing in the mountains, it's hard to have fond memories of the airline's hot towel service. Token warning: just call me an auto shop for douchebags, 'cos there's a ton of spoilers coming in! Basically, the main character - Marianne? I think it was Marianne. - finds the person who caused everything, and said person asks her to shoot them to stop the monster, and Marianne decides she's gotten really attached to this person in the nine seconds they've had to talk and proposes instead to shoot herself, which would also stop the monster by some awkward logic I wasn't quite convinced by. The argument escalates for a bit, then cut to black, gunshot, roll credits. So, she either shot herself or she didn't; guess it'll depend on sequel viability.

The Medium has good visual design and atmosphere, but I wasn't thinking about those during my suddenly much freer afternoon; I was wondering why violent ballistic death leapt that quickly to the top of Marianne's proposed solutions list. Just felt really out of nowhere; failure of characterization, I suppose. The suicide ending made sense in Spec Ops: The Line, and Silent Hill 2, and my last school reunion.

Addenda[]

  • The extra large: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Personally I thought the best ending of Silent Hill 2 was the one where James is revealed to have been two raccoons in a coat the whole time
  • Should've ended Game of Thrones with a cut to black and a gunshot
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
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2011
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky · Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout · Mortal Shell · Spiritfarer · No Straight Roads & Battletoads · Marvel's Avengers · BPM: Bullets Per Minute · Serious Sam 4
Q4 Hades · Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time · Amnesia: Rebirth · Remothered: Broken Porcelain · Ghostrunner · Watch Dogs: Legion · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope · Assassin's Creed Valhalla · Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales · Yakuza: Like a Dragon · Immortals Fenyx Rising · Cyberpunk 2077
2021
Q1 Top 5 of 2020 · Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever · Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond · Demon's Souls (Remake) · Hitman 3 · The Medium · Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood · Little Nightmares II · Breathedge · Persona 5 Strikers · Harvest Moon: One World · Loop Hero and Everhood · Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Q2 Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town · Outriders · Oddworld: Soulstorm · It Takes Two · Balan Wonderworld · Resident Evil Village · Returnal · Biomutant · Subnautica: Below Zero · Miitopia · Necromunda: Hired Gun · Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 · Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Q3 Scarlet Nexus · Mario Golf: Super Rush & Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights · Ys IX: Monstrum Nox · Cruelty Squad · Death's Door and The Forgotten City · The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles · Dreamscaper and Jupiter Hell · Twelve Minutes · No More Heroes III · Psychonauts 2 · Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape · Deathloop · Lost in Random
Q4 Kena: Bridge of Spirits · Far Cry 6 · Metroid Dread
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