For a lot of people, The Medium, the latest horror title from Bloober Team, doesn't have to be a standout, great game on its own. For some, it has to fill a giant, Silent Hill-shaped hole. This might not be the fairest idea, but for a fanbase that's been let down as much as the Silent Hill fandom, it was inevitable.
The Medium launched this past week on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Windows PC, but the comparisons to Silent Hill were there right from the game's announcement. Back in May, Bloober said that legendary Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka would be working with Bloober's Arkadiusz Reikowski to develop the score. The team also confirmed early one that the game would have fixed-camera angles, which are reminiscent of both Silent Hill and older Resident Evil titles. There's also the idea of dual realities. In The Medium, Marianne can simultaneously be in the real world and the spirit world, and her actions in one impact the other. In Silent Hill, there are sometimes three worlds, but mostly players interact with two: the real world and a deformed, hell dimension called the Otherworld.
In Windows Central's interview with members of the team, Silent Hill was brought up often. Grzegorz Wilczek, a brand manager with the company and a writer on the game, called it an "icon of the 90s horror genre." The team mentioned that their game is often compared to Silent Hill and while they think of it more like an Amnesia game, they don't mind the comparisons, especially considering Yamaoka's involvement.
The problem with these comparisons isn't that they're unwarranted — Bloober wears its inspirations on its sleeve for almost all of its projects — but that it's one people want to make. People want a new Silent Hill game and have been clamoring for one for years, and unless you believe those rumors that Konami and Hideo Kojima are making some sort of deal to bring the franchise back, The Medium is one of the best bigger releases you're going to get in horror games on Xbox and PC in the near term.
Beyond the fixed camera angles, tank controls, and Akira Yamaoka, there are a lot of things that tie The Medium into the Silent Hill series. Like some of the better Silent Hill games, The Medium is also a slow burn. You might get a scare or two early on, and the introduction is meant to help you test the waters, but the real stakes and atmosphere ramp up over time, drawing you in and keeping you on your toes.
More importantly for fans of the non-cult games in the series, namely Silent Hill 2, The Medium is a character-driven story.
The Medium has a great introduction, even if the pacing overtime ends up being slow. It tells you everything you need to know about what Marianne will encounter. It's up to the player if The Medium's pacing ends up damning it in the long run or whether it pays off, but like the better Silent Hill games, it introduces the real threats much later than you'd expect. Once it does, it traps you, ensuring you feel like you're stuck in a perpetual hell. Despite there being no combat in The Medium, you still feel overwhelmed by the environment and the monsters in the same way that Silent Hill does.
For those into the lore-driven Silent Hill entries like Silent Hill 1 and 3, The Medium also sets up a dangerous, supernatural world with well-crafted monsters and surreal, disgusting architecture. Like Silent Hill's viscous Otherworld, the spirit world in The Medium is covered in decay, blood, and even skin. It's meant to unnerve the player by putting them in a space that seems like it's out to get them, almost absorb them into its very nature.
More importantly for fans of the non-cult games in the series, namely Silent Hill 2, The Medium is a character-driven story. Luckily, Marianne hasn't done something awful to warrant a trip to her own personal hell like in the case of Silent Hill 2 protagonist James Sunderland, but she's unfortunate enough to have the innate ability to cross over. It's in this split world/Otherworld that the player can discover the metaphorical meanings behind real-world objects and the experiences of other people. Then, they can tie it into either their own memories or the ones of the playable character. For James, it forced him to relive the horrible things he did; for Marianne, it's about recovering her past and the traumas that shaped her family history, similar to Alex Shepard in Silent Hill: Homecoming.
The Medium goes a bit further than any of the Silent Hills, however. Both series create personal tragedies, but The Medium ties that in with societal and political tragedy as well. The game takes place in 1999 Poland, not too long after the fall of communism in the country, but effects linger. The player learns about events that took place during Nazi occupation during World War II and under the Polish People's Republic. It works as education for the non-Polish players, but it shows how deeply affecting those large institutions were on people. Even though one of the characters, Thomas, is no longer physically controlled by the Nazis, the people around him have struggled due to trauma from WWII and it seeps back into his life in horrific ways. There's a sense of grief that glows around all of the characters in The Medium and a lot of it is due to powerful people looking to silence others.
Overall, one of The Medium's flaws is how it draws those Silent Hill comparisons.
This reflects a lot of what Poland is currently going through. President Andrzej Duda is a right-wing, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-free speech advocate and was elected to a second term in 2020. Meanwhile, the populist Law and Justice Party continues to hold power. Poland's 20th-century history is one of silence, and that is reflected in how Marianne's family disintegrated.
Overall, one of The Medium's flaws is how it draws those Silent Hill comparisons. Bloober Team created The Medium as a story heavily inspired by survival horror games of old and to honor them, but it very much is a standalone piece. It's political commentary disguised as personal horror, and how the team spun those two together is worth experiencing, even if the ending leaves a lot to be desired.
However, it does the game a disservice that it felt like it had to draw inspiration from those titles, but it also hurts Silent Hill fans who were looking for something, anything, to satiate the hunger for more Silent Hill games. It's been a long road for us. The last main Silent Hill game we got was Downpour in 2012, and that was mediocre and boring at best. SIlent Hills' announcement after the now legendary P.T. demo hit PS4s in 2014 created a lot of hype thanks to the talent behind it (it was developed by Hideo Kojima, starred Norman Reedus, was co-directed with Guillermo del Toro). However, subsequent Kojima's falling out with Konami, which owns the rights to the franchise, canceled those plans.
Since then, all fans have seen is Konami using the branding on pachinko machines. Silent Hill characters like Heather Mason and Pyramid Head joined Dead by Daylight last year, but that's not the same as getting new Silent Hill content. While the series continues to inspire horror creators across multiple mediums, it's all but dead as an avenue for storytelling.
It makes sense that Silent Hill fans would cling onto The Medium in the lead-up to its release. We've been without a proper SIlent Hill for nearly a decade and the cancelation of Silent Hills (and the delisting of P.T.) left a giant hole among video game players. While there are similarities between the best Silent Hill games and The Medium, there's a lot that'll leave fans wanting more. Beyond the lack of combat in The Medium, it had a lackluster ending, which we mentioned in our review, and didn't play into the spirit world concept enough. The Medium put emphasis on Marianne's ability to control the spirit world, and the fun of Silent Hill has always been that lack of control, forcing the player along on a hellish ride.
The Medium might be its own ride, but it might not be one that a lot of people will want to go on.
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