The Medium can be a divisive game but, wherever you land, it’s interesting to note its adoption of an older camera perspective and use of classic tank controls. It’s a controversial choice, but it shouldn’t be. Some may call them archaic or old-fashioned, but they are atmospheric and lend themselves to cinematic horror as you peer through decrepit hallways, never quite sure what remains in the dark, the camera itself being used as a tool to draw you in. The controls Become a terror of your own as you seek to make a quick escape as the monster comes roaring around the nearest corner. They worked on Resident Evil, and they work really well here.
There’s a stigma attached to tank controls because games have moved away from them almost entirely, with the rare exception like Until Dawn, which itself is an homage to classic horror. The most iconic examples tend to be much older, which means our immediate understanding is that the controls are more of a pain. Going back to Resident Evil: Code Veronica, where you have to tap a button to use the stairs, is obtuse and trying to play the original Silent Hill leaves you struggling against perspective as you try to get out of rooms and escape enemies. But delving into PS2-era third-person shooters isn’t much better. Resident Evil 4 hasn’t aged like fine wine: aiming being separated from movement feels clunky and unintuitive, difficult to reuse for those who never played it back in the day.
When I played the original Resident Evil for the first time last year, what struck me was how unsettling Spencer Mansion was. It was mainly due to the fact that the whole place felt claustrophobic both physically and mentally. It was like watching the entire narrative unfold from hidden, hidden cameras. I played as Jill Valentine and the perspective made it seem like Jill was unknowingly exploring this abandoned facility riddled with the undead while someone watched her every move. Actually: they probably were.
Anxious horror is my Achilles heel, Mr. X scares me like nothing else, so this really moved me. When I spoke to Sam Barlow about remaking the original Silent Hill games, he said that something would be lost in the technological transition, and I agree. If you take that mansion setup and remove the tank controls, the horror would be fundamentally different. I never played the original versions of Resident Evil 2 or 3, so I don’t know what the change is like, but I imagine the atmosphere and tone are completely different.
That’s not to say that remakes of 2 or 3 are bad, I think the first one is one of the best games ever made, but it does mean that both approaches work in their own way. However, The Medium didn’t just feel like one of the many third-person action-adventure games out there. Instead, Bloober Team did something different. He returned to an approach that has been wrongly demonized as archaic. It proved that it can work and feel just as good to play as any other approach, only adding to the anxiety of playing with the spirit world in a Soviet-era resort.
There’s that added horror, but there’s also that cinematic flair: even walking down the stairs made me stop and take a second look because I thought I’d walked into a scene. Certain camera locations looked like they were straight out of a Hollywood horror production. Exploring the open fields beyond the resort, carefully unraveling the mysteries in the burned-down house, and standing in the extended parking lot in the intro all felt like I was in The Mist, REC, and even 28 Days Later. You could see far and wide and you could see that you were all alone.
The tank controls are unique in that they limit player agency, taking you a bit off the wheel to show you what the game wants to show you, interacting with the game like the main character in a movie. Though there’s a lot more to do in The Medium than other horror games like Until Dawn, treating it more like a point-and-click adventure. There are so many clever ways developers can use other perspectives to tell stories, whether it’s top-down and voyeuristic, looking from controlled angles as if Kubrick is directing you, or going right into our survivor’s perspective and seeing the world through through his eyes. Homogenizing all these perspectives into one is disappointing and nips a lot of potential in the bud.Next: 5 Ways To Make The Next Silent Hill Really Good
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