If a phone rings in the woods but is given no visual cues, does it make a sound?
The Medium, the ambitious new psychological horror game from Bloober Team (the team behind Blair Witch and many other scary games), is a game of contrasts. Both in the game and in its accessibility. You play in contrasting worlds; the “material world” and the “spirit world,” and while some aspects of accessibility are remarkably well done, others seem to have been forgotten about entirely.
Upon launching the game and being prompted to customize my subtitles, I had such high hopes for the rest of The Medium’s accessibility. I mean just look at these beautiful subtitles!
And the subtitle options!
I love the bold option and it makes such a difference! (See below)
Like Blair Witch, The Medium manages to be spooky without relying on jump scares, which is a welcome thing for Deaf/hoh horror fans, as the majority of the time, jump scare horror games fail to be accessible. The rest of the gameplay proved to be rather difficult due to some confusing choices in accessibility.
The controls are fully remappable…
…but you can’t toggle all of the holds. You can toggle “Insight” which is super helpful considering how often I found myself using it, but you can’t toggle run which is annoying at best (I don’t sneak around stealthily and hope the big bad doesn’t find me, I run like hell and hope he doesn’t catch me) and a barrier that will make the game unplayable for some at worst. With options like toggles for holding your breath and auto-complete for game events, one would think toggleable run would be an obvious addition.
Navigation was the biggest barrier for me in The Medium. The camera is fixed, so players can only twist and turn the left stick to adjust their movement. The navigation isn’t very forgiving and there’s no… let’s call it a grace period, I guess… upon the camera angle changing, so I walked into very many walls and corners. In many games that don’t allow the player to control the camera, navigation automatically continues in the desired direction and not into a wall, allowing the player a minute to adjust the left stick. In the above image, while navigating a tight staircase, the camera changed at the bend in the stairs. I obviously didn’t want to keep walking straight into the wall but I did. I don’t have nearly the same dexterity or strength in my left thumb as I do in my right, so constantly having to adjust the left stick resulted in a lot of hand fatigue and pain. I could simply swap the sticks but that would be in contrast to everything my brain and muscle memory know about playing games and it just might break my brain.
Another issue, and this is one in so very many games, was the damn phone.
This phone here? It was ringing. Upon answering it, players get some of the story. The problem? If you can’t hear it, you won’t ever know that the phone is ringing and you’ll miss that whole bit of story.
I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again…
IF A PHONE RINGS IN YOUR GAME, YOU NEED TO GIVE IT A VISUAL CUE.Me, for the 1509th time
There are a lot of things— post cards, journals, calendars— to read in The Medium. Most of the time, upon picking them up to examine them, players can tap Y to get a sans serif text overlay. But in some instances, that text overlay is only partial which will really detract from the immersion for players relying on that.
In the register shown above, guest names are written in fancy script but the writing becomes more and more indicative that something was going on at that resort. This adds to immersion, tells the story without telling the story. The problem? Only the nice script is given the legible text overlay, so low-vision players or anyone that has difficulty reading hand written text may miss out on this.
Another major barrier I faced in trying to play The Medium was that the split screen gameplay had an effect on me similar to that of VR.
Trying to focus on both worlds at once as I moved Marianne through them first made my eyes do a big NOPE and then my unable-to-handle-VR brain ask my eyes, “Hey, are we ok? do we need to panic and get sick? This seems like something we need to get sick and/or dizzy over, yes?” And that was when my time in The Medium came to an end because as much as I adore video games, I don’t love them enough to punish my body. Which is to say, if you struggle with VR, there are parts of The Medium that you may struggle with as well.
While The Medium has a great story, it is hit or miss with its accessibility. Brilliant in its subtitle options and presentation, but utterly lacking in others. While the subtitles are great, Deaf and hard of hearing players may still struggle with the game because many visual cues are lacking. Controls can be edited and there are a few toggle options, but not enough to provide a truly accessible experience. Controller vibration when players encounter important areas is very helpful to indicate there’s something players need to examine, but lacking legible text overlays and small interaction icons may leave low-vision players struggling.
A review copy of The Medium was provided by the developer / publisher.