Checking the Score: The Medium

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

The Medium is the latest, and boldest, horror release from Bloober Team. It demonstrates both their evolution as a developer as well as their adoration of the horror medium. The game stars Marianne, a woman with a mysterious power. She’s effectively a “medium” who is able to connect with the dead — but she doesn’t wish to have this power. As is depicted in the game, her abilities manifest without her control when she is forced to come face to face with the spirit of her recently deceased father. Although the game itself doesn’t earn the emotional reaction of this scene, the music does everything it can to affect players.

“The Love That Was Lost” is an early track in the game composed by Akira Yamaoka and Arkadiusz Reikowski but it feels fully Yamaoka in tone. The entire track brings a somber tone with the loss of a family member. It also, however, features a striking guitar accompaniment that any Silent Hill fan would recognize as coming from the hands of Yamaoka. Throughout the series, Yamaoka has utilized electric guitar not for rock ballads but for expressing characters’ grief. It works just as well in The Medium. Taken by itself, the song is excellent. Taken as part of a sad story moment and it amplifies the sequence tenfold.

That’s just the start of her journey which takes Marianne to the mysterious Niwa Resort. As players explore, they’re split between two realities just as Marianne has been her whole life. All the songs on The Medium soundtrack are given storyline-specific titles. In this case, “Marianne” is the track which serves unofficially as her character theme. It starts out with a creepy tone that feels like a close relative to Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack. It showcases her mood at the loss of family, as well as the strange power within her. Near the final portion of the song it suddenly breaks from that downbeat sound into something much more hopeful — but ultimately still eerie. Marianne wishes to move on with her life, but there’s always something else lurking within her mind.

As Marianne explores the Niwa Resort, she is warned against going somewhere. As a video game protagonist, she of course ignores these warnings and keeps moving forward. The track “Don’t Go In There” corresponds to this moment and gives it an amplified sense of dread. Up until this point, things have been strange, but nothing truly dangerous has occurred to Marianne. By stepping past this point of no return she enters fully into the fray. Both inviting and foreboding, the track perfectly captures this moment. There is an air of mystery to the song and it, unfortunately, concludes much too soon.

It’s impossible to talk about The Medium’s soundtrack and ignore the inclusion of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Fans of the Silent Hill soundtracks are very familiar with this singer. Her vocals have brought tracks to the next level in the past, and the same remains true here. “Voices” could be considered the theme of the entire game. It begins with McGlynn singing against a simple acoustic accompaniment. The song’s lyrics describe Marianne’s inability to escape the “voices all around” and desire to “make them go away”. It’s obvious, but not in an annoying way. But halfway through the track it switches to more of a rock track with McGlynn continuing to command the song. It’s an excellent ending track for The Medium.

In the end, The Medium’s soundtrack may be from two composers, but the predominant driving force appeared to be Akira Yamaoka. So many of the songs contain his iconic signature. At times even the sound fonts sound the same as from back in previous Silent Hill tracks. Given Bloober Team’s love of horror, they likely requested that this be the case. It’s not a bad thing, but at times the extremely Silent Hill-sounding songs can pull one out of the world of The Medium. At their best, the songs emphasize the resonance of the game and draw players further into Marianne’s world.