Note: Diorama Games provided a complimentary copy of this game for review, but that has in no way affected the content of this review.
“After four long decades serving a secret intelligence agency, an embittered Abigail Vandermist suddenly drops off the map. She has found something out. Something to do with an old rescue mission into the heart of the USSR, a nuclear physicist, and her own enigmatic father.
Meanwhile, Abigail’s sister Helena has been searching for her, ever since her disappearance in 1979. With your help, she was finally getting somewhere. But with Abby on the run, you’re back at square one, and you are not the only ones trying to get to her first…”
2021’s The Vandermist Dossier was one of the best games of the year, combining an excellent narrative with some top-notch game components and puzzles. It also ended on a very tantalizing cliff-hanger, one that inverted the expectations of the “missing woman” genre common in mystery game and made me very impatient for part two to be released. So I was very excited when I got the chance to play The Medusa Report ahead of its Kickstarter launch later this month.
An upgraded and translated version of 2019’s limited, Dutch-only release Het Medusa Rapport, the game is a well-honed and smooth-running puzzle experience, with equal attention paid to the thoughtful and compelling narrative. Like any good sequel, the narrative expands on the story and characters from Vandermist and left me wanting to play the conclusion tomorrow.
The experience was mostly playable offline, with just the hint system and ending solution submission requiring a web browser.1As I was playing through an pre-production edition of the game, I didn’t get a chance to experience the online ending and epilogue (I submitted my solution via email), though I don’t feel like that affected my experience much. It took me a little under two hours to play through the experience, which went by in a flash.
The game picks up immediately after the stunning conclusion of The Vandermist Dossier, with you once again teaming up with Helena Vandermist to investigate the whereabouts of her sister. Though, this time, the pressure is on as you’re no longer the only person looking. There’s a definite genre shift in this game from its predecessor: Vandermist had you investigating a long-cold missing person case by sorting through old newspapers and personal diaries, in Medusa you are given a box of classified state secrets and are working to uncover the conspiracy hidden in them. The vibe has gone from The Vanishing to The Winter Soldier, a shift which works really well to raise the stakes.
Overall, the narrative is really satisfying and meaty, conveying a lot of world-building and emotion with a relatively small amount of text. Abigail is present throughout the experience in the small notes and annotations spread throughout the experience. Though there are also a few new voices: those behind the mysterious agency at the heart of the mystery; well-utilized here to raise the stakes on finding Abigail.
The props included are once again uniformly excellent and immersive, feeling like they were ripped directly from the late 1970s/early 1980s. A great amount of attention has been paid to the materials and fonts used, aiding heavily in the suspension of disbelief and effectively disguising the puzzle elements into the scenery.
The narrative is quite satisfying, though—being the middle part of the trilogy—it doesn’t wrap up everything in this installment. There are still some very intriguing questions to be answered and an anticipated reunion which has yet to happen—all of which I’m very excited to discover whenever 2020’s Het Wildeman Geheim gets translated.
The puzzles were well-constructed and cleverly written. I never felt lost in the experience, as the puzzle solutions deftly functioned as both narrative device and clear signpost, leading to silky-smooth transition between them throughout the experience. Overall, they were a lot of fun to solve and pretty snappy, never wearing out their welcome.
As for difficulty, they did feel a tad easier2or perhaps I’m a tad more experienced than Vandermist, coming in at what I’d describe as medium difficulty. For those of you who do get stuck, there is a well-designed online hint site, with progressive hints.
None of the puzzles required distinguishing between colors, which I always appreciate. Some of the puzzles do require reading small text, so a magnifying glass might be handy if your vision isn’t 20/20 or if the lighting in your room is a bit dim.
For those of you who (wisely) hung on to your copies of Vandermist, there are bonus puzzles included with Medusa that require both experiences to play and solve. There are also, intriguingly enough, puzzles hidden in Medusa that will require part three to solve, essentially forming a hidden fourth game in the series. I regrettably got rid of my copy last year when I ran out of room for puzzle game storage, so I can’t review these puzzles. But it’s pretty cool that they exist.
The Medusa Report had a very high bar to clear in order to meet the quality of its predecessor, but I think it’s managed to do so with air to spare. Its thoughtful fusion of narrative and puzzle play demonstrate the best of what the hobby is capable of.
Though, If you haven’t played The Vandermist Dossier yet, pick that up and play through it first, while you wait for your copy of Medusa to arrive.