With Blair Witch, Bloober Team managed to score another excellent point in his favor, and after the postponement due to the COVID-19 emergency, 2021 could become the year of the definitive consecration with The Medium. The Polish studio has as its mantra the creation of suggestive horror titles, and in this case in particular it wants to touch on very specific themes, first of all death, spirits and feelings (good or bad). For the occasion, we are therefore faced with a third person psychological horror very particular, a disturbing but never really terrifying adventure, which however has some innovative and ingenious mechanics as strengths. The desire to innovate and renew oneself feels really strong, a bittersweet scent that for most of the characteristics has benefited the title, but which for others has made it limp a bit. Part of all this can be seen already thinking about the location: this time the guys from Bloober wanted to put some staff there, not only setting the game in their homeland, but also recalling very dark themes and moments in history for the country.
Krakow, Poland, 1999.
"It all started with a dead girl." The brutal murder of a little girl. Premonition, remembrance, or simple nightmare?
Unlike many titles where we start from the "genesis", or from the moment in which a seemingly ordinary person discovers he has sensational abilities, when we start our adventure in The Medium our protagonist will already be aware of his abilities: Marianne, a young Polish woman who since she was a child has the incredible gift - or curse - of being able to visit the World of Spirits. Ordinary people can see "only halfway", while with her powers, Marianne also lives inside the other dimension, a mirrored world identical to ours ... but with totally different features. An inhospitable, dusty, rotten place, in which the souls of the dead continue to "stop" waiting to be set free and definitively passed away. The girl's story begins in a very sad moment, where it will be up to her to give the last farewell to the most important man in her life, the one who adopted her from the orphanage and who made her think of her powers as a a blessing, and not as something to hate. Indeed, it is she who, as she has already done hundreds of times, accompanies man to the other world. Not even time to cry for her loved one, that Marianne will receive a mysterious call from a man who is anything but calm: Thomas he will desperately ask her for help, and to reach a large, long-abandoned resort (the NIWA), the same one in which according to some rumors a massacre took place long ago.
From here on, the real adventure will start, a narrative psychological horror, however, characterized by different dynamic and exploratory mechanics. It is actually a mixture of genres, where the classic graphic adventure meets some typical characteristics of point and click, but combining everything with more covert action phases. The game play is linear, with a very limited space for exploration, which in any case is pleasant and not too distracting (the setting and the issues to be solved also manage to create curiosity and push the player in search of the various collectibles). As expected, there are also jumpscare, but in a much smaller number than one might expect from a title with horror colors, and above all they are damn right and well managed. The cauldron is full of good ideas, which are distributed by varying the situations from each other and never getting bored, even if the pace and development (although it is also possible to run in some spaces) are rather slow.
Anger, pain and sadness
Before analyzing the gameplay, that is the part that most tries to give particularity to the game, it is necessary to explain some characteristics of the adventure on a "sensorial" level. Marianne is not only able to "see beyond" and recognize what is happening in the Spirit World, but he is also able to perceive sensations and emotions which the various places are imbued with, just as he manages to perceive what the spirits feel or felt at certain times, whether through a I remember rebuilt or through a small Echo. All this goes hand in hand with the atmosphere that Bloober Team wanted to recreate, an unhealthy environment, a blood-red past, and too many hidden secrets. We are also talking about a title full of visual and written content, but extremely well distributed and that never flow into the walltext, making it pleasant (and disturbing) to see and read. So here we are to find some postcards hidden here and there, the memories and echoes already mentioned, but also letters, notes, disturbing drawings of children and posters. It goes without saying that everything we find will also have a reaction from the protagonist.
Artistically speaking, there are many inspirations from which the studio drew, some more evident than others: let's start from pure religious culture and to what concerns at the historical level, passing through “tentacular” similarities that they wink at the Lovecraftian imaginary (which in certain cases is reproduced in an excellent way also by the setting and by the colors tending to green), then ending in some phases that bring to mind certain characteristics of the old Syberia by Benoit Sokal.
Beyond the mirror
Without a doubt, the most intriguing and innovative aspect of The Medium is the gameplay, which as a full-blown narrative adventure manages to lean in different directions, taking a slightly more action shape. The thing that we liked the most, however, are the directorial cuts that the team managed to give to the game, varying the development of the various phases even if using the same mechanics. With the powers of Marianne we will play simultaneously in the two worlds (dual reality gameplay), but in some cases we will be forced to switch from one to the other, and in turn varying the development. To underline the charm of the phases where the dualism it is shown on the screen, both in recorded videos and in game, with the scenes proposed from different angles, and with the studio that on the basis of them each time chooses whether to use a vertical or horizontal split screen, even of different sizes.
The collaboration between “the two Marianas” will be fundamental, because some objects or interactions will only be available from one side. Sometimes we will be forced to make the girl do a "Out-of-body travel" and temporarily divide them, or to change the place of an object so that on the other side it has a different entity, and so on. Clearly also the abilities will be different between the material world and that of the spirits: we will therefore alternate intuition of the world of the living with one protective shield o an explosion of energy in the mirrored world (clearly if we have accumulated the energy in specific points), as well as the camera will vary also according to the situation, alternating lateral, rear, fixed or dynamic shots. A little more subdued and almost forced the phases "Stealth", which on the one hand remind us to be hunted and make us fall back in the sense of oppression, but on the other hand they can be decidedly annoying to manage (however, these are rather short phases each time). Last but not least, as in any self-respecting adventure there are gods puzzles: these are not too complicated, but still require a certain sequencing to be solved. Definitely a choice desired by the team, in order not to bury the rhythm of the narrative and at the same time intrigue the player.
The sore point of The Medium
The Medium translates into a brave title, which at the same time manages to put the player in front of different types of anguish. So it is a pity to note that greater technical care could have taken this production to an even greater level. Although some settings, colors and compositions are truly incredible, we often find ourselves in front of other well-kept places not with the same detail. Leaving aside this lesser evil, come on Xbox Series X in the version tested before the launch (we hope that these problems will be solved with a patch) are numerous drop in frame rates, as are the delayed loading of some textures, which is very annoying. Last but not least, the speed of uploads is still not up to the standard of a production of this generation, but not excessively tedious. In return the commands respond well, the layout on the pad is more than intuitive, e we did not find any bugs during our experience. The entire game is enjoyable in Spanish, except for the audio only, but with the ability to customize the subtitle display mode.
To close, a dutiful honorable mention must be made to the audio sector: the soundtrack of the great Arkadiusz Reikowski and Akira Yamaoka rings in the player's ears like an inexorable sentence, while the dubbing, available in the original language, is entrusted to exceptional actors such as Elizabeth McGlynn and Troy Baker (The Maw). Small note that will surely please those who follow the panorama, the two vocal actors sing together “Fade”, one of the songs featured in The Medium.