The new paranormal game from Bloober Team is a story that mixes death, terror, and a terrible past within a game that will catch you without “remedium”. Welcome to dual reality.
Bloober Team is an independent Polish studio that has earned a good name among fear lovers, thanks to titles such as Observer: System Redux or Layers of Fear. Now, they face their most ambitious project, which not only has to keep the bar of their previous horror adventures but is also the tip of the spear of the catalog of exclusives for Xbox Series X | S (although it also comes out on PC). The Medium is finally here.
Since the first trailers for this paranormal adventure were seen, it was clear that it had something different. Her hallmark is the so-called dual gameplay: the female protagonist is able to see both the physical world and the spiritual world, so we see on split-screen how she moves through space and, at the same time, how she moves. makes in its more “infernal” counterpart.
The story of The Medium is set in Poland in the late 90s and revolves around this girl, Marianne, a young woman who has lived under the tutelage of different adoptive parents while getting used to her particular “abilities”: she is a medium able to see the spiritual reverse of our reality and, thanks to this, can help souls “in pain” to stay in peace and travel to their final destination, what she calls “being exiled”.
Just as Jack, her most supportive adoptive father, passes away, Marianne receives a mysterious phone call from someone who claims to understand her powers and needs her help before it’s too late. Intrigued by this, she goes to the origin of the call, the abandoned Hotel Niwa, an old “resort” of the socialist period in Poland, where it is said that there was a terrible massacre. Once there, you notice from the beginning that the paranormal energies are through the roof … Who called you? What does Tristeza, a strange girl, paint there? And what are those recurring visions that haunt Marianne?
With this mysterious and irresistible tone, our game begins. We monitor Marianne in the third person and through a semi-fixed camera system. Thus, in the purest style of the original Resident Evils (in Bloober Team they do not hide their influence from these games or, especially, from Silent Hill ), we do not control the camera, but its frames change depending on the area in which we are, which helps give the adventure a more cinematic look.
Our tasks usually consist of exploring the scenarios and looking for objects that allow the adventure to advance: a bolt cutter to break chains, a knob that opens a door … Marianne has no weapons, but she can use certain paranormal abilities that help us.
On the one hand, she can activate a temporary shield that protects her from strange moths that seem to attack her at certain points on the map. On the other hand, you can use your perception whenever you want (just press a button) to make an interesting object on the stage stand out. This also serves to “scan” certain objects that hide echoes, dialogues from the past that were marked on them.
If we find sources of energy, Marianne can accumulate spiritual energy and launch a blast, a kind of shock wave that can repel certain threats or activate electrical objects. And finally, you can also use astral projection, in such a way that your spiritual body reaches areas that your physical body does not have access to. The tricky thing about this is that the more time you spend in that projection, the more your body begins to disintegrate. We must soon return to our body or we will be lost in the spiritual world forever …
The game between the physical and spiritual dimensions is the main attraction of the game. Sometimes we see Marianne only on the physical plane, but sometimes she starts to suffer from severe migraines and we see both the physical and spiritual planes at the same time. At other times, we will only see the spiritual plane but, in any case, we cannot choose which planes Marianne sees at each moment, but it is something purely argumentative.
The alternation between these realities is not only a very spectacular and shocking effect (we can see how on the spiritual plane Marianne talks to someone dead, while on the plane above she is talking to nothing), but it also gives rise to the dynamics of a very interesting game. For example, we may have an obstacle in front of us that can only be removed in one of the two realities or that it is necessary to move something on the physical plane so that we can interact with it in another way on the spiritual. Inventory items have even been separated in such a way that they can only function on one of the planes. At certain points, we will see “memories” that we have to reconstruct by turning the stick with precision to reveal what happened there long ago.
Sometimes, we will have to look for mirrors that allow us to pass from one plane to another … Mixing our skills with these changes of planes gives rise to puzzles that have an original point and, sometimes, they will make you reinforce your spatial orientation to find the solution.
But of course, not everything is solving puzzles. In addition to the moths we have mentioned, we have a terrible enemy in Maw, a huge demon that chases us at certain points in the game. Since it comes from the spirit world, it is invisible (or, rather, translucent) in the physical world. He cannot see us in the physical world, but he can hear us, so we have to manage to mislead him while he sends us messages that will make our hair stand on end.
Although we may not be able to see it well, we have a clue in our flashlight, which will start flashing like crazy when it is close. That is a very interesting aspect of The Medium: its ability to immerse ourselves in the setting without the need for an interface of any kind. All we need to see is our flashlight and the glow on our arms, which tells us if we have spiritual energy or not. The vibration of the controller also helps to notice if there are threats nearby or a strong gust of wind …
Although these threats can kill us as soon as we get lost, our feeling is that The Medium is not a horror game (at least, not one to use), but rather a paranormal adventure that, yes, will offer you bad vibes, emotion, and mysteries at all times. We, of course, have not gotten to fear, but that does not make the game less distressing and attractive.
And it is that the artistic design and the script are, without a doubt, its strong points. The spiritual plane, inspired by the work of the surrealist painter Zdzislaw Beksinski, is a nightmarish and twisted world, in which walls and tables are replaced by degradation, deformed corpses, and unclassifiable organic forms. There, Marianne interacts with people with their faces covered by a mask and partially shattered bodies, who speak as if they are perfectly fine.
An interesting aspect is that Marianne is used to seeing this since she was a child, so she interacts with that shot quite naturally, while for us it can cause a lot of unease. In that sense, it’s cool to see how she “leads us by the hand” through this world and its particular mythology. The surreal settings, the endless corridors, and the “infernal” versions of the objects of our reality are irretrievably reminiscent of games like The Evil Within or The Darkness, as well as works like Constantine. Come on, they’re really cool.
Marianne herself is spiritually different: her hair is white and her arm seems to be covered in rags, although she is not as disturbing as the rest of the characters, of course. There are moments when we can see how we are in a plane but the other reality “appears” through a mirror, with the replica of Marianne imitating us in that world. The effect is amazing.
Incidentally, the fact that the cameras are semi-fixed is not only due to an artistic choice by Bloober Team but, when testing players at split-screen moments, they experienced dizziness when rotating two cameras simultaneously. In any case, the end result is on target.
So does the sound section. Although there are only voices in English (with very well adapted Spanish subtitles ), these work very well and feature talents such as Troy Baker, Joel’s original voice in The Last of Us II. The music is provided by two great artists. In the physical world, Arkadiusz Reikowski (a regular in Bloober’s games) signs the sheet music, while in the spiritual world, the minimalist, allegorical and haunting melodies are provided by Akira Yamaoka himself, famous for his scores on Silent Hill. Here, Yamaoka keeps the guy with some shocking pieces and even some sung theme of taking off his hat.
Not everything is perfect in the game. On the one hand, the character models, although they are correct, do not have the level of detail of other more impressive games of the style (especially, after seeing the overwhelming level of Resident Evil Village ), and their expressiveness is also justified. At certain times, the frame rate gives some jerks, although it is true that it reaches 4K resolution and makes the most effective use of Ray Tracing (on Xbox Series X). The result is that it seems that we are facing a survival horror of the late 90s, but with the visual performance that one would expect today.
Another aspect that has not convinced us is that the vast majority of puzzles are quite easy and it is even easy to anticipate what the solution will be (the perception that we can activate is an invaluable help, of course). When these are based on taking steps in the two planes it is much more entertaining, but except near the end of the game when things get a bit complicated, it is likely that you can overcome them practically at once.
Also, since the game is so linear, there is not much more to do than what the main story strictly requires, except for some postcards or notes scattered around the maps that help to understand the story a bit better. Still, we managed to find them all in the first game (which adds some good achievement points to our gamerscore, by the way), so it’s not going to be something that takes up too much time.
Precisely because the game puts before us such an interesting universe and powers, its duration ( between 8 and 10 hours, approximately) is a bit short. We want side quests to use the powers on, more banshees to save! Once the game is over (with a pretty WTF ending, by the way), you’re left wanting more. Deep down, that’s good, because we have enjoyed it, of course.
In any case, The Medium is a highly recommended experience, unless you like terror, surrealism, or mysteries. His story is unraveling little by little, with references to dark pasts, terrible deaths, and revenge that we have to connect in our minds, as well as surprises-both plot and playable that we better not tell you here so as not to gut anything.
For an exclusive game of the new generation of Xbox (no, it is not available on Xbox One), the technical section of The Medium is not surprising, but its visual tricks, its revelations, and its atmosphere are. Ah! And it is included from day one in Game Pass, so you already have a “deadly” excuse to get hold of it.