A haunted Soviet resort in the heart of Krakow’s forests. A protagonist who can not only speak with the dead, but literally walk through their world. And a ten foot tall demon who wants to wear your skin (and won’t be silent about it). The medium is very scary.
But it’s not just a matter of fear things, this is how the developer Bloober Team presents and manages them. Comparisons to Silent Hill have followed the Polish studio since its debut, Layers of Fear, and they’re even harder to shake up in The Medium. The abandoned Niwa vacation resort isn’t shrouded in fog, but Bloober Team’s approach to horror is driven by atmosphere, tension, and an ominous soundtrack. Oh, and fixed camera angles.
You play as Marianne, a gas station attendant haunted by the visions of a dead girl by a lake. At the start of the game, you receive a phone call inviting you to Niwa from someone who claims to understand your visions. The station itself is the peak of Soviet desolation porn: a brutalist bloc of concrete, faded grandeur. Upon entering the lobby, you encounter a ghost called Tristesse, bringing Marianne into a world of the living dead heavily inspired by the surrealist art of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński.
Again, other worlds are nothing new, but the way The Medium deals with them is unique. Whenever you encounter the Spirit World, the screen splits in half, horizontally or vertically, and Marianne moves through both worlds simultaneously. The spirit world is more or less the same as the real world, although some paths will only be accessible in one world or the other. Sometimes you will need to use certain spiritual powers, like a shield to ward off moths or an energy blast that can power generators, but this is all a bit rudimentary when it comes to puzzle mechanics. Most of the time, both realities just involve scanning the same room twice for clues, which can be quite frustrating if, like me, years of co-op on the couch have trained your brain to focus on one. only side of the screen.
If the spirit world is based on Beksiński’s art, it must be said that he does nothing more than imitate his nightmarish visions. Some key pieces are outright mimic in the game, but most of the spirit world environments borrow from Beksiński’s aesthetic without really capturing the gloom or decay of his barren worlds.
Most of the time, both realities just involve scanning the same coin for clues twice.
The Dual Reality Mechanic produces some memorable moments, especially when digging through the remains of a burnt down family home. In reality, Marianne collects charcoal for trinkets, while in the spirit world the house still stands, built of flesh and bones. As Marianne puts the household items back in their place, she opens portals between rooms for her counterpart in the spirit world. Seeing such an intimate setting ruined in one world, and reconstructed from skin and torment in the other, leaves a lasting impression.
This transdimensional tourism aside, the rest of The Medium is devoted to wandering around looking for clues, exploring the resort, and piecing together the fragmented history of the hotel’s decline.
Whether it’s trying to be cinematic or nodding to the meaty controls of ’90s horror games, walking around is hard work. Most of the time Marianne can only walk, sometimes she can jog, and every now and then you will have to pull yourself up on a crate. Everything happens at a snail pace. It’s not too tedious when you stumble upon clues on a regular basis, but there are large expanses in The Medium where all you do is run and work through the obstacles while a narrator simply reads you the history. Likewise, when you’re at a small clue to progress to a new area, only being able to move around with a light jog as you go through multiple rooms is a grueling exercise.
It turns out that rendering two worlds simultaneously has a pretty big impact on PC performance. While playing The Medium on an RTX 2080, I was only able to average just under 30 frames per second at high graphics settings during the dual reality sections of the game, which is about a third of the story. The real problem, however, is that if you set the graphics preset to low, you get a very pixelated look. This can be reduced a bit with DLSS, but not all cards can.
It takes a few hours before encountering the demonic presence that haunts the halls of Niwa, the Maw. This towering winged creature appears only a few times throughout the story, but captures your full attention with each appearance. The first glimpse is pretty much all you do with it see from the mouth, but between the skin flaps sewn together, the exposed throat and the profuse pustules, you will not forget it in a hurry.
The mouth follows Marianne between the two worlds but can only be seen in the spirit world. Your only way to actually spot it is by using your flashlight, which will flash faster the closer you get to the demon, leading to some deliciously tense stealth footage. A mind-blowing performance from Troy Baker ensures that the Maw always sinks deep into your consciousness even when you can’t see it, with twisted, eerie voices that sound like a pig squealing in a bassoon.
This vocal performance is just one part of a deeply disturbing soundscape, featuring none other than Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka, not to mention Arkadiusz Reikowski of Bloober Team, whose scores for Observer, Blair Witch Project and Layers of Fear deserve credit.
All of this helps maintain a constant and quivering tension throughout the duration of the story. The fact that The Medium’s slow controls and repetitive puzzle mechanics do little to distract from its mysterious tale is a testament to Bloober Team’s skill in building and maintaining the atmosphere. As Marianne’s story draws to a close, you’ll definitely be tired of the long climbing animations and long sections where you just jog, but her quest to find out Niwa’s fate has me hooked. rather early.
Related: Here are the best story games on PC
By the time the credits arrived I was happy, but unfortunately not much more than that. Good storytelling and a palpable atmosphere transport you to the finish line and leave you with memorable moments, but awkward gameplay sometimes makes reaching this point more of a chore than a joy, and it’s impossible to shake the feeling. that more could be done with Beksiński’s dual reality mechanics and work.
If all of this leaves you curious, but not necessarily sold out, then the good news is that The Medium is included with Game Pass for PC; but if you’d rather buy the game on its own, you can pick it up from the Microsoft Store right now.
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