Opening and first impressions
“It all starts with a dead girl”
Something you’ll be hearing a lot throughout the story of The Medium, and also the way the game starts. Right off the bat you’re shown a young girl fleeing through a forest, eventually reaching the dead end of a small pier on a lake, and getting shot in the head. That’s when you know you’re in for a serious ride.
Turns out this is just a reoccurring dream Marianne, the protagonist we control, has had for as long as she can remember, as she explains cigarette in hand. During this monologue we are shown sweeping shots of plac Jana Matejki and the Grunwald statue in Krakow. A street I am familiar with as it’s the best place to call an uber after a long night of drinking on Floriańska street, so I was happy to see it pretty meticulously rendered on screen. Although I’m used to seeing it a little blurrier in the early hours of the morning so I’m probably not the best judge of accuracy.
That The Medium is set in Krakow was what drawn me to the game in the first place, as I mentioned in my article a few months back ‘why I’m excited for The Medium’. I was excited to see how well Bloober Team would recreate this amazing city and was confident they would do a good job considering they are based here too. I was not disappointed. From the moment you see this street and are taken into the apartment you realise they have captured the Polish aesthetic perfectly. Even if the game is set in the 90’s I’ve been in a few apartments that still look the same as hers, in some places not a lot has changed. Even when you step outside you are immediately greeted by the familiar coo of pigeons, you know you’re in Krakow alright.
The first thing I thought when you are shown Marianne talking up close was, wow the lip syncing is pretty bad. It doesn’t really improve at all, the scenery looks great but for a next gen exclusive the character models don’t feel next gen at all unfortunately. Along with the lip syncing, I was pretty disappointed with how they opted for American voice actors in the English version. I would have much preferred it if there were Polish voices talking in English with that slavic accent, as there are people running around with names like Brekowicz mumbling in a jarring, immersion breaking American accent. Obviously this is plausible in real life as there are a lot of Poles in America, but we’re on about Poles born and exclusively staying in Poland here. It’s similar to watching HBO’s Chernobyl, an incredible show with great actors, but all British actors playing Ukrainian/Russian people. It put a lot of people off. Don’t get me wrong they do a great job, Kelly Burke as Marianne and Troy Baker as the monster (named The Maw) especially – I’m just saying it could’ve been more authentic.
Unfortunately this wonderment of ‘I’ve been here’! wore off pretty fast, as you receive a call from a man named Thomas claiming to also be a medium, asking you to come to a certain Niwa hotel and help him. Niwa hotel has been abandoned for a number of years due to a massacre that happened there, and is a sprawling expanse of a building with a lot of bloody secrets to hide. For a medium / scaredy cat gamer you know that’s probably not the best place to be if you don’t want to see a lot of ghosts. Whilst exploring the main lobby a ball bounces down the stairs rolling towards you, and a little ghost girl called Sadness appears. She can’t remember her real name, and explains she is called that because everyone goes away, leaving her all alone. It’s quite interesting in the way that you can look at both worlds at the same time in a split screen. One half you’ll see a floating ball, whilst the other there is a tangible young girl with a missing arm playing with it. You promise to play with her if she takes you to Thomas, she agrees and off you go. Sadness is one of the focal points of the story and you’ll learn a lot about her along the way.
Right from the get go you realise that this is a game where there will be a lot of collectables to pick up and read, and I implore you to do so. I don’t think the game would be anywhere near as good if you just ran – I say ran but you can only really speed walk – through it. It is necessary for you to fully understand the story, as it adds a huge backbone to what’s going on. There was never a note that I was disinterested in as the story and writing is where the game truly shines, you really want to find out more about the characters and history of what happened. It’s not just notes though, there will be objects you can inspect that will have echo’s imprinted onto them. Echos are usually left when something extreme has happened, leaving a ghostly imprint of said event ingrained in the object. In the starting apartment you find a letter sent from school reprimanding Marianne for telling her classmate his Babcia had left a message for him which I found funny. So you know she’s been a medium since childhood, and she explains it as ‘existing in two worlds but never really living in either’.
The dual reality system is top notch too, I love the Beksiński inspired spirit world and would have loved to have spent more time in it. I went into great detail of how using Beksiński’s art as a main influence for the spirit world had me excited for the game in my previous article, and if you haven’t checked out his art yet – do your self a favour! It would be easy to view dual reality from the outside as just a gimmick but it isn’t, the story wouldn’t be as good without it and neither would the gameplay. Sometimes you will be exclusively in the spirit world which was great, I only wish there was a photo mode so I could look at everything in closer detail, not being restricted with the third person static camera view. It would have made the experience even better if I could’ve took some disturbing yet beautiful pics (I promise I’m not a psychopath). When you find yourself in the dual realities, I often found myself staring at one side as I couldn’t manage to focus on both at the same time. This often led to me wandering around like a headless chicken wondering what the hell I was supposed to be doing. Just remember, maybe the solution is simply you moving your eyes a bit to the right – sometimes I completely forgot the other side was there.
For the gameplay you essentially just need to think old school Resident Evil and Silent Hill, minus the combat. walking around finding objects with the camera being stuck in one place, changing when you stray too far away or enter another room. It works great for the most part, and I liked the camera being fixed but sometimes when the camera changed I would have to readjust the analog stick as Marianne would be walking a different way from where I was pointing. You will be solving puzzles in a new unique way, having to switch to the ghost world, leaving your body suspended soullessly whilst you alter the past to change the present. Charging electrical fuse boxes as the spirit so they work in the real world for example (however plausible that is).
The game is dubbed as a horror but it isn’t scary at all. I think this is the first horror game I have completed as usually I’m too much of a pussy to make it all the way through. There was only one time I shat myself throughout the whole journey and that’s because it was a cheap yet funny jump scare, it gave me a good giggle once my heart had calmed down a bit. The best I can say is that it could be a bit unnerving at times – as whilst pursuing you The Maw asks if ‘he can try you on’, explaining that you will be ‘a pretty little skin suit.’ Needless to say I didn’t hang around long enough to find out if that was true. The crux of the problem is that you just never feel in ever real danger, and that’s the only reason you would feel scared. The Maw only pops up occasionally and sometimes you’ll have to sneak past it, sometimes you’ll have to run away, and neither of these are challenging. Other emotions are evoked as the story unravels however, and the story is what makes the game a truly memorable experience. It doesn’t solely rely on the scare factor. I played the game exclusively at night time which is the best time to experience horror, and even then I was able to saunter over to my bathroom with no lights on without a care in the world. Usually I’d be sprinting thinking there’s something about to get me and flicking on every single light switch.
Being a medium
The game does what it says on the tin, it’s essentially a medium simulator. There’s no action, just you walking around figuring out what’s going on and speaking to spirits. The ghosts all have masks instead of faces, and if they have forgotten themselves their mask will be separated from their being. Occasionally you will stumble across these lost souls and have to figure out who they were and find their lost mask before you can send them to the other side. I liked these little side objectives as they told a separate story aside from the main one, teaching you a little more about what happened at Niwa.
Being a medium in this universe is amazing, You have the ability to go inside peoples minds and live out their past memories – mostly traumas – basically playing out said memory as them. One time you find yourself experiencing a man’s childhood where his father died at war and the stepdad was abusing his mother. He was smuggling food to a girl of similar age, in hiding with her family for obvious reasons and they were eventually found and murdered. All in all his childhood wasn’t fun, and as anyone’s memory is, it is completely biased to how he remembers it so you have to take it with a pinch of salt. It is used to try to justify his actions as an adult, so you can either feel sorry for him or not, up to you. This isn’t to say there are choices in the game, just viewing it morally what would you think? I wonder if this is the sort of stuff Derek Acorah was getting up to on Most Haunted? Taking over Yvette Fielding’s mind to feel the sheer thrill of handing out a Blue Peter badge.
Overall I enjoyed my time with The Medium and would highly recommend it if you want to sit back and enjoy an engaging and well written story. I completed it in roughly 8 and a half hours which if you ask me is the perfect length for a game like this. I would 100% watch a show or movie if it was made into one as the whole concept is spot on. I would however warn you that performance isn’t or at least wasn’t great on launch so keep an eye out for patches. Frames dropped all over the place which was surprising as the game was supposed to be released December 10 – delayed over a month due to Cyberpunk 2077 taking the same date (look how that turned out). I thought with that extra dev time they could’ve ironed out everything but clearly not.