The Medium: our analysis of RTX options. between ray tracing and DLSS

The Medium: our analysis of RTX options. between ray tracing and DLSS
The Medium, reviewed on these pages this week, is the new creature of the Bloober Team, a medium-sized software house that has once again published a title that can divide both critics and audiences in two.

But the software house's skills in recreating disturbing atmospheres are not in question, especially with this valid horror adventure that focuses on a strong narrative component enhanced by full support for RTX technologies and made peculiar by a particular dynamic of game in which the protagonist moves simultaneously between two different realities.

The impact of ray tracing

The most heated criticisms against The Medium concern the failure to promise a graphic sector of last generation, but the obvious gaps in the animations certainly do not compromise the excellent detail of some settings or the atmosphere. In addition, the main mechanics of the game, which takes advantage of the possibility of controlling the protagonist in two worlds divided in split-screen to overcome some obstacles, explains some slowdowns related to the need for the hardware to render two different realities simultaneously, each with its own assets. which also double the weight of ray tracing when it is set to maximum.

But there are also times when fluidity collapses in standard mode, with only one reality on screen, and which highlight a lack of optimization which in our opinion represents the greatest technical weakness of the PC version of the Bloober Team title , paradoxically more stable on Xbox Series X even if we are talking about framerate locked at 30fps in 4K and a different implementation of ray tracing. On PC, in fact, where for now there is no support for the Radeon RX 6000, the lighting technology enjoys higher quality effects also thanks to the GeForce RTX that take advantage of the DLSS, the NVIDIA upscaling based on artificial intelligence that is fundamental to compensate the weight of ray tracing used to recreate high quality reflections, refractions and ambient occlusion. But by combining The Medium's already considerable weight with some optimization issues, the technology's impact on performance remains high even with DLSS active. It is no coincidence that a GeForce RTX 2080 is recommended to play in 1440p at 30fps to get to an almost unobtainable RTX 3080 aiming at 4K at 30fps.

Before talking about performance, which in our case we have checked with hand with a GeForce RTX 3070, let's focus on the effects on the graphic rendering of the two settings for ray tracing that affect both the active effects and the rendering qualitative of certain functionalities. With the setting in normal mode, the physics-based lighting manages in the single-screen mode only, when the protagonist moves in a single reality, both the reflections and the ambient occlusion, giving the objects more realistic shadows and a greater roundness. By setting ray tracing in ultra mode, the two effects also extend to the dual screen mode, when the protagonist moves simultaneously in the two worlds, with the addition of reflections on transparent surfaces and general improvements to the quality of the refractions that are made. clearly more defined.

The importance of DLSS

In spite of the improvements, the animations that are anything but exciting, some less inspired scenarios and the limitations of the semi-fixed camera obviously remain to be digested. Also in some scenes characterized by a massive presence of foliage the reflections are disabled, but the game undoubtedly benefits from ray tracing, giving us remarkable glimpses in the combination of glass, mirrors, puddles and high-detail scenarios. All this, however, has a considerable weight that weighs on the already fluctuating performance of the graphics engine. And here comes DLSS, the NVIDIA upscaling based on deep learning that exploits the Tensor cores of GeForce RTX.

The implementation of DLSS in The Medium does not reach the quality seen with Control, but the yield on a 32-inch monitor is very good with the technology brought to the highest quality. A slight blur can be seen on texts and drawings, but this is difficult to perceive during the action in the face of often evident benefits in terms of framerate. These obviously increase by bringing the DLSS to medium, but the blur becomes slightly more evident to become clearly visible in low mode, where the gain is among other things contained in the scenes where fluidity is at a minimum.

Performance with a GeForce RTX 3070

With our GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition, in this case combined with an overclocked Ryzen 7 3700X and with 16 GB of memory at 3600 MHz, we started with 4K to evaluate the actual improvements by excluding the CPU as much as possible. By doing so, during a sequence in which we found ourselves controlling the protagonist in two different realities, the framerate dropped to 27 frames per second despite the deactivated ray tracing. But we didn't even activate DLSS, leaving the image enhancement in the hands of Temporal Anti-Aliasing which, by activating ray tracing in ultra mode, added an additional weight on the hardware by bending the performance up to 19 fps. However, these recovered with deep learning-based upscaling that allowed us to hit 25fps in high quality, 28fps in medium quality and 30fps in low quality. Enough therefore to play even in Ultra-HD, considering that we are talking about a graphic adventure with a semi-fixed view, albeit with some slowdowns and with a reduced image quality.

We then dropped to 1440p, the reference resolution for the GeForce RTX 3070, which allowed us to play at 30fps without DLSS, 35fps with DLSS at maximum, 38fps with DLSS in medium quality and 40fps in quality low, even reaching 80 / 100fps in the sequences set in a single reality, even if only inside closed spaces. But although the title has always been playable, being part of a genre that does not demand particularly high framerates to be enjoyable, we have sought a compromise that would make the sometimes annoying changes in fluidity less noticeable.

We then tried to play with ray tracing in standard mode, giving up some reflections to get to 37fps with TXAA, 43fps with DLSS in maximum quality, 45fps in medium quality and 46fps in low quality, detecting reduced improvements, thanks to a basic rendering that suffers from the CPU limit, but an undoubtedly more enjoyable experience. But we expect that between patches and optimizations, even of the DLSS, things will change in the near future, guaranteeing at least less than the 1440p at 60fps with a card able to more easily digest titles with significantly higher yield.

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