The Medium: technical analysis of the first Xbox next-gen exclusive

The Medium: technical analysis of the first Xbox next-gen exclusive
The Medium is a game divided in two: in the role of Marianne we move easily between the world of the living and that of the dead, and the clear boundary between the two is among the factors that most influence the narration, the soundtrack and also the graphic aspect of the game. Then it is also an interesting project because on the one hand it presents itself as an exclusively next-gen experience (it does not run on Xbox One), while on the other it clearly pays homage to the horror adventures of the early 2000s.

Made using the Unreal Engine 4 from the Polish studio Bloober Team (already known for Observer and Layers of Fear), The Medium offers an experience different from other contemporary exponents of the genre and, indeed, winks at the first Resident Evil with its shots fixed in third person. The feature that separates it from all the others, however, is this found: in some points of the story the screen splits in two showing two halves of the same world. In these phases the controls are mirrored, with obstacles on one side blocking progression on the other. You will understand that, in addition to being interesting in terms of gameplay, this gimmick is also demanding in terms of resources: in fact, the game must manage two shots at the same time, which has a considerable cost especially on modern graphics engines.

If it is true that the two worlds have elements in common, we are still looking at two different environments rendered at the same time, each with its own assets weighing on the data streaming, on the GPU and on the CPU. For example, the rendering of components such as depth of field, ambient occlusion and motion blur needs to be calculated twice, which is no small feat. Additionally, DXR-accelerated ray tracing is in action on the Xbox Series X and PC versions, and the BVH acceleration facility (critical to its operation) has to do double the work by weighing in on CPU and VRAM (which probably explains the absence of RT in the Xbox Series S version).

If you are already suspicious about how effective an effect like The Medium's double camera can be in the long run, rest assured: the developers have dosed it carefully. For example, in some settings you go from one world to another simply by jumping into a mirror. The mirrors reflect the protagonist's movement and position, but being portals they add variety to the process and allow you to quickly jump between the two worlds for solving environmental puzzles. The idea works, but we must say that it happens to be tainted by some problem with the streaming of the textures (not too often, but still curious that it happens on a system equipped with SSD with very high bandwidth).

A look close to The Medium's technology, here in action on Series X and Series S.

Watch on YouTube. Moving our gaze on the settings we realize that this is where The Medium gives its best. In the world of the living, the environments are full of details: from the forests around the Niwa resort to the ruins of the abandoned hotel, the quality of the construction is of a high standard. The world of spirits, on the other hand, is inspired by the work of the Polish painter Beksinski, and not only from an aesthetic point of view. The drastic change of materials used creates a noticeable detachment feeling, and it works particularly well. The same goes for the setting itself: the Polish countryside and the abandoned resort give The Medium a unique, coherent, and hauntingly beautiful vibe.

The models of the characters enjoy a similar attention to detail, and especially those in the afterlife generate the right amount of anxiety, even if the films show animations that are sometimes woody especially on the front of facial expressions and movement of the eyes. Even in-game the animations are not at the top, but it is a bit of a tradition for horror if you will, so they don't clash too much.

The Medium is available on Xbox Series X, Series S and PC , which makes it the first game that we can't put to the test on the last-gen (probably the choice is justified by the double-shot phases). However, the title takes advantage of the dynamic resolution in a slightly more generous way than other games, probably always due to its peculiar characteristic. In the full-screen stages, the resolution reaches native 4K on Series X and 1080p on Series S, while DRS scaling averages 1440p on X and 900p on S. When the split-screen is triggered, however, the minimum resolution drops down to 900p on Series X and 648p on Series S. Keep in mind that the game is actually handling the rendering of two environments at the same time, that's why the drop in pixel count.

Concerning ray tracing, The Medium uses RT reflections only in certain settings and only on Xbox Series X and PC, while Series S is content with older style scren-space reflections. They work, of course, but they clearly can't show details that aren't present in the frame. There are other differences between the two Microsoft consoles: shadows, for example, have lower resolution on Series S and in general are rasterized shadows, not generated by ray tracing with the sole exception of those visible in reflections. That said, the fact that the cameras are fixed allows you to avoid the classic shadow map artifacts with excellent results. The shadows move as your flashlight passes, while the contact shadows managed by Unreal Engine 4 help to increase the detail.

Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Xbox Series X and Series S compared to The Medium. Speaking of performance, that of The Medium is a 30fps experience, which is acceptable for a horror game with a measured pace, especially because the frame-rate is stable in the vast majority of cases, on both Xbox Series X and Series S, regardless. by the presence of the split-screen. There are some locations where we have experienced dips, but they are very rare. If the frame-rate is stable, it's on the frame-pacing front that we have some criticism: it's okay to have thirty frames per second, but these aren't generated with every screen refresh. This translates into a somewhat limp experience that could lead to think of real drops, which we communicated to the developers who told us that they are working on it for a future patch, which will also fix some flashing. pixels. If you happen to see them don't worry, it's not your console's fault.

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We cannot fail to mention the audio sector which is of a particularly high level. A horror game cannot be complete without adequate sound accompaniment, and The Medium does not disappoint. It is not surprising, given the theme of the two worlds, that the developers have hired two different composers: the real world is curated by Arkadius Reikowski (already working on previous Blooper Team games), while the spirit world is curated by Akira Yamaoka (Kensei Sacred Fist and Silent Hill). The result is great atmosphere and richness, and the excellent surround implementation results in a remarkable audio experience. We could even say that the sound, in this case, manages to involve more than the graphics sector, and the advice is to enjoy it with the best device at your disposal (a surround system, or good headphones).

E more generally, the advice is not to miss The Medium. Sure, maybe it's not spotless in every aspect, and the production values ​​aren't AAA, but with its horror adventure it's arguably the best game developed by Blooper Team. It is also available on day one via Game Pass, which should help it find some media space. The Medium is the first Xbox Series exclusive we try and, while not a maxi production, it manages to convince with its personality.

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