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Maybe Skip The Medium on PC for Now

It's not unplayable, but The Medium on PC has a toe in the afterlife.

by Brandon Adams

the-medium-gameplay-video

The Medium is the latest “horror” game from Bloober Team, the developers behind cult classic Layers of Fear and the excellent Observer. Bloober has been steadily improving with every game they’ve made, yet their titles haven’t exactly been well regarded in terms of performance. Blair Witch was a solid game in its own right, but it was marred with a litany of technical issues that ultimately overshadowed any of the game’s redeeming qualities. The Medium unfortunately appears to exist in a similar reality: if you planned on playing it on PC you may want to skip out on The Medium for now.

Performance for The Medium on PC is a mixed bag, and the game is plagued by constant micro-stutter.

I’ve been evaluating The Medium on PC since it released earlier this morning, and so far the game’s proven itself a bit of a curiosity. The Medium is the first new major release of 2021 to feature both ray tracing and Nvidia’s DLSS, so it was only natural for Team Green to heavily feature the title in their announcements a couple weeks back during CES. In a strange turn of events, The Medium isn’t so much a showcase for the power of ray tracing as it is a demonstration of DLSS’s ability to make questionably optimized games tolerable to play.

Ray tracing in The Medium is a simple “Off, On, and Forced On” toggle – there’s no option to pick and choose what ray tracing effects are enabled, nor does the setting tell you what ray tracing effects are in use. While playing the game its clear The Medium uses ray traced reflections, but graphical intense options like it benefit from added transparency in the graphics settings. As for those wondering what the difference between “On” and “Forced On” is, The Medium will dynamically disable ray tracing effects to maintain performance if you select “On”, but the setting doesn’t appear to work all that well on PC. Far as I could tell, whether I chose the 30 or 60 FPS lock (there is an unlimited option), ray tracing would remain on even if I bowed well below those thresholds.

Ray tracing in The Medium often feels like an afterthought; a pretty checkbox to fill in that just so happens to gut my performance. DLSS thankfully fares better, though it’s implementation is a bit wonky. Bloober Team decided to eschew the usual “Quality, Balanced, Performance” settings we have grown accustomed to for a more opaque trifecta of “Low, Medium, and High.” That may not sound all that cosmic a difference, but The Medium doesn’t exactly tell you want each DLSS setting does, and since rendering resolution is a separate setting that can be adjusted with or without DLSS enabled it’s hard to say at a glance what exactly each tier of DLSS is doing.

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The reason I mention DLSS and ray tracing prior to any other setting in The Medium is due to how vital DLSS is to enjoying The Medium at frame-rates meeting or exceeding 30 FPS. With both ray tracing and DLSS off I was barely able to hold a steady 60 frames-per-second at 1440p with an overclocked Nvidia RTX 3070 and an Intel i7 8700K with the game set to 100% resolution scale and High settings. The Medium would routinely sit around 55 FPS in milder scenes, and whenever the “Dual World” system kicked in that frame-rate would easily halve.

It’s important to note that the overall Quality toggle in The Medium – the catch-all setting that should in theory alter all the advanced settings to match the selected preset – doesn’t seem to work. None of the advanced graphics settings changed when moving between Low, Medium, and High, meaning I had to manually alter each and every setting to check performance. Setting everything to either Medium or Off lead to a dramatic increase in frame-rate, but it would still dip well below 60 frames-per-second as if on a whim. The key takeaway? Performance in The Medium is highly erratic, no matter what settings you use.

DLSS without ray tracing saves the day here, especially when the resolution scale is set to 50%. The obvious downside to this is the softer image quality, but I was at least able to sit mostly above 60 frames-per-second on High settings during regular scenes. Once the “Dual World” system came into play, however, frame-rate would once again tank – DLSS be damned. It remained “playable”, since 45+ FPS on a G-Sync monitor is doable, but it’s still odd to see The Medium struggle with performance even with DLSS enabled. The Medium is not the most dazzling game out there, so consider me shocked to learn DLSS is an almost mandatory setting on PC even without ray tracing added to mix.

If you do plan to play with ray tracing enabled you will have to make peace with running the game at 30 frames-per-second, unless you enjoy uneven frame-pacing and judder. You could theoretically set The Medium to low settings to creep closer to 60 frames-per-second with ray tracing and DLSS enabled, but the overall image quality is too poor to justify this method. You’d think an RTX 3070 could muster a locked 60 frames-per-second on Medium settings with ray tracing and DLSS enabled, but in the real world it appears my configuration is only good for a somewhat locked 30 at 1440p with those settings.

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Then there’s the constant micro-stutter currently plaguing the game like a lost soul unwilling to move on. The first segment in the game, in which protagonist Marianne explores a small apartment, only featured a handful of stutters. The overall frame-rate was also solid here, leading me to think early on that the issues with micro-stutter and performance would be largely minor. Yet, once I left this opening segment behind and ventured into the main game proper the micro-stutters became frequent companions, haunting me wherever I went.

Even if you can stomach locking your performance to match the Xbox Series X version of the game, the constant micro-stutter in The Medium is far, far too much to bear. I’m not the only person to discover all these issues with The Medium on PC: the fine folks over at DSOGaming learned the powerful RTX 3080 couldn’t even lock in 60 FPS with High settings at 1080p, and they were harassed by frequent micro-stuttering as well.

We knew The Medium would require more processing oomph when we learned about the “Dual Worlds” system, but the game struggles to perform during normal scenes where the system is nowhere in play. Unless you are desperate to play The Medium on PC it may be best to try it out on the Xbox Series X, to wait on Digital Foundry’s “optimized console settings”, or to hold off until Bloober Team is able to further polish the PC version over the coming weeks. It’s serviceable, sure, but it needs to be better.

- This article was updated on:January 28th, 2021

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