The Medium is an interesting game for sure - one we've covered in the past on both Xbox Series consoles and PCs, but I must admit, going into this one, I didn't expect the PlayStation 5 port to see so many changes from the existing console versions. Just about every multi-platform project we've seen so far on the new wave of consoles has seen effective feature parity between Series X and PS5 because, after all, they are very similar machines at the architectural level. However, with The Medium, Bloober Studio appears to have rebalanced the game to produce something very similar but also quite different to the original Series X release.
We'll get to the tweaked visuals shortly, but beyond the graphical revamp, there are DualSense controller features added too - rain, wind and other atmospheric effects are mapped to haptics, while some dialogue and effects are routed through the controller speaker. There's also gyro aiming when investigating objects. It's nice to see these features added, but only the haptics appealed to me really.
Initially, we were hoping to cover The Medium on PS5 closer to its launch, but upon receiving review code, we were told that ray tracing was not present and would be added in a patch - so we opted to wait to see the game running at its best. What we've found is that Bloober has opted to tweak settings substantially. We can still find parallels with the PC version, but the overall take away is that the studio has traded fidelity in ray tracing effects to increase performance and resolution. Interestingly, Series X still has the same features it did at launch - though the game has been patched since, and is generally in better shape than it was at launch.
So what's the difference? The first thing I noticed is a darker overall image on PS5. This isn't down to any changes in brightness, contrast or gamma, but rather because it looks like the developer has turned off the ray traced ambient occlusion on Xbox Series X in favour of a faster screen-space alternative, adding in halo artefacts and darkening the scene. Technically, this is a downgrade. Ray traced reflections are indeed present though, but their quality has been reduced compared to the original Series X release: compared to PC set to full resolution, the Microsoft console's reflections run at half-resolution and this is reduced again in turn on PS5 to quarter resolution.
There are further differences: in the original release of The Medium, manually placed lights were positioned occasionally around the environments to simulate a key aspect of global illumination - light bounce. Interestingly, these are removed on PlayStation 5. Meanwhile, it also seems like shadow resolution is reduced too with a lower resolution, blockier look.
So, why make these cutbacks? There is the possibility that Bloober Studio has refactored the game to better suit the capabilities of the PlayStation 5, but equally, there is another explanation too - that the developer analysed what worked and what didn't in the Series X version in terms of the look of the game and its performance, rebalancing the visuals. The quality of visual effects is obviously pared back, but the result addresses a key issue of the Series X release: the fluctuating, sometimes noticeably low resolution.
Dynamic resolution scaling is used extensively in the game, and image quality varies significantly but in all tested areas, PlayStation 5 has a clear advantage in clarity. Across 17 matched samples, Xbox Series X ran with resolution that varied from an absolute low of 720p (thankfully an outlier) to 1440p. Outside of dual-view shots, PlayStation 5 seems to resolve in a tighter, higher resolution 1620p-1728p DRS window. Combined with UE4's temporal upscaler, the presentation passes much more often as a good 4K image. On the really taxing dual-view angles which are The Medium's trademark, Xbox Series X seemed consistent at 972p, whereas PS5 clocked in at 1188p instead.
Performance is also improved in terms of the raw numbers on PlayStation 5 too. Both console games target 30fps, but PS5 avoids sustained drops beneath the target that are still present on the Xbox Series X version of the game. However, the Microsoft console has benefitted from title updates since we first saw the game. Back then, we weren't too happy about inconsistent frame delivery - yes, 'bad frame-pacing'. This has now been fixed, by and large, but remarkably the fix has not made its way to the PlayStation 5 version which now has the same problem. This adds very visible jerkiness to the presentation so while 30 frames are indeed being delivered per second, the perception is that it's running lower than that.
The obvious question to ask is this: which take on The Medium works best? There's no easy answer here because ultimately it comes down to personal preference, but it does look as though Bloober has essentially delivered the equivalent of a 'fidelity' mode on Series X and something more akin to a 'balanced' mode on PlayStation 5. The Microsoft machine offers up a more polished look with more of an emphasis on ray-traced effects. Meanwhile, PS5 delivers a much more convincing 4K-like image by trading visual quality, gaining performance in the process. Both still look impressive, of course, thanks to the quality of the core artwork. Perhaps there are technical reasons we're unaware of that prevent this happening, but I can't help but think that both consoles should have access to both modes - and the option of a clearer image may also yield dividends for Xbox Series S too.