Last week, Epic Games revealed Unreal Engine 5, treating us to a demo running on PS5 hardware. Lumen in the Land of Nanite showcases two new core technologies, which will offer unprecedented levels of detail when the engine (compatible with current and next-gen platforms, including Android and iOS) releases next year.
Lots and lots of triangles.
After the underwhelming third-party Xbox Series X gameplay reveal, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 footage was just what we needed. While the character model still isn’t quite there, the environments and assets on display are incredible.
That said, the showcase doesn’t actually relate to a real game and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Countless times before tech demos either haven’t quite panned out or it’s taken years of hands-on experience with an engine and/or piece of hardware to fully realise something comparable.
Even if we do get visuals of that standard right off the bat, UE5 isn’t scheduled to release until late 2021. By then the PS5 and XSX will be around a year old, so the demo isn’t a great measuring stick to judge the quality of what we’ll be looking at on day one.
While journo Geoff Keighley claims gamers won’t be disappointed when they clap eyes on next-gen visuals, if there’s truth to that, in the absence of E3 this year, it’s time to show and not tell. Although I’m excited to see what both next-gen machines are truly capable of, it does appear we could be looking at diminishing returns and not the kind of drastic leap alluded to by Head of Xbox Phil Spencer.
Cautious optimism may negate any future disappointment.
While tech talk is always lost on me, I can appreciate lovely visuals, and the Unreal 5 demo certainly had them in spades. The most impressive part, however, was not the magic bats or reactive light but the way the character interacted with her environment.
Little touches, like how she placed her hand on a door frame when passing through it, are far more immersive than ultra-realistic shadows and dust physics, especially if unscripted. In-game worlds have been getting prettier for years, but far too often playable characters seem oblivious to them.
Like Link’s cartoon eyes that pointed out clues in The Wind Waker, more natural animations could be put to good use in next-gen games (at least the ones made with Unreal 5) to subtly do the same. How cool would it be to see your character spontaneously react to unknown sounds by flinching away from them, indicating a potential enemy nearby, or hint at hidden areas with a suggestive glance?
It’s these kinds of innovations and improvements, rather than simply bigger and better-looking worlds, that I’m most looking forward to seeing more of once the next-gen really gets going.
A more subtle but immersive approach gets Liam's motor running.
Graphics might not be the be all and end all, but most of the gaming persuasion would agree that loading screens are not fun. How nice then that this loaded-to-the-brim tech showcase was a fluid, seamless experience from start to finish.
Of course, questions in the days following led to discussion about whether a loading screen was hidden in a "squeezing through a crack" section – a tactic often employed by the likes of Uncharted and recent Tomb Raider instalments to give time to render environments.
This was quickly waved away as an intentional move to show close-up detail, but it's important to remember (as Sam says) that this isn't a final product, merely a glimpse of what might be possible.
On consoles it's potentially even more removed from reality, with the demo undoubtedly running on a high-end PC, though next gen will invite more teraflops to the party than ever before.
Similar to the potential in Assassin's Creed last week, it's the ability to make environmental detail ever more effortless for developers which is most exciting as they can then focus their time in pushing gameplay forward with new ideas and experiences. Bring it on.
It may take time for such intricately detailed worlds to emerge.
Let us know your thoughts on the first PS5 gameplay footage.