Developers have access to an array of video game engines that help power their projects. Some studios stick to their own proprietary engines, such as CD Projekt RED’s REDengine and Capcom’s RE Engine, but other studios use more widely available digital toolboxes to create games. For years, one of the most popular and influential game engines has been the Unreal Engine.
The Unreal Engine was originally developed by Epic Games for its 1998 FPS Unreal. The toolset has since been through several iterations that all demonstrate an uncanny ability to power almost every video game genre imaginable and also deliver top-notch graphics. The Unreal Engine is just as at home in shooters such as BioShock and Gears of War as it is in RPGs like Dragon Quest XI and The Last Remnant.
On April 5, 2022, Epic Games officially released its latest creation, Unreal Engine 5, to the masses. While many big-name developers got their hands on the program early to develop upcoming titles such as Redfall and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, several smaller devs and modders have used Unreal Engine 5 to demo the future of video game graphics. Spoiler alert: It’s unreal.
Imagining Starfield In Unreal Engine 5
Bethesda’s upcoming sci-fi RPG Starfield has been caught in development hell for quite a while, and while the game will finally launch in 2023 (barring another delay), one prolific content creature decided to share their vision of the upcoming title.
When Enfant Terrible isn’t reposting game trailers, they are creating their own fake trailers for both imaginary and real games. One of their latest videos is Imagining Starfield, which blends various sci-fi assets into an Unreal Engine 5-fueled display. The result is full of breathtaking alien vistas, sprawling industrial colonies, and burgeoning metropolises.
Starfield‘s visuals obviously won’t measure up to Enfant Terrible’s vision, though many are certainly dreaming of a day when a Bethesda open-world RPG looks like this.
Some like to envision a future where you can’t tell the difference between computer-generated graphics and real life. This demo suggests that the future might already be here.
One of the most terrifyingly realistic Unreal Engine 5 demos is Lorenzo Drago’s Etchū-Daimon Station. The video faithfully recreates the real Etchū-Daimon Station in Japan, and you would be forgotten for assuming it’s a video of the actual location since it’s so realistic. However, the video’s cheery day is quickly replaced with a foreboding and foggy night that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror game.
Skyrim In Unreal Engine 5
When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched, players were blown away by the game’s graphics. Still, with the many evolutions in video game graphics since Skyrim‘s 2011 debut, many can’t help but wonder what Skyrim would look like if it were released today.
To offer a taste of what such a project might look like, environment artist Christian Gomm recreated the town of Riverwood in Unreal Engine 5. The difference between the original version and Gomm’s version is night and day, as the unofficial Unreal 5 remake is just significantly smoother overall and far more realistic.
Now that Gomm has given audiences a taste of Skyrim in Unreal 5, we’re left wanting more. Here’s hoping The Elder Scrolls VI will end up looking fairly close to this artist’s vision.
The Coalition – “The Cavern”
While Epic Games is no longer in charge of the Gears of War franchise, each series entry is still built with the Unreal Engine. The series’ current developers, The Coalition, recently released a tech demo that has some dreaming of Gears 6.
The Cavern is a cinematic test reel that shows off just how many triangles developers can cram into Unreal Engine 5 graphical assets. While the characters and locations in the video aren’t indicative of an in-development title, the video’s lighting, high-fidelity models, and ray tracing sure are. Plus, all these assets come together to create a clip that surpasses most blockbuster movie CGI.
If future Coalition projects look even half as good as The Cavern, Gears 6 just might be the most beautiful video game ever.
NEXTGEN Terrain Physics
The Unreal Engine is a powerful tool on its own, but developers can also create plug-ins to either improve the tool or add new functions. One of the best ways to show off a custom addition’s capabilities is via video demonstration.
The Brushify.io toolkit is touted as a premier worldbuilding system for Unreal, and to show off its latest iteration, creator Joe Garth posted a video that demonstrates the tool in Unreal 5. Dubbed the NEXTGEN Terrain Physics, the toolkit creates a surprisingly realistic landscape that can deform in real-time without dropping framerates, all with realistic physics.
With the NEXTGEN Terrain Physics and Unreal 5, any developer can turn their next game into a photorealistic Minecraft.
FIRST DAY – A Star Wars Short Film
While Unreal Engine 5 is a powerful tool for game developers, it has uses in other industries. Enterprising content creators can potentially use the engine to create videos and skits.
While the YouTube channel AFK – The Webseries mostly produces an ongoing series of gamers who got morphed into their MMO characters, the channel recently added Star Wars skits powered by Unreal Engine 5. So far, the channel has posted three episodes — First Day, The Battlefield, and Greener Grass — and each demonstrates how Unreal Engine 5 can potentially streamline the process of creating comedic fan skits.
If AKF – The Webseries’ small collection of Star Wars videos is any indication, Unreal Engine 5 can help anyone who wants to make the next Red vs. Blue. It may even eventually help power a new generation of Star Wars titles.
Superman In the Matrix
So far, the only Unreal Engine 5 game currently available is The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience., which was primarily designed to show off the Unreal Engine 5’s power on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. While the demo is impressive by itself, modders took it one step further.
Last year, game developer Tyson Butler-Boschma, also known as TjAtomica, fooled around in Unreal Engine 5 and created a basic simulator that lets players fly around a city as Superman. This teaser, dubbed Project Flight, was cool but barebones. When the Matrix Awakens demo was released, TjAtomica decided it was time for an update. He took the same flying mechanics and model from his game and modded them into the Matrix Awakens demo. The result is as fun and beautiful as it sounds.
Silent Hill in Unreal Engine 5
The Unreal Engine 5 can do more than just provide realistic models and textures. The toolset also comes with a robust atmospheric lighting and effects engine perfect for any horror game.
Ninja Theory’s Senior Lighting Artist Pasquale Scionti has shown off the power of Unreal Engine 5 with numerous videos, including one inspired by Silent Hill. The demo only shows a heavily wooded road flanked by a gas station and “Welcome to Silent Hill” sign, but it gets the job done by shifting the scene’s tone from welcoming to foreboding with just some lighting and heavy fog.
Perhaps Konami should let Ninja Theory make the next Silent Hill game. Scionti demonstrated he’s got the game’s oppressive atmosphere down pat, all thanks to Unreal Engine 5.
Raining in the Jungle
Fluid physics are a crucial part of many modern games. If water doesn’t behave realistically, players might be taken out of the moment, and Unreal 5 demonstrates we don’t have to worry about that anymore.
VFX artist Ramón Monsanto has posted several videos made with Unreal Engine 5, and one of his most impressive projects is Raining in Jungle 1 and 2. The names are self-explanatory, as the videos show how dense rain can get in Unreal 5 environments. However, the meat of the demos lies in how the rain realistically covers plants and rocks in a fine film and also runs down hills to form miniature rivers.
If Monsanto’s demo is any indication, Unreal Engine 5 makes creating weather effects more idiot-proof than ever without sacrificing beauty.
When developing video games, you need a proof of concept first. While you can make your own assets, you can also take inspiration from another product to save time.
The YouTube channel AXCEL is full of demos made in Unreal Engine 5, most of which are fan remakes of Warcraft content. Their most prolific work is Project Grunt, which revolves around an everyday orc grunt. Axcel created their own Orgrimmar gates to demonstrate the scope of landmarks capable through Unreal 5, animation tests that display the grunt’s fighting capabilities, and more, all through the lens of actual gameplay.
While Project Grunt will never be an official game due to legal reasons, they still demonstrate that Unreal Engine 5 is a robust and beautiful engine, even when it powers a rogue demonstration.