Unreal Engine 5 Demo Showcases PlayStation 5 Graphics

Our first look at Unreal Engine 5 technology promises quite a lot, but does this demo set realistic expectations for PlayStation 5 graphics?

Unreal Engine 5 PlayStation 5
Photo: Epic Games

Epic Games has revealed a new tech showcase for Unreal Engine 5 which gives us a taste of what PlayStation 5 (and next-gen) graphics may look like.

The demo itself (which Epic calls “Lumen in the Land of Nanite”) focuses on a young woman raiding a tomb in a non-copyright manner. We see her navigate the area outside of a tomb/temple before claiming her treasure. Along the way, we also see basic UI commands and similar HUD elements which suggest that this is more than just a typical non-interactive tech demo.

Actually, Epic tells IGN that the demo itself is fully-playable and that they had intended to allow people to play it had GDC run as planned. That being said, this demo is not tied to a game that Epic (or anyone else) intends to expand upon. It appears to be an experience crafted solely for the purposes of this presentation. Furthermore, they claim that it was pretty much taken directly from a PS5 development kit.

You can see the footage yourself, so we won’t waste your time with a blow-by-blow breakdown of what it contains. Instead, let’s focus on some of our takeaways regarding what you should make of this footage and what it actually “means.”

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First off, we appreciate that this is more substantial than a sizzle reel tech demo, and we think you should see this as a realistic take on what the ceiling of next-gen graphics looks like at this early stage. It’s easy enough to imagine a next-gen Uncharted-style game looking like this, for instance.

Having said that, you probably shouldn’t expect launch games to look this good. This is a highly-scripted, highly-specific game demo. Full-size games have much more to account for in terms of design and real-world complications which will initially slow down the progress of graphical innovations. At the very least, developers will need the time to maximize this technology, and the spread of COVID-19 probably hasn’t helped that transition process.

Still, there’s nothing in this demo that looks impossible based on what we’ve seen in recent PC gaming technology advancements. We knew that lighting effects would benefit greatly from ray tracing technology, so you should expect to see more and more initial next-gen games take advantage of those visual features. Environments and characters are also impressively detailed, and it’s certainly telling that many of the most impressive visual tricks are playing out in what appears to be real-time. The audio is also downright incredible.

What’s particularly interesting is how much Epic praises the PS5’s SSD and how they claim that it’s largely responsible for much of the real-time visual clarity you see in this demo. In our breakdown of the PS5 vs. the Xbox Series X, we noted that the Xbox Series X looks to be more powerful on paper but that the PS5’s SSD was clearly its best element. What remains to be seen is whether or not there is a significant technological gap between the PS5 and the Xbox Series X’ SSD, and how that will translate to larger titles such as open-world games.

Regardless, we feel this demo sets fairly realistic exceptions of what some next-gen games will look like in the next year or two. Where we go from there is really the next question.