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Unreal Engine 5 is Becoming More Real

Written on January 13, 2022 by Kelly Shipman
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Introduction

It has been seven months since we got our hands on Unreal Engine 5 for the first time with the release of Early Access and the Valley of the Ancients demo. Since then, there hasn’t been much information from Epic regarding the ongoing development. There has been only a couple of small updates to the engine, without much other communication of when the final build will be available. However, they did recently move Fortnite to UE5, so they are at least very confident in the current state of their internal build.

A few game developers have shown off early tech demos of their games running in UE5, such as Stalker 2: Heart of Chernobyl and Black Myth: Wukong. These videos were released shortly after the Early Access was released, so no doubt the developers have been working directly with Epic in advance with custom builds, or maybe a quick demo to show how the game looks after porting, but without extensive optimization.

From the launch of Early Access, Epic stressed that the target for this early build was game developers. This is evident due to the fact that many Virtual Production features included in 4.27 are absent from UE5. However, we now have a few more examples of finished or near-finished products that highlight the cinematic abilities of the engine. Many of our customers are looking forward to what UE5 will bring to Virtual Production.

The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience

Produced in collaboration with Warner Media as a joint UE5 tech demo and Matrix Awakens advertisement, this gives us a playable demo “game” in a shipped state. While not really a game, it allows us to see more than just a video, we can move through and interact with the environment. The demo presents us with a mixture of cutscenes, quick-time events, and open-world exploration. Some interesting features include the ability to toggle between day and night, as well as visualize the Nanite system in action.

Only available on either the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S, currently there isn’t a PC demo available. This limits too much performance analysis of the engine itself, but given the visuals that they are able to produce, the prospect of having a similar scene running on an NVIDIA RTX 3090 or RTX A6000 is tantalizing, to say the least.

It is worth noting that this demo was also worked on by The Coalition, developers behind the Gears of War games as well as some other Unreal Engine tech demos. They have a long history of pushing the boundary of what Unreal Engine is capable of and have announced the next installment of Gears will use UE5.

Hellblade 2: Senua's Saga

With the first Hellblade, Ninja Theory cemented itself as a game developer that can seamlessly blend cinematic experiences with gameplay. Their latest trailer shows their upcoming sequel running in real-time in Unreal Engine 5. Materials and lighting are phenomenal, and the animations are flawless, especially for something running in real-time, presumably with player input. This video really shows what sort of cinematic experiences are possible with this new engine. So far, there is no word on what hardware this demo is running on, the target platforms for the game are the Xbox as well as PC, so I suspect it is high-end PC equipment. With several months before the game’s expected release, there are bound to be additional performance optimizations.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of the potential of Unreal Engine 5 for cinematic experiences. This could be for game development or Virtual Production, or even ArchViz. While the only estimate for a final release of UE5 is still only “Early 2022”, and the current Early Access build has some issues that need to be addressed, it does look as if the final release is right around the corner. Hopefully we’ll hear more on what improvements Epic has implemented specifically for cinematic and virtual production workflows. From what we’ve seen so far, UE5 should provide an incredible platform for those looking to make truely cinematic experiences.

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