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New PS5 demo for Unreal Engine 5 shows off gameplay footage that rivals a Marvel movie

By Benjamin Bullard
A scene from Unreal Engine 5 demo from Epic Games

If the whiz-bang sights and sounds that mark the cream of the next-gen gaming crop don’t end up reminding us a little of our favorite Marvel movie, at least we’ll know not to blame the tech. In a mind-blowing new video demo, Epic Games (yep, the same folks behind Fortnite) have served up our best look yet at the near-cinematic look and feel that tomorrow’s games can achieve — while incidentally giving us a preview of the PlayStation 5’s code-crunching power in the process.

Epic took the wraps off its upcoming build of Unreal Engine 5 today in a 10-minute demo that, according to technical director of graphics Brian Karis, was fully powered by an offscreen PlayStation 5. Titled “Lumen in the Land of Nanite,” the entire thing runs in real-time — meaning we’re not just looking at pre-rendered scenery — and features a Lara Croft-like character skulking the ruins of a remote, Tomb Raider-style hideaway.

It’s as close as mainstream gaming comes to putting you in the middle of a movie — a movie that you control:

There’s plenty of light tech talk in the video, but the bottom line, as Karis puts it, is imbuing the next generation of games “with movie-like effects that players control.” Ancient statues gleam with “detail down to the pixel,” insects scatter on a dark floor wherever you shine your light, and far horizons retain the same graphical fidelity as the closest nearby object.

Unreal Engine isn’t the only game-making toolkit in town, but it’s definitely one of the biggest. If you’ve played games or watched TV, chances are you’re already well exposed to its handiwork. Previous versions of Unreal have been used to make blockbuster games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Borderlands 3, Mortal Kombat 11, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Final Fantasy VII Remake — to name only a few.

It goes beyond gaming, though: Unreal renderings turn up everywhere from the Weather Channel to car commercials. Remember that insane behind-the-scenes VFX reel that ILM showed off to explain how they created the lavish landscapes and interiors for Season 1 of The Mandalorian? All that was done in Unreal Engine, too. There’s even a cottage industry of software-savvy gaming hobbyists who daydream up, with keyboard and mouse, what Mario, Samus, and Link would look like running around in Unreal’s detail-rich environments.

The current version of Unreal Engine isn’t exactly lagging in the graphics department, and both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are reportedly equipped to take on the early wave of games already in the works with Unreal Engine 4 that’ll launch when the new consoles debut this fall. Epic says Unreal Engine 5 should be ready sometime late next year — which means we’ll be getting used to what our shiny new consoles can do just in time for a new crop of games to blow our minds all over again.