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Bullet Train speaks the language of game engines and violence

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When a commercial makes you a killer

There is no way to reload your guns while playing Bullet Train. You simply throw them down and pick up new ones, or teleport to another section of the level to try a new firearm. Some areas have grenades you can pick up or throw, or even drop at your feet before teleporting away to watch the surrounding enemies die in the explosion.

Bullet Train is Epic's latest showstopping VR demo, and the elevator pitch was "Toybox with guns." The Oculus-developed Toybox demo has the player playing ping pong and throwing balls into the air. Epic wanted to create something with the Touch motion controllers that allowed you to blow the ever-living shit out of everything you saw.

They've pretty much succeeded in that goal.

Why they do this

I sat down with Nick Whiting and Nick Donaldson from Epic to discuss the hows and whys behind the demo after I was given a chance to play it a few times. I had enough time to get creative; I was throwing guns in the air to try to catch them and testing my ability to blind fire while not aiming down each weapons' sights. The motion controllers felt perfect; it was like being the hero in an action film, untouchable and godlike in your ability to enact violence on everyone around you.

bullet train 3

The demo will likely be made available in the coming months, if not weeks, so developers can play with Bullet Train and see how Epic was able to pull it off. The game runs on Oculus' minimum spec for the Rift, which is an impressive feat. I had assumed the demo, at its rock-solid framerate, was running on a much more expensive rig. That sense of exceeding expectations is part of the reason Epic creates these demos.

"We optimized the hell out of it to make it work," Nick Whiting told Polygon. "A lot of rendering optimizations and stuff came out of that. The alternative reason we do these demos is to see how far we can push the visual bar, find out which parts of our pipeline kind of suck."

The best way to show off what Unreal Engine 4 can do, it seems, is to make it do impressive things. By creating these demos Epic is able to see what aspects of the engine can be improved or optimized, and at the end of the process they have an amazing tech demo that proves what can be done on the recommended specs of a machine built for the Oculus Rift.

The demo isn't fun to watch. The enemies don't do much other than run at you to be shot. You never feel like you're in much danger. But playing it makes all those criticism go away; you stand like an immortal angel of death in the train station, mowing down everything around you, flicking in and out of existence as you teleport from area to area. You are the most deadly thing in the room, and I felt a rush of adrenaline as I dropped to one knee, pointed my gun straight up, and put a round through the underside of an enemy's head.

Bullet Train is many things. It's a showpiece for Epic, and it will serve as a working example of what the engine can do on a consumer-level gaming PC. It's a great way to show off the Touch controllers of the Rift. It's also a strange look at the difference between how a game feels to play and how it looks on video. What Bullet Train does well is hard to describe in words, but makes perfect sense once you're inside.