In the early days, video game technology advanced in dazzling leaps and bounds, from a few pixels to countless pixels to polygons to whatever they use in The Last of Us Part 2. With games achieving the level of visual fidelity they do now, it’s hard to be impressed with mere “realism.” That said, it’s not impossible, because I've spent the last 15 minutes staring at a YouTube video of an empty train station that, if no one told me it was an Unreal Engine 5 demo, I would have sworn was real.
The footage comes from 3D environment artist Lorenzo Drago, who replicated Toyoma, Japan’s Etchū-Daimon station in Unreal Engine 5, with the stated goal of getting as close to photorealism as possible. Enhancing the effect is a virtual camera that moves around like a smartphone would, vertical orientation and all.
The result is incredibly effective. The sound of cicadas and station loudspeaker announcements enhance the immersion, as the light reflects off of damp concrete with remarkable detail. The only thing that feels off is the flashlight effect used to depict the scene at night. It just looks like a video game flashlight, awkwardly centered and emanating from nowhere in particular.
While this isn’t necessarily an indication of what games will look like in Unreal Engine 5 — rendering people and their interactions with inanimate objects is a whole other ball game — it is the tech powering a bunch of big upcoming games, and it’s exciting to see developers toying with it to see what it’s capable of — from a Matrix simulation to a very cool PlayStation 5 demo.