I think this is the first time I’ve had to hop on a call with PR to ask “So… which intro sections were real and which were in Unreal Engine?” What followed was a conversation where we went shot by shot and outlined what is real and what is “Unreal.” That scene from Neo’s room in the first film? Unreal. Some Intro shots with Keanu? Real.
The visual results are ultimately a mix. For the majority of the time, you can tell the demo was made in Unreal Engine 5 But in those first few moments where you’re questioning everything, it’s clear Epic is showing off. It is a testament to what they managed to accomplish that I even had to have this call. But while the introduction probably showcases some of the most difficult to distinguish moments, from the time Carrie Anne Moss comes on the screen forward it’s all clearly Unreal Engine 5.
The entire demo enters that uncanny valley feeling from there. I think cynics are going to call out how, yes, things do look a tad plastic-y, but the “trick” the Unreal team pulls here is quite cheeky. They’ve already been showing you the engine and reality mixed together for the first 2 minutes of the experience.
Matrix Awakens isn’t just a visual teaser, however. There’s a playable component as well, but what you “play” is more a proof of concept than what you should expect from any final product. Really, it’s a chance for the team to say, ‘Yes. You can absolutely make an open-world game in Unreal.’
The demo opens with what amounts to a trailer where Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss talk about the ideas of the Matrix and what the Unreal 5 engine can create. You are then transported to an on-rails game experience where you’ll play as a new character with the ability to shoot some cars and helicopters as you’re chased by agents on the freeway. Of course it all ends with a massive explosion. Finally, you’re allowed to explore the city at your leisure and toy with some of the engine’s tools.
As I look at what’s been created I can’t help but compare it to Insomniac’s Spider-Man Miles Morales. Their recreation of New York City had ray-tracing, heavy crowd density, as well as traffic that’s procedurally generated the same way it was in the Matrix demo. One difference? Similar to how they made the Valley of the Ancient demo publicly available this year, The Matrix build will be given away for free next Spring for you to tinker around within the Unreal 5 engine. And I can’t wait to see what the Unreal community does with it. If someone out there could make a certain flying man in blue and red I’d certainly love to see it.
“It’s a tech demo, it’s not a game. there’s a little bit of gameplay, a little bit of exploration. But… it’s a glimpse of the future.” says Jerome Plattteaux, Art Director at Unreal as he talks us through the tech. “Basically we are the little swat team that tries to come up with ‘Okay, how are we going to show the [Unreal] engine the best?’…How can we show that the engine can do something else other than just rocks?” referring to last year’s Lumen demo.
The end goal is to inspire other creators to use the Unreal 5 Engine so Jerome notes that Matrix Awakens was created by a small team after shipping their Unreal Engine 5 demo last year. Because they needed to work fast, the entire city was made with procedural generation. They would rebuild the city weekly resulting in 52 unique cities that they would create, tear down, and then create again quickly with a little help from tools like SideFX’s Houdini for said procedural generation. They showed us how you could quickly paint roads onto the map, add large sections of “buildings” that they quickly decide the height of, and then create an all-new world in what seems like would only take a few moments.
In this new world, you can fly to any street location, change between night and day, or move the sun or moon around the world as you watch the dynamic shadows powered by lumen stretch across the streets in real time. You can drive cars and crash into any of the 17,000 simulated and destructible vehicles. Or just fly around and admire the architecture from the air as you toggle on the different views to see just what goes into creating a city that consists of 10 million unique and duplicated assets.
When you add to the fact that this entire space has hardware ray tracing turned on, as well as ray-traced shadows in the cinematics, it’s hard not to be a little impressed. Especially if you peek behind the menu and get a look at the in-engine controller as it scrambles to load all the assets in the background as you push it to its limits.
The entire experience is campy, and even has one of those “look directly at the camera and wink” moments, but the technology on display is truly impressive. I think that some people may criticize the Matrix experience at the end of the day, but my big takeaway? Excitement. Once you realize that this is the technology that will be powering our games for years to come it’s hard not to get giddy about the potential on display. It’s very clear they aren’t trying to wow everyone with a great “game” here, but instead show off a wide variety of tools that are sure to push the games we do get a few years down the road to their limits. And for that… I’ll see how deep the rabbit hole goes any day.
Destin Legarie is a Director of Content Strategy at IGN. You can follow him on Twitter if you want, but he may be busy playing Halo.
Source: IGN Video Games All