Epic Games has recently released a new demo by the name of The Matrix Awakens. Set against the backdrop of the titular world of The Matrix films, the Unreal Engine 5 demo looks well, Unreal even by modern standards. It’s technically still a demo, sure – but it does serve the purpose of highlighting what’s possible with the power of this new engine as well as modern hardware. Let’s take a look.
The Matrix Awakens has some impressive lighting technologies running under the hood, with the biggest one being, of course, Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen global illumination system. There are no additional sources of light except athe sun and some emissive materials on the sky meshes. The demo showcases plenty of ray-traced reflections for the use of indirect reflections – from the bodies of cars reflecting themselves as well as the surroundings on their glossy interiors to the pristine reflections of the world on mirrors and water puddles on the ground.
There’s also the use of volumetric fog and smoke, which can be seen in plenty during the car chase sequence. The sky model also seems to be utilizing some sort of photogrammetry as can be easily done through the use of Unreal Engine 5’s archives, which are all wrapped around some really dense and high-quality meshes. It’s a really ambitious setup of modern rendering techniques being used to such a degree, the likes of which were previously reserved only for pre-rendered in-engine or cinematic footage.
The Matrix Awakens has a ton of character models, which are supremely detailed with gargantuan polygon counts. The skin has a high-quality mesh, and even the rather dull-looking lifeless NPCs that are created from the MetaHuman toolbox are a significant margin above what current-gen games have been offering up until now. Of course, the main characters like Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) are stars of the show and appropriately have some really great detailing including but not limited to the seemingly geometric rendering of individual strands of Keanu’s beard.
The hair physics also looks much more realistic, and there’s a lot more attention to detail in the facial animation department as well with spot-on motion capture and skin meshes reacting to the facial animation in a very realistic fashion. The materials on the clothes also have their own impressive physics and have their own high poly counts textures and meshes as they fly around – especially during the bullet-time sequence at the starting of the demo. The full-body animation gives it all away in the starting sequence, else it’s almost impossible for an uninformed person to distinguish whether the characters – at least the main ones – are animated or not.
Environments And Streaming Technology
The Matrix Awakens is set against the backdrop of the world of The Matrix, which is a huge city filled with a ton of buildings, and it dwarfs many open-worlds that have been released in recent times. The buildings have some impressive visuals, with high-polygon count surfaces made even more palatable and believable through the use of Unreal Engine 5’s Nanite technology. This same level of fidelity can be seen in the plenty of roads as well, all of which have small reflective puddles that coalesce to form a richly detailed terrain that’s also incredibly realistic. The terrain also reacts to bullet impact, as loads of debris fly all over the screen – as seen in the car chase sequence.
Car models, which again are plenty in number, are also highly detailed with exquisitely-modeled interiors and exteriors. While The Matrix Awakens is a tech demo, by all means, it is rendering a huge open-world without any form of loading screens. The Nanite technology also offers an infinite level of detail scaling with pop-in, which especially shines in this case. Of course, the vast memory pool of current-gen consoles and the tight integration between the SSD and other components provide a lot of help in this case – but what’s here is still really impressive.
Destruction And Other Physics
Unreal Engine 5 has a highly reactive destruction system, which is referred to as the Chaos Engine. It shines brightly in the case of The Matrix Awakens as well, as both cars and other buildings are detailed physics objects that systematically destruct based on the direction and the severity of the impact. The car destruction works beautifully during the car chase sequence, as shooting the tires sends the high-speed cars flying out at great speeds – although it needs to be mentioned that’s more of a set-piece than an actual demonstration of the system. You can drive around the city in a variety of cars, which can be rammed into other cars on the roads and side-paths – which to be honest, isn’t the best demonstration of the physics system as it can cause some hilarious accidents with cars floating around roads like weightless objects.
The Matrix Awakens has a pretty robust post-processing pipeline, with heavy use of per-object motion blur and depth of field effects being used in plenty. There’s also heavy use of volumetric effects and alpha particles in the presentation as well, as sparks and dust particles fly all over the screen when a car takes a sharp turn, or an explosion takes place. The demo also relies heavily on the use of Temporal Super Sampling to create a pristine-looking image to maintain performance levels.
Performance And Conclusion
Using a bevy of highly-taxing modern visual effects alongside a huge open-world free of loading is, as you might imagine, not easy on the CPU and GPU of even the current-gen consoles, even with the higher TFLOPs and SSDs. Much like what fans would expect from a movie, the game is locked at 24 frames a second and can even go lower if the scenario puts too much stress on the engine as well as the hardware. This can be seen while driving around the city in a vehicle – with performance levels starting to dip below the target as soon as you hit, say, 80 mph when there are some cars around.
In conclusion, The Matrix Awakens is a great showcase for the power of current-gen hardware and the possibilities it presents us for the future. The litany of visual effects and modern rendering techniques come together beautifully to create a virtual reality that isn’t far from the reality we live in. It’s certainly not perfect or consumer-ready for that matter – and it shouldn’t be, for it is ultimately a tech demo. If you have managed to get your hands on a PS5 and Xbox Series X, for the asking price of nothing – it’s definitely worth a try.
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