On Wednesday, months of speculation, rumors, and perceived promotional advantages turned trivial as Epic Games unveiled an Unreal Engine 5 tech demo running real-time on PlayStation 5. It was the first real-time demonstration with the chops to capture the imagination. The next-gen vision come to life.
Aside from the glut of jaw-dropping moments, it was a coup for Sony and the PlayStation 5. And, the timing could not have been better.
This time last week, people were left muddling through the confusion of Microsoft’s Inside Xbox next-gen gameplay reveal. With little to no gameplay to speak of and an underwhelming roster of titles, Microsoft’s misfire was all too clear. It prompted the platform holder to publish an apology of sorts, recognizing it had mismanaged expectations.
Any momentum built up to date from Microsoft’s pitch-perfect promotional march to date, came to a grinding halt. The good favor garnered from Microsoft’s transparency and generous feed of Xbox Series X details evaporating as the company fell short when it mattered most.
Fast forward a week, and Microsoft’s blunder is all the more glaring after Epic delivered on what many expected from the Xbox Series X showcase.
Most remarkable of all is that all this happened with Sony sitting on the sidelines. No spokesperson; no official PlayStation 5 branding. It would be disingenuous to say that Sony wasn’t involved behind the scenes: Epic explained that it’s been working closely with Sony throughout the development of Unreal 5 and the PS5 .
Nevertheless, Epic Games took the helm, and Epic CEO Tim Sweeney carefully navigated around any mention of the Xbox Series X, despite repeated pokes from Geoff Keighley, and understandably. Mentioning the direct competition would be inappropriate, but the degree to which the CEO heaped praise on the PS5 went far beyond any ‘bigging-up’ contractual obligations.
Talking about the PS5’s SSD in particular, Sweeney threw around lauding accolades such as ‘world-class,’ ‘best in class in console,’ and the ‘best on any platform, better than high-end PC.’ Going to so far as to state that the tech demo ‘would absolutely not be possible at any scale without these breakthroughs that Sony’s made.’
There’s wisdom in tempering expectations here and not presumptuously asserting one console as superior to the other.
Whether that be siding with the PS5 based on the only genuine look at next-gen gameplay we’ve had to date (there’s plenty more to come from both sides), or predict better performance on the Xbox Series X because of its higher teraflop count . We’ve only scratched the surface of the hands-on player experience of the two machines and how they may or may not compare.
After all, the highly-optimized tech demo is a snapshot of Unreal Engine 5’s potential rather than a baseline expectation for the next-gen. Developers will invariably take some time to decrypt and harness the capabilities of the new engine and, more importantly, maximize its features for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. And, of course, determine any potential performance differences between the two.
The reality is that we may never experience anything on part with yesterday’s demo.
Additionally, Unreal Engine 5 won’t launch in earnest until mid-way through next year , further pushing the window of when we can conceivably expect games of a similar visual fidelity.
Yet, if we take pre-launch tech demos from previous generations, then games are likely to match and even surpass what Epic revealed yesterday. Take, for example, the Unreal Engine 4 real-time PlayStation 4 tech demo published shortly before the console came to market.
Looking back, it safe to say that titles released for PS4 in the past two years or so have broadly improved on what’s on show here.
Few would argue that Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Death Stranding, and even the slightly older Horizon Zero Dawn, don’t outclass what, at the time, was seen as a peek at the untapped potential of the next generation.
There’s much to be excited about. But, there’s still a long road ahead until we are playing games that match Epic’s tech demo, whether on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X.
Yet, as uncouth as it may sound, gamers are a fickle bunch. Short of players having the console and the games in their hands, a next-gen console is only as good at its most recent showcase or reveal.
By that measure, the PlayStation 5 is winning the early next-gen stakes.