A wealth of Unreal Engine 5 games are finally here – so how are the consoles coping?

November 29, 2023
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After years of waiting, Unreal Engine 5 is finally here with a decent roster of full games to look at, beyond the tech demos and samples we had in the past. The early results have been mixed, with some titles exhibiting UE5’s merits convincingly while others have been bogged down by image quality or performance problems. Yet there’s one question that hasn’t been answered quite as well: how well do these technologies scale to console systems? Today we’re looking at the current state of Unreal Engine 5 on PS5, Series X and Series S to evaluate how the technology fares in early game efforts.

The key takeaway from my experiences with Unreal Engine 5 so far is that the core feature set works. Lumen global illumination (GI) solves indirect lighting in real time to a high degree of fidelity, producing great-looking shading in most circumstances when set up correctly. Lumen reflections similarly help to light glossy and semi-gloss surfaces correctly, giving them good-looking reflective detail. Virtual shadowmaps overcome the limitations of cascaded shadowmap techniques to deliver super-fine shadow detail, with accurate variable penumbra in some cases. Meanwhile, Nanite delivers high-quality meshes with a continuous level of detail system that simplifies asset production and prevents LOD popping.

In the few games where these techniques are combined effectively, we do see a pretty tremendous uplift in visual quality relative to games on Unreal Engine 4. The lighting detail in UE5 titles is superb, even in games that are only making use of the software UE5 rendering mode, which isn’t using hardware ray tracing. You get lots of fine indirect lighting, reflections, and shadows, with each technique showing fidelity that wouldn’t really be replicable in a last-generation game. In broad strokes, the tech works. But when we do an in-depth look at some of the console versions of these games, the results can be a bit more mixed at times. We’re going to look at PS5 and Series X first, before moving onto Series S later.

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