There's something about a tech demo that is super exciting. I think it's the fact that you're seeing a glimpse into what is possible. The Matrix Awakens tech demo, built using Unreal Engine 5 and only available on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S, offers that window into the future. It might be an odd thing to say, given we're more than a year into the life of these new consoles, but aside from a baby's handful of titles, few games have shown what next-gen really means for this generation of games.
Unreal Engine 5 has impressed before, of course, a demo shown off to highlight what is possible on PS5, turned heads over a year ago, but The Matrix Awakens is different in that you (it's on the PlayStation store and Xbox store right now) can play it. It's not a complete game, by any means, but there's an on-rails shooting sequence that takes place from within the backseat of a speeding car, then a city to wander, fly, or drive around.
Playing on Xbox Series X, the initial on-rails shooty bang bang sequence is the most visually impressive from an in-you-face spectacle point of view, with cars exploding and spinning violently out of control as you shoot out tyres. Gameplay here is rather limited, but there's a definite "OK, wow, this is cool" feeling to the whole thing.
After this you get some tech examples, but then you're given a city to walk around, or fly through, or drive in. I was less wowed by this, initially. City streets rendered nicely are super common in video games these days. The sense of "wow" fell away, at least for a moment.
The controls listed on the side of the screen suggested I press Y to fly. And fly I did, high into the air and the city revealed itself below, in phenomenal next-gen glory. There is no sense of quality degrading in the near distance. It's a beautifully realised virtual world, without any discernible pop-in.
Back on the ground I activated Photo Mode and began to appreciate the quality of the city even more. It's the closest to real I've ever witnessed in a playable video game - perhaps even more so if you turn the Matrix filter off. The night time lighting is a highlight, but the whole thing impresses when you take a moment to take it all in.
What's most exciting about all this is that this isn't a demo built to dazzle without a thought for what impact adding proper game elements would have. In an excellent technical article on FX Guide, it's said that there are plenty of CPU resources left to handle game mechanics, so what we're seeing here visually is indeed possible in a full game.
As someone who stared agog at an angular T-Rex walking around an empty screen on the original PlayStation, seeing demos like this is incredible. Roll-on the UE5 games coming in the future.