The Matrix Awakens didn’t blow my mind, but it convinced me next-gen gaming is nigh

The Matrix Awakens single-handedly proves next-gen graphics are within reach of Sony and Microsoft’s new game consoles. It’s unlike any tech demo you’ve ever tried before. When we said the next generation of gaming didn’t actually arrive with Xbox Series X and PS5, this is the kind of push that has the potential to turn that around. And it’s free to download on those consoles right now, so you should really give it a go.

Just don’t expect it to make you question your reality — the uncanny valley is still alive and well.

I jacked into The Matrix Awakens today after watching our exclusive interview with Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss — they play Neo and Trinity, I’m sure you know — and hearing breathless praise around its Game Awards debut. At first, I was wowed by how realistic Keanu Reeves looks off the bat, but if you watch closely (in the demo or video atop this post), you’ll see that the character models get less and less impressive as time goes on.

Screenshot by Umar Shakir / The Verge

We go from a veritable doppelganger of Reeves that must have been at least partially real-life footage, to uncanny valley puppetry (what robot is wearing Keanu’s skin?) to cutscene-quality video game avatars, to finally just fairly average video game characters roaming around a world with no particular purpose. From a “digital humans” perspective, the illusion breaks pretty quick.

Getting a little more uncanny…
Screenshot by Umar Shakir / The Verge

It honestly reminds me a bit of the original Final Fantasy VII, where Cloud, Tifa, Barrett and Aerith might look quite different depending on whether you were playing a battle, watching a cutscene, or traversing the world — because even though developer Square could produce state-of-the-art graphics, there weren’t resources to give everything the same level of polish.

Image: Epic Games

But from a “is it time for photorealistic video game cities?” perspective, The Matrix Awakens is seriously convincing. It’s head-and-shoulders above the most photorealistic video game cities we’ve seen so far, including those in the Spider-Man, Grand Theft Auto and Watch Dogs series. Going back to look at videos of those games, even the most recent ones that added real-time raytracing, their cities look game-like by comparison.

Screenshot by Umar Shakir / The Verge

Despite glitches and an occasionally choppy framerate, The Matrix Awakens city feels more real, thanks to Unreal Engine’s incredible global illumination and real-time raytracing (“The entire world is lit by only the sun, sky and emissive materials on meshes,” claims Epic), the detail of the procedurally generated buildings, and how dense it all is in terms of cars and foot traffic.

Screenshot by Umar Shakir / The Verge

And the most convincing part is that it’s not just a scripted sequence running in real-time on your PS5 or Xbox like practically every other tech demo you’ve seen — you get to run, drive, and fly through it, manipulate the angle

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