Anime Tokyo shows Unreal Engine 5’s potential for things that aren’t brown dirt

Yes, yes, yes, Unreal Engine 5 is all very impressive and borderline photorealistic and whatnot, but it’s hard to deny that a lot of the tech demos which have hit the headlines to date have been… well, boring. Attempts at realism are certainly a specific aesthetic choice that developers can make — but what about if someone wants to make something a bit more stylised? Is Unreal Engine 5 any good for that?

That’s the question that independent developer and artist Yan Ru has been attempting to answer with their Anime Tokyo project. Listed on Steam with the intention of releasing in Q4, 2023, the creator describes Anime Tokyo as “a free public art experience” rather than a traditional video game — though it’s clear that they have some ambitions for the project beyond simply being something nice to look at that you can wander around.

While the Steam version of Anime Tokyo is yet to be released, you can, in the meantime, check out an early demo of what Yan Ru is trying to achieve with the project via their ArtStation page — and it’s already looking quite impressive. So let’s take a look!

Anime Tokyo Unreal Engine 5 demo

Anime Tokyo’s current demo covers a relatively small but very detailed area around Shibuya station, complete with the famous scramble crossing. The world is populated with a few cars and NPCs wandering around, but it’s nowhere near as busy as the real thing. What is quite striking, however, is how the environment captures a nice balance between believable realism and stylised visuals.

This is at least partly achieved by the number of real-life brands on display everywhere; rather than using anime-style bastardised fake brands, Yan Ru has simply taken a snapshot of the real Tokyo as it exists at a specific point in time and used that as the basis for this interactive model. It’s surprising how much more believable it feels with “real” things on the posters, billboards and buildings.

Anime Tokyo Unreal Engine 5 demo

Upon startup, Anime Tokyo gives you the option of visiting the map under several different conditions: sunlight, an overcast sky or “Anime+” style. The latter heavily saturates the colours and gives a strong blue-purple tint to everything that is strongly reminiscent of a number of popular anime movies we’ve seen in recent years. This helps increase the “fantasy” nature of the visuals considerably, but still keeps the believable, immersive nature of the environmental design.

Anime Tokyo Unreal Engine 5 demo

Anime Tokyo also features a photo mode, whereby you can customise the overall look and feel of the visuals still further. While not all of the effects and customisations appear to be implemented just yet, you can do things like play with chromatic aberration, depth of field, colour balance and a number of other settings to give a distinctive look and feel to the images you create.

It’s possible to output these photos in high-quality .png format at up to 4K resolution, too, even if your PC isn’t quite up to the job of running the “game” itself on its ultra settings. One thing that does tend to stand out a bit right now is how the characters look a little uncanny; the relatively realistic lighting and shading on them makes them look more like plastic dolls than actual anime characters.

We still have a way to go in terms of getting real-time 3D graphics to look like “anime” — though as certain games such as Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Strive have demonstrated, it’s not entirely out of the question. This may be something that Yan Ru might want to look into once a firm base for the project as a whole has been established.

Anime Tokyo Unreal Engine 5 demo

On the whole, though, Anime Tokyo shows an impressive amount of potential, and demonstrates that Unreal Engine 5 doesn’t have to be used for boring old western-style open worlds full of mud, grass and rocks. If developers get themselves into a position where they can back up the visual fidelity and detail of Anime Tokyo with a significant interactive element — it’d be great to be able to go inside some of the buildings, for example — then the potential future applications for video games are very exciting indeed.

So what’s next for Anime Tokyo? That remains to be seen at this point, though it looks as if Yan Ru intends to incorporate some additional maps into the mix, as well as more weather conditions to experience Tokyo in. Their previous work has included similar 3D models of anime-style small towns, so it would be great to also be able to wander around those as part of the Anime Tokyo package — perhaps with the ultimate intention of making the game as a whole a sort of “virtual sightseeing and photography” kind of experience.

If you want to try Anime Tokyo for yourself, you can add it to your wishlist and follow its development on Steam, and download the current demo for free from ArtStation.

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Pete Davison
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