Many developers feel that Unreal Engine 4 is at par, if not better, than the Unity 5 game engine. We will here compare Unity and UE4 on the basis of key parameters, and find how the two perform in each regard.
The results of a Develop 100 survey last July, which showed that Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 had outvoted Unity 5, came across as a surprise to many industry experts. However, if the two game engines are examined in detail – it would be evident that there is not much to choose between them, and the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) can in indeed very well hold its own against the Unity3D framework. In what follows, we will do a Unity vs Unreal Engine 4 comparative study to check out how the two game development engines stack up against each other:
- The learning curve – With its user-friendly UI and plethora of online tutorial support, Unity3D would probably edge this round. It’s very much possible for professional indie mobile app developers to get the hang of the engine within a week or so – and start making small games. Unreal Engine 4, on the other hand, takes a little more time to get used to. Although it is way simpler than its complicated predecessor, UDK, a newbie in the domain of computer graphics can be at a loss, while working with UE4 for the first time (please note, it is NOT a complex engine per se, and only requires more time to learn).
- The price factor – At a cursory glance, Unity might seem to hold the aces from the price perspective, for startups at least. There is a free version of Unity available for download, with which game developers can start out. However, this version lacks many of the engine’s best features – and for professional purposes, upgrading to the rather expensive Unity Pro (at a monthly charge of $75) is often necessary. Unreal Engine 4, however, has no free version whatsoever – and can be used by paying a fee of $19 per month. The only bone of concern is the additional 5% royalty charge, which, according to many app developers, does not make much sense.
- Quality of graphics – Unity 5 offers great visuals in its own right, but even so, it is not even in the same frame with the graphics output of Unreal Engine 4. Developers who wish to make really gorgeous games would be well-advised to work with UE4 instead of Unity. There is a general opinion that the graphics of Unreal Engine appear more realistic than those produced by Unity. In any case, the free Unity indie version gives only mediocre visuals, and to get even close to the quality of UE4 – getting the license to the Pro version is required.
- Utility for making mobile games – Both Unity 5 and Unreal Engine 4 CAN be used to make mobile games – but while the latter offers better visual graphics, Unity remains the first-choice for dedicated mobile game developers. The reason is simple enough – even the free version of Unity offers full support to all the major mobile platforms, and is generally regarded as more convenient for relatively smaller projects. Buying the license for Unreal Engine 4 would be a smart move, only if the projects are of larger size (and not simple Android games!).
- Erratic behavior – Many mobile game development experts working with the Unity tool have reported that they have lost access to updated installs – due to changes in the hardware (at times, this error happens even when no changes have actually been made). Since installs become inaccessible, returning the licenses (via the same unresponsive installs) is also not possible. Unreal Engine 4 does not have any DRM at all, which rules out the possibilities of such errors.
- Built-in editor – Once again, there is nothing bad about Unity’s editor – but it sort of pales into insignificance when compared with the UE4 editor. The degree of precision attainable in the latter is amazing, and objects can be exactly positioned on the playground. Now compare that with the positioning of objects in the Unity editor, which is at best, ‘approximate’ (at least there are no visual confirmations). The UI of Unreal Engine 4 is more flexible and less prone to crashes than that of Unity3D. In a nutshell, UE4 has a more professional, streamlined feel than Unity – which, in comparison, looks like an entry-level tool.
- Asset store resources – While small-time game developers might have some reservations over purchasing new assets for different purposes in Unity – the fact remains that the asset store of this tool is much better stacked than what Epic has managed to do for Unreal Engine 4 till date. Both the asset stores have general game props and characters, but from the Unity asset store – you can get custom software for motion capture, intuitive animation tools, and a whole lot more. However, since UE4 has been launched less than a year ago – there is a general expectation that its asset store would expand in future.
- Required system specifications – Another point where Unity steals a march over Unreal Engine. The latter is positioned as a full-blown new-age game engine – and as such, does not support systems like PS3 and Xbox 360 (which are comparatively older). An AMD Radeon HD card (or similar card) is required for Unreal Engine to function properly. Unity, on the other hand, supports games for mobile platforms, new console systems like Xbox One and PS 4, as well as their predecessors. Developers can install and start to use UE4 on a low-spec machine, but if the game is large and complex, there are bound to be problems later.
- Ease of debugging – Hunting out program bugs is possible on both the engines – but on Unreal Engine 4, the task is that much easier. All that game developers have to do is let the gameplay start in the ‘Overdraw’ or ‘Shader Complexity’ view, and look out for red spots (if any). In Unity, users have to manually match the ‘Scene’ view with the game camera, and look for probable glitches. It is significantly more time-consuming.
- User-support – When Unreal Engine 4 was released for public use last March, most game makers expected its customer support to be rather patchy to start with. In that regard, the Epic team has amazed all users with its top-notch customer support. People can seek clarifications to their questions regarding UE, and get proper responses really soon. If anything, the user support of Unreal Engine is a couple of notches better than that of Unity.
A major drawback of Unity, according to most indie game developers, is the absence of Profiler in its free version (which makes detection of gameplay problems difficult). On the other hand, there is still room for improving the iOS and Android deployment of Unreal Engine 4. It is, at least for the present, not a full substitute of Unity – but there are many areas in which UE4 would rank ahead of the latter. In essence, Unity continues to be the best engine for making mobile games, while Unreal Engine is the ideal choice for games for PCs and consoles.