Feature Article

Red Dead 2 Is A Worthy PC Port, For The Most Part

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I have to insist.

About a year after the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, a proper port has landed on PC. Rockstar's latest game was highly anticipated and subsequently critically acclaimed for its gripping story, expertly crafted open environments, and multitude of gameplay systems that connected you to the world itself. After much internal deliberation, we awarded it our 2018 Game of the Year. All that made Red Dead 2 a special experience remains intact, and after about 10 hours with it on PC, it's apparent that the things unique to this version further support the notion of the game being one of the generation's best.

Red Dead Redemption 2 As A Visual Experience

As with any PC port of a console hit, the potential for higher graphical fidelity is one of the biggest draws, given the appropriate PC hardware specs. You have a slew of options in the graphics settings, including resolution (native 4K and 1440p), ambient occlusion, three types of anti-aliasing, global illumination, and settings for the quality of textures, shadows, and lighting. You're also allowed to tinker with the nitty gritty like grass shadows, tree quality, shadow distances, and much more. Although niche, Red Dead 2 has native ultrawide 21:9 support as well. However, cutscenes that use letterbox-style black bars still get cropped and don't take advantage of the aspect ratio.

A significant part of the Red Dead 2 experience lies in it being a visual showcase; the scenic views and details found in the dense forestry, snow-covered mountains, open plains and sludgiest mud are all in service of drawing you into its vast world. Throughout the game, you build a relationship with the environment, especially when so much time is spent navigating it on horseback while taking in all the pretty vistas. Without a doubt, the game looks incredible with every option cranked up to its highest setting--even compromising to "High" or "Medium" as opposed to "Ultra" on a few settings still presents you with stunning sights. That said, visual prowess came through on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro consoles, which expertly conveyed the natural beauty of Red Dead 2's world. There's no doubt the game looks gorgeous on a powerful PC, but you shouldn't expect it to be transformative compared to high-end consoles--in fact, the biggest difference comes with the unlocked framerate on PC.

Native ultrawide 21:9 support makes for some incredible screenshots.
Native ultrawide 21:9 support makes for some incredible screenshots.

While console versions run around 30 fps, the PC version is only limited by the settings you use and your PC's capability. My rig is equipped with an Intel Core i7-7700K CPU, Nvidia RTX 2080 video card, and 16GB of RAM, and with a mix of "Ultra" and "High" settings using 2560x1080 (21:9) and temporal anti-aliasing, I was usually able to maintain 60+ FPS. Occasionally it would dip below that golden number in chaotic firefights and more crowded areas, though not by much; Red Dead 2 is a demanding game. Of course, this isn't a competitive shooter where high framerate is absolutely crucial to your success, but it certainly enhances the action. It naturally helps with manual aiming and keeping track of enemies in fights, and it's easier on the eyes when everything happens in silky-smooth motion--having a high framerate makes for a much more pleasing experience overall. If you're unsure of what settings to use, the game includes a benchmark tool that evaluates your machine's performance to help ensure a steady framerate.

All these graphical options can also be put to use in the new Photo mode, which is not available on consoles. Here, time pauses to let you capture a moment from any angle possible. You can freely move the camera, change lens FOV, add filters, and change exposure and depth of field, and it's a nice touch. For a game that places this much emphasis on graphical fidelity, it's only natural to include this feature.

Controlling Arthur Morgan (And His Horses)

Red Dead 2 is one of those games that plays more sensibly on a gamepad than keyboard and mouse. And thankfully, the PC version has native controller support for both DualShock 4 and Xbox One controllers, with the same button mapping as their console counterparts at the ready. There's a multitude of mechanics and contextual actions mapped to a controller, and it might take a few hours of fumbling around with the controls before it clicks.

Speaking of clicks, keyboard and mouse works well for the most part. Again, it'll take time to get acquainted with how you interact with the world, but it's nice to have customizable key mappings and a mouse cursor to navigate its systems. Granted, Red Dead 2 isn't the type of game to tacitly require keyboard and mouse controls like a competitive FPS, though I find firefights a fair bit easier with the precision of mouse aiming.

There are specific instances where more needs to be done before fully embracing the PC control scheme, however. Shuffling through your inventory to highlight different items has to be done with the arrow keys; you can't hover with the mouse to read details, and clicking initiates the act of using them. Movement can be clunky overall, but in the instance of dashing with your horse, pressing A (left) or D (right) causes your horse to slow down and turn 90 degrees rather than slightly adjust course. These are minor annoyances in the grand scheme of things.

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Hold Your Horses, Is The Game Stable Now?

The day Red Dead 2 went live on PC, many players (including myself) were met with several game crashes. I was able to conjure up a solution that included tinkering with settings under Safe Mode and ensuring that the game was rendering with the DirectX 12 graphics API. While this worked for me, it remained unplayable for others. By many accounts, however, those issues have been resolved via an update that came out late launch day and a follow-up patch the day after. But as is the case with PC games with known technical issues, your mileage may vary.

There are smaller, less critical bugs to note. Sometimes trees will act erratically, jittering in what looks to be glitching in object rendering. On rare occasions, some characters' mouths won't move if you talk to them in the open world. But for the most part, when the game is up and running, it works as you would expect.

Still One Of The Generation's Best

It's great to see a landmark game make it to yet another platform, opening itself up to a bigger audience who can now experience it (or replay it with some extra bells and whistles). From a content standpoint, the PC version of Red Dead 2 has a bit more going for it, such as added bounty missions, new horses, extra weapons and trinkets, and a new stranger. These add-ons are largely inconsequential to the core of the game and you'll have to sink a good amount of time to get to most of them, but they are included nonetheless. And if you're interested in Red Dead Online, this multiplayer component is part of the package in full.

The prospect of mods is another appealing part of having a PC version, and they're starting to trickle in as more people get their hands on the game. If you're not familiar, mods are user-created tweaks (either major or minor) to game files that you then install manually or through third-party means; these can range from modified game mechanics to visual alterations. Given the nature of the ridiculous and creative mods we've seen in Grand Theft Auto V, we expect to see wild things in Red Dead 2's future (and we're off to a decent start).

As you take on the role of Arthur Morgan, and fight to survive alongside the Van Der Linde gang and dig deeper into the drama that unfolds, the best aspects of the game begin to reveal themselves. You move from one camp to another across America as the Wild West era dies down, understanding a vast world that's as beautiful as it is ugly in the process. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a case where its visual prowess is inseparable from its identity, which the PC version delivers on, given the right specs and the overcoming of technical issues. For a more detailed evaluation of the full game, be sure to read our original Red Dead Redemption 2 review from when the game first launched on Xbox One and PS4.

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Michael Higham

Senior Editor and Host at GameSpot. Filipino-American. Ask me about Yakuza, FFXIV, Persona, or Nier. If it's RPGs, I have it covered. Apparently I'm the tech expert here, too? Salamat sa 'yong suporta!

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

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