Well partner, we made it! They said the journey would be a hard one, but I didn’t reckon on it being so long, nor quite so arduous. But, gosh darn it’s beautiful out here, and as the Lord above as my witness, it was well worth the saddle sores!
Red Dead Redemption 2 really made PC gamers wait. Almost a year after releasing on console it finally hit reviewer, and player PCs a month ago. Just when I thought I was about to jump into its well-worn leather saddle, I was headed off at the pass by the worst technical issues I have ever experienced in any game in my life. Red Dead 2 was dead on arrival, which made reviewing it literally impossible. You can read about that here. But now after numerous patches, and a hardware upgrade I can finally share my thoughts on the PC version Rockstar’s western epic. And wee doggy it’s a good’un!
This is not my first rodeo, my Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4 review was published a year ago, and in short, I loved it! Apart from a couple of stumbles at the start and some consolitis with the frame rate and resolution, I considered it one of the best games ever made. My second time journeying through the dying remnants of the “wild west” with Arthur Morgan was somewhat of a revelation, and I was able to better appreciate all that Rockstar has done in bringing the Red Dead world to life. If you want a little more of the nuts and bolts of what RDR2 is, I recommend reading the PS4 review. Below, I paint in broader strokes about the game with some PC specifics sprinkled in for flavour.
I still do not like how Red Dead Redemption 2 opens, but I can now better appreciate it for what Rockstar has attempted. We open with the Van der Linde Gang trekking through the snow, starved, exhausted, and on the run after their last heist went horribly wrong. We follow Arthur Morgan, gang leader Dutch’s right-hand man as he and the others attempt to find shelter and evade capture. This relatively on-rails section still irritates me with its pedestrian pacing and laboriously drawn-out conversation sequences that feel rather artificial, and far less organic than the story-telling found in the rest of the game. The closest I can compare it to are tacked on voice-overs found in Blade Runner, only not as egregious, nor as jarring, but equally as inelegant in their execution. That being said the revelation when you finally exit the cramped snowy mountains and enter the forests and the rolling plains of the game proper is literally jaw-dropping.
Even though I do not own an RTX card, I was floored by the beauty of the world I saw before me. What this game must look like on a bleeding-edge machine must be awe-inspiring. But even at 1440p with medium to high settings, Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily the most visually stunning game currently available on PC. From the forests to the rivers, and the wide-open plains every single visual aspect of the game is utterly breath-taking. But it is not just these grand vistas that will trigger that sharp intake of breath. It might be spotting a deer bathed in dappled sunlight grazing among sheltering pines, or catching sight of a fish darting through the gentle flow of a river as the sun plays across the rippling surface, or watching the grass and trees move in unison with the wind as you ride through the rolling hills. It could be cresting a hill and watching ominous storm clouds roll in, slowly drowning the light with only a few diffused pillars struggling against darkness, only to be eventually swallowed whole by the premature night. Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is visual poetry.
So taken was I with the visuals that I spent the next couple of days just wandering the world and taking in the sights, not something I could afford to do the first time with an embargo date to hit, and a lot of story to get through. But now with the freedom to just explore, I could better appreciate just how deep the world itself is, and how each of its many elements work with each other. This is how open-world games should be made; wide-open spaces with emergent gameplay moments that occur organically. If I had to level a criticism at Rockstar, it would be that they still have not managed to integrate their storytelling into their open worlds elegantly. They feel distinct and separate from the free-form exploration the game does so very well. That is not to say the story elements are bad, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth - the issue here is that they feel somewhat disconnected, or more accurately stitched onto the open world rather than part of it.
But, as I said, the story itself is fantastic. Arthur’s journey is dark, nuanced, and occasionally very funny. And unlike many games, it has a complete character arc for him and a few of the game’s key players. Having completed the story twice now, the emotional punch at the end is just as powerful now as it was when I first experienced it. The Tale of Arthur Morgan will go down as one of the greatest stories ever told in video games, and I have no doubt it will stand proudly at that position for many years to come. There have been criticisms against Rockstar on how it handles story and that its missions have not evolved since GTA 3, and that is a fairly accurate statement to make. It, however, is not an indictment, in my opinion. How Rockstar delivers its story content works, and the missions themselves are great vehicles for those story elements. It is only their rigidity in relation to the open world that can detract from the overall experience. The absolute fail states that can occur can feel artificial when compared to the rest of the game. Instead, if Rockstar was to take a page from CD Projekt Red, or Larian Studios and allow missions to have multiple endings depending on your actions that then feed back into the game world, I could well be talking about the best game ever made, rather than one of the greats.
I loved Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4, but I absolutely adore it on PC. 60+ frames a second is the only way you should play the game. It solidifies the gunplay by adding responsiveness, which really comes to the fore when using a mouse and keyboard. When playing on PC, I felt like a gunslinger. The smooth frame rate enhances the experience of travelling the world. It feels more real, more realistic, and allows the game to fully express itself visually. With all the various visual enhancements the game has to offer, mouse and keyboard controls, as well as the improved performance, playing on PC, is how this game should be experienced. After the last patch and newest Nvidia drivers I had zero technical issues with the game, and after tweaking my in-game settings, I was able to maintain a solid 60fps at 1440p. 4K is beyond my rigs capabilities at 60 FPS, but I can hit a stable 30 fps, and with much higher settings, it puts the PS4 Pro version to shame. But, performance is king and in front of my 1440p G-Sync monitor is where I prefer to park myself when I play RDR2.
Only the tiniest fraction of PC games will be able to play Red Dead Redemption 2 at 4K, with Ultra Settings, and at 60+ frames per second, but that should not dissuade you from picking this game up if you have a much more modest gaming rig. With some patience, you will find settings that work for you, and you will no doubt be looking at a version at least as beautiful as the console version, but likely even purdier, and substantially more responsive, and even more enjoyable.
+ Stunning visuals (even on less than cutting edge hardware).
+ Best in class open-world design.
+ Exceptional emergent gameplay.
- Story and open-world are not seamlessly integrated.
- You need an RTX card to truly experience the games beauty.
- Took weeks for me to be able to actually play it.