Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC: More frames, more volumetric beauty, no Steam


After years of waiting, we finally have a Red Dead Redemption game on Windows PCs… and it’s the newer one from October of last year. Tuesday morning marked the PC launch of Red Dead Redemption 2—now available for purchase exclusively through the Rockstar Games Launcher for $60 and up—so we grabbed a copy to see how this PC port turned out.

The meat of it all comes in the attached galleries, which all include near-max settings at native 1440p resolution and the game’s temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) toggle turned to “high.” I’ve only tested enough to get through the campaign’s opening snowy portion, though the game’s built-in benchmark mode (below) includes plenty of outdoor footage.

In good news, RDR2‘s PC port works as a pretty, settings-cranked-high alternative to last year’s console release. Its most obvious upgrade comes in the form of an unlocked frame rate. In one morning of testing, I was already able to crank performance (after downgrading a bunch of settings) to an apparent 120fps-and-up threshold, although random performative spikes—usually triggered by sharp cuts in cinematic scenes—made me glad I had a variable refresh rate monitor.

Otherwise, my 1440p gameplay worked with near-max graphics settings at roughly 70fps, which only required a settings downscale of the game’s “distant volumetric” settings (which got me nearly 18% of my frames back with zero apparent difference in terms of visuals). Keep that toggle in mind if you’re using a system weaker than mine (i7-8770K, RTX 2080 Ti, 32GB of DDR-3000 RAM, SSD drive).

In bad news, RDR2‘s facial and body animations were never built for these kinds of high speeds. What looks tolerable and fine enough on a console, locked to 30fps, comes off a bit last-gen when the camera sway and particles run at higher speeds. (To be clear: all animations of up-close characters appear to run at organic speeds, as opposed to some weird lock on 30fps. Whether that’s the same for NPCs rendered in the distance isn’t yet clear.)

But that’s more of an issue during cut scenes than in the live gameplay. Riding a horse, ducking into cover, and pumping vagrants full of shotgun shells feels so much better in this version of the game, especially when you go into your graphics card menu of choice and toggle low-latency settings. RDR2 famously came with control latency issues on console, and while you’re not going to get the immediate twitchy response of a shooter in this PC version, we’re back in respectable tap-and-response timing thanks to the luxuries of the PC platform.

One more detail about the PC version lands in both the “good” and “bad” news columns: internal resolution scaling. Should you wish to crank up settings and still lock a 60fps refresh, you can pick some simple toggles to bring total rendering resolution down to a fraction like 50%, 75%, 90%, and so on (or go crazy and get up to 120% and more, if you’re on a workstation). However, Rockstar has elected not to implement any kind of dynamic resolution scaling system, which could have simplified PC users’ efforts to stick to either 30fps or 60fps with fewer hassles. (To be fair, this is consistent with the console versions, which also skipped any dynamic resolution scaling options.)

In order to play this version of RDR2, you’ll need to use the Rockstar Games Launcher, either by pumping it full of payment information or by using a partner service like Epic Games Store, which still redirects the game itself to load via RGL. For now, there’s no way to purchase or download this game via Steam; Rockstar has clearly followed the likes of Epic, EA, and Ubisoft in using its own launcher to sidestep other retailers’ percentage fees. A Steam version will reportedly follow in December of this year, though it looks like it too will require the Rockstar Games Launcher, much like how the Grand Theft Auto V PC version was patched to require RGL earlier this year.

The bad news in the case of RDR2‘s launch on Rockstar Games Launcher came from the obnoxious pre-load process, which added a painfully long “decryption” process to my Tuesday morning installation. (In spite of my loading the game on my SSD the night before, I still had to wait 40 minutes for its 110GB install to unlock itself.) Other than that, the Launcher worked fine enough, particularly in terms of its cloud save feature working as advertised (though I only tested that on a single extra system as of press time).

Dig through the galleries for more context, including an explainer on how Rockstar has buried the ability to rebind controls until you’ve loaded the campaign and hit the pause button—better than nothing, but still an accessibility barrier as of press time.

This article has been updated to clarify the ability to rebind controls and the game’s availability on third-party services.

Listing image by Rockstar Games



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