It’s almost hard to believe that it’s only been a year since Red Dead Redemption 2 launched for console systems. The PC version includes all of its glorious, open-world gameplay along with some additional content and major graphical enhancements. Although the graphical upgrades may strain low to mid-range systems, the beauty and expansive open world could make these upgrades worthwhile. However, there are a few issues with the port that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The dying days of the Outlaw Era
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place during the waning days of the Wild West, as the Van der Linde gang gradually makes its way toward its final sunset. But there’s still plenty to do while the gang struggles to survive. Tasks include everything from fishing and hunting for food, to being a bounty hunter, robbing trains, and plenty more. There’s so much to do in this vast open world that I often lost myself in it, shooting animals between missions, or saving up for much-needed upgrades to the gang’s campsite.
Players take the role of Arthur Morgan, who must use his skills as a gunman and outlaw to help everyone survive, even as the law closes in on them. The narrative is quite expansive and is almost sure to consume days or even weeks of your life without you realizing it.
Tutorials are expertly integrated into missions, so you can learn the many different game systems as you play. Additionally, the game seems to go out of its way to be as authentic as possible, such as having to manually cock single-action guns or turning things like looting bodies and skinning animals into relatively long and time-consuming actions. All the while, players need to keep their core health, the weather, and even their cleanliness in mind. Otherwise, these can negatively impact what Arthur can do.
The good news is that the game does have streamlined functions like fast travel. The bad news is, it seems to only work one way. But I grew used to these mechanics, and they ended up immersing me more deeply into the world. Using a mouse to quickly and precisely aim also helped make some of the shootouts much easier, especially when combined with time-slowing focus to take out people behind Gatling guns.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s PC features hit some snags
The PC version features a host of content that wasn’t available for the console versions, but that fact is easy to overlook if it’s not explicitly pointed out to you. They include extra Bounty Hunting missions, a couple more treasure maps, a list of new weapons, horses, and more.
What truly makes an impact are the PC-specific features, particularly the high-end graphics and the genuine photo mode. Graphical enhancements include longer draw distances compared to the console version, which is remarkably handy for hunting… or just taking in the view. The PC release also includes better lighting and shadows, high resolution textures, and tessellation to make plants and animals appear more lifelike than ever. The final results are quite stunning.
However, balancing between beauty and performance can be quite a task and may require a fair bit of experimenting. Even after running the benchmark a dozen times to fine-tune the settings, I’ve experienced frequent graphical stutters.
It wasn’t uncommon for the game to drop from around 50 frames per second (FPS) to around 35 FPS, then jump back up just as quickly. Also, it didn’t seem to matter whether I was riding in open plains or down narrow streets. These little hiccups happened everywhere, and occurred even when I tuned the graphics down to medium, so they almost seem arbitrary. I noticed that the game reads frequently from the hard drive, so that might be a factor, even though I have the game installed on an SSD. It’s possible that these stutters happen as the game loads in new areas.
The weird thing is that the delays aren’t limited to the in-game graphics. There’s a noticeable lag with the menu system too. Menu options like save slots don’t always highlight immediately when you click on them, which usually means using the keyboard to navigate if you need things done quickly.
But even though the stuttering is annoying, it’s not game-breaking. I never felt as though a stutter threw off my shots or caused me to die. On the other hand, the game did crash on me a few times during the worst possible moments – like when I had just cleared a bandit camp or hunted down a hard-to-catch animal.
So, maybe Red Dead Redemption 2 could have benefitted from a little more development time, but then PC players wouldn’t have a chance to get into this incredible world.
Running from the law
For me, the most frustrating thing about Red Dead Redemption 2 wasn’t necessarily the technical problems. It was with being an outlaw. Specifically, it was how incredibly difficult it can be to be a bad guy (or even a good guy) in the Old West.
Players usually have a limited time to loot mission area before the law shows up to start shooting. Even if you ride off quickly, these lawmen have some sort of Arthur-seeking detector, and they’ll find you wherever you are unless you can get out of the search zone.
Additionally, people will turn you in for the dumbest things. I once shot what I thought was a wild turkey and someone reported me for animal abuse. Searching the body of someone who tried to kill me got me reported for looting. Accidentally bumping my horse-drawn wagon into someone else’s got me tagged for vandalism.
Despite being able to put on a mask, the law will almost always home in on you. Even if they’re unable to make an arrest, they’re still able to put bounties on you. There’s no such thing as doing things quietly, either. Breaking into a room and using silent arrows and throwing knives to slaughter everyone inside before they can fire off a single shot does nothing. Lawmen will still come flooding in from everywhere to put bullets through you.
It’s about here that having high accuracy ended up being kind of a bad thing. I could mow down lawmen by the dozen. But the more people I killed to get out of a situation, the higher my bounty got, causing bounty hunters to appear from out of nowhere to chase me down.
Even after paying for minor infractions, nobody lets you forget about that time you accidentally killed some guy’s pet turkey. You might as well wear one around your neck like an albatross. My question is, why doesn’t anyone ever run to the cops when people suddenly start shooting at me for no reason?
Additionally, if there’s any game that desperately needs a quick save function, it’s Red Dead Redemption 2. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find one when scrolling through the keyboard controls, which limited me to manual saves. However, players may be prevented from saving during certain points, such as during missions or at times when someone is talking at you.
Making it in the Old West
Playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC is kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a deeply immersive game with breathtaking graphics. On the other, you’ll probably need hardware that’s well above the recommended system requirements to get the most out of the game. Even then, you’ll have to deal with more than a few strange gameplay quirks.
But after sinking so many hours into the game, I can say that it’s all worth it. The campaign tells an amazing story, and finally managing to upgrade your camp and loadout is fantastically rewarding. The PC release also happens to be the fullest in terms of content and features. So, if you haven’t played the game before on consoles, the PC edition is definitely the one to have.
It reaches a point where, even when you’re not playing Red Dead Redemption 2, you’re still thinking about playing it and checking off everything on your long to-do list before riding off into the sunset.