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Game review: Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC)
Mon, 18th Nov 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Read Dead Redemption 2 released last year on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to critical acclaim. As a full-on Wild West simulator, the level of detail and the depth of the game was a bit too much for some players. The action, whilst intense, is punctuated by long dialogue-heavy journeys on horseback, and less bombastic tasks such as hunting and crafting.

PC owners, somewhat more attuned to this level of deep gameplay experience, had to wait all this time to get their hands on a game that, if I'm honest, seems like it was made for PC. It's a shame that the last game never made the leap from console to PC as the original Red Dead Redemption still holds up as an Xbox One Enhanced title.

The game's PC launch was probably not as smooth as Rockstar would have liked with, ironically, Rockstar's own game launcher locking out a majority of PC players for a few days. The techs at Rockstar got onto it and I believe most people now have the game up and running. The use of yet another publisher's game launcher to play is still contentious, but likely the way of things now.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) is a prequel to the first game. The game follows Arthur Morgan, a member of the Dutch Van der Linde gang. The protagonist of the first game, John Marston, was a former gang member in Red Dead Redemptionand appears as a younger man in RDR2. Similarly, many of the locations from the first game are significantly less developed that the last game.

Dutch's gang has a slightly warped code-of-honour, which reminded me of a Wild West version of the Sons of Anarchy biker gang from the TV show - both being slightly unrealistic and toned down in order to better suit their role as anti-heroes. Rather than the man vs. wild exploits of John Marston in the first game, RDR2 has Arthur Morgan very much part of a wider gang community looking after and supporting each other.

The game starts with the gang on the run following a robbery going wrong in the town of Blackwater. Fleeing into the mountains, the gang's caravan fight their way through a blizzard as they look for shelter to lie low and lick their wounds.

The first mission sends Arthur Morgan out to look was one of the gang's more wayward sons, John Marston. We get to find out the origins of his nasty facial scarring.

This snowy intro to the game is the perfect showcase for the PC version's enhanced visuals. As great as the game looks on console, and it does look amazing on Xbox One and PS4, the graphics have been given a massive boost on PC. High resolutions, better models, better lighting and increase draw distance make RDR2 on PC the definitive version of the game.

Of course, to view this visual feast you will need an appropriately powerful PC. Rockstar have included a wealth of options that can be tweaked to get the best experience for your equipment. As long as you are not silly about it, you can still get a beautiful-looking game experience even with a modestly-spec'd recent gaming rig.

The game runs using Vulkan as the default graphics API, which I thought was interesting, but with DirectX 12 available as an option. In theory Vulkan should give players a better graphical performance, however, there is talk that DX12 offers a more consistent frame rate, if not the highest frame rate.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a complex game. On the surface, as the outlaw Arthur Morgan, players must engage in missions to progress the story and earn money.

But there's a lot more to it than that. Arthur has to do his fair share to provide food, money and upgrades for the gang's camp. He has a horse to maintain, guns to keep clean. There are animals that need hunting else he'll go hungry. Eat too much and he'll get overweight. The animal pelts can be sold or used to craft new equipment. On top of all that, there are bounties to be hunted, wagons to be stolen, horses to be tamed and banks to be robbed. Or how about a few hands of poker?

It's a vast game, both in terms of the huge map and the scope of things to do. There are loads of opportunities for emergent gameplay. Simple tasks can get easily get out of hand. Press the wrong button and instead of entering into a trade with the butcher, you may accidentally shoot him dead. Then you've got the law to deal with and a bounty on your head that need paying before you can set foot back in town. I watched as a cart was clipped by a train, and the subsequent, spontaneous gunfight between the cart driver and the train guard. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is very much alive.

It's not a simple game. If you've the focus to single-mindedly carry out each main mission without getting side-tracked, not only are you doing it all wrong and missing the best that the game has to offer, you're a lot more disciplined than me. RDR2 is a slow burn, best played at a leisurely pace. I've had short sessions that have seen my percentage complete increase substantially, but I've other, longer, more fulfilling sessions, whereby I've been hunting or just causing mayhem, and the percentage has hardly changed.

But it's not just the in-game content that provides distractions.

New for PC is the photo mode. At any time, when not playing a cut scene, you can pause the game and position the camera in the scene and take photos. You can adjust the lens type, focus, exposure and a host of other options. There are even filters to stylise your shots or make them look like period photos. With the PC graphics looking so stunning it's easy to get caught up in capturing the game's beauty.

You can post your favourites photos up to your feed on the Rockstar Social Club site. If you want to use the photos elsewhere, like social media, it may be worth capturing them with a third-party app (like the game capture facility built into the NVIDIA Experience software), as there's no easy way to access the full-resolution photos taken by the game engine at the moment.

The tale of Arthur Morgan in the story mode is only half of the game. Red Dead Online takes the open-world action and makes it a multiplayer affair. In Red Dead Online the map from the single-player game becomes the lobby, shared with up to 32 other players. I don't know if it's just because it's early days, but unlike Grand Theft Auto Online (Rockstar's other online foray), every interaction with other player in the open world didn't end up with one of us getting killed.  

If you choose to ignore Red Read Online because you don't enjoy multiplayer modes, you are missing out on a big chunk of the package. Rockstar have come a long way when it comes to delivering a persistent online experience. Not only does Red Dead Online give you the whole game map to explore, the dynamic world has its own story for players to experience. The PC version features all the updates and improvements that console owners have been drip-fed for a year.

Players can choose to play Red Dead Online as a totally new, unique character - male or female, and clothe them in their own style. PC players then can forge their own tale and become online bounty hunters, collectors or just roam the wilderness waiting for the story to come to them, and it will.

Red Dead Online is a freemium product in that players are welcome to play the game for free as part of Red Dead Redemption 2, but can use real money to purchase gold bars and access extra items and packs. As a bounty hunter, I did earn some gold for my trouble, so you can grind your way to fortune, if you desire, or drop some real cash for some in-game wealth. Dotted around the map are a variety of multiplayer events and activities some co-op, some more traditional multiplayer match types. Some of the missions require matchmaking with at least one other player in order to proceed. A few times I couldn't find another player which held things up.

Whilst technical issues with the mandatory Rockstar Launcher stopped me from accessing the game for a few days after release, they were then 100% fixed for me. I did get kicked out whilst playing online quite a few times. The message informed me that it was an error on Rockstar's end and not mine, but it was still a bit annoying.

If you've the PC for it, the PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge improvement over the console version, which is really saying something as the game looks fantastic on PS4 and Xbox One. The game is a true masterpiece, overing players a glimpse into a bygone age just as civilisation finally takes hold of the old west. The incredible solo game is aptly complemented by a huge online element that promises to continue to be refined and improved in the years ahead.

Verdict: 10/10