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Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is exactly what you think it is

2018’s biggest game looks and runs even better

a man in a cowboy hat and tan jacket, Arthur Morgan, aims a bow at a deer while he’s riding through shallow water in Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar Games
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Just over a year after its release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 will arrive on Windows PC. The PC version, which Rockstar Games developed itself, debuts Nov. 5 on a variety of digital storefronts — including the new Rockstar Launcher — although it will not be available on Steam until December.

After spending an hour playing the PC port earlier this week at Rockstar’s headquarters in New York City, I can report that it’s exactly what you probably expect: a gussied-up version of a game that already wowed everyone last year with its gorgeous rendition of the Old West. In fairness, Rockstar isn’t pitching it as anything more than that. But there is one entirely new feature that doesn’t exist on consoles — a proper photo mode, one that’s not limited by the player character’s turn-of-the-century camera.

As Rockstar announced in October, the PC version does include some new playable content, although it all seems like minor additions rather than anything significant. For instance, three of the four new weapons, and two of the new horses, are already available in Red Dead Online. And the new quote-unquote mission, which comes from a stranger in the world, amounts to an herbal collect-a-thon. In other words, if you already own Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4 or Xbox One, you won’t be missing much if you decide not to double-dip on PC. (Unfortunately, you will indeed be missing it: Asked if Rockstar is planning to bring the PC port’s bonus content to the console versions, a spokesperson said the company has nothing to announce at this time.)

Really, the point of the PC version is to deliver the highest-fidelity version of Red Dead Redemption 2. And Rockstar certainly appears to have succeeded there.

In case you’re wondering about the origins of Red Dead Redemption 2’s PC port, a Rockstar representative confirmed that it was part of the company’s plans from the start. It’s possible that the one-year lag time between the console and PC releases came down to a business decision — what better game to kick off the Rockstar Launcher than one that has already sold more than 25 million copies? But another reason is Rockstar’s general process, under which the team that develops the original game then helps to port it to PC.

As someone who hit the 100-photo capacity of the in-game camera (or rather, the Rockstar Games Social Club) fairly early in Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4, I’m thrilled that there’s an actual photo mode in the PC version. It’s accessible from the pause menu by pressing F6, and just like the photo modes in games such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, it allows you to freeze the action and tweak photographic settings until you’ve created the perfect image.

Options include a camera angle that’s tied to the player character, as well as a free-floating camera; it’s limited to a decent radius away from the protagonist, so you can’t just fly anywhere in the world. You can set the depth of field (called “blur strength” here) and the focus distance, and adjust or lock the exposure. Special effects allow you to alter the image with 19th-century filters, such as daguerreotype and tintype, as well as more modern treatments. And once you’ve saved a photo to your Social Club gallery — whether you took it in the photo mode or with the in-game camera — you can slap stickers and custom text on it.

I wasn’t able to fully explore the photo mode during my limited demo, but I did take the time to try it out on a number of occasions, and I was able to capture some arresting images with ease. If I pick up the PC version, I could easily see myself whiling away the hours in the photo mode. Because I’m weird like that.

Everything in the game, both in action and in static scenes within the photo mode, looked absolutely incredible during my session. I played an early mission in Valentine, the first proper town you come across after the snowy prologue. After engaging in some mud wrestling with a much bigger opponent, I watched a cutscene in which Dutch arrives with an old associate of the gang. Arthur looked so detailed that I felt as if I could reach out and wipe away the mud caked on his face. Later, when I rode north of town, I saw clouds of powder floating around trees, blown off the branches by a breeze. And from high up in the mountains, I pulled out Arthur’s binoculars to gaze southward, where I could see a rail bridge many miles away — an indication of the PC port’s increased draw distance.

Rockstar’s demo rig was a beast, packing an Intel Core i9-9900K, 32 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti, with the game installed on a 1 TB SSD — enough to run it at a smooth 60 frames per second in 4K resolution. The port offers all kinds of graphics options for tinkerers, including separate level-of-detail settings for geometry and grass, but it also provides a top-level holistic slider between “quality” and “performance” if you don’t want to get into the weeds.

It’s worth noting that while Rockstar demoed the game on an RTX graphics card, the PC port does not include any real-time ray tracing effects — at least for now. Asked about the possibility of adding support in the future, a Rockstar representative sent over a statement indicating that it’s not out of the question.

“We chose to spend our time adapting, enhancing and optimizing existing solutions rather than implementing something new at this time,” said associate technical director Alex Hadjadj. “That said, it’s something we’re interested in and we’re continuing to explore all kinds of software and hardware graphical upgrade solutions.”

a steam train crosses a bridge over a river at golden hour in Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar Games

Of course, plenty of players will look to deliver those kinds of upgrades themselves through mods. Rockstar reaffirmed its stated policy on mods, which is that it has no problem with them as long as they’re non-commercial mods that are for single-player story modes and they don’t infringe on anyone else’s intellectual property.

As for Red Dead Redemption 2’s online component, Red Dead Online, it will go live on PC at launch. It won’t offer any cross-platform play, and everyone will have to start fresh — unlike with Grand Theft Auto 5’s Grand Theft Auto Online, there won’t be an option to transfer existing characters from the PS4 or Xbox One versions. On the plus side, the PC version of Red Dead Online will launch with everything that’s currently available on console, including the Frontier Pursuits, or roles, that debuted in September. And after the PC port is released, Red Dead Online will get the same updates across all three platforms simultaneously.

To Rockstar’s credit, the company says it worked to ensure that the PC version is playable on a wide range of hardware configurations. But for the people who already own Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4 or Xbox One, the main draws for the PC port are likely mod support and the ability to run the game at 60 fps (or higher) with all the settings turned up. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s enough to justify rebuying the game.

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