Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC review: The game now works and it's beautiful

Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC
Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC (Image credit: Rockstar Games)

One day I decided to pick up a bounty — I had nothing better to do. So I followed the map to a cliffside near a river where I found the criminal in question: a self-proclaimed medicine man whose snake oil led to many deaths in the nearby town.

Of course, bringing him in alive wasn't going to be easy. He wasn't going to come along willingly, and even worse, after resisting, he slipped and fell into the raging river below. I attempted to chase after him, galloping down the river banks. He wasn't going super fast, and I knew where to go, so this sounded easy.

The game is still a sprawling, technological marvel that shines most in the meandering moments.

Unfortunately, my horse (named Hey Thur Horsey because I'm creative) wouldn't turn when I needed him to. When I tried to cross the river, my horse got stuck on a rock. When I tried to move him beyond it, nothing happened. When I was finally able to move him, my horse slowly trudged forward, turned slowly, and attempted to cross. However, by then, my bounty had died, and I had to restart.

There's little difference between Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC and on consoles. The game is still a sprawling, technological marvel that shines most in the meandering moments. It's a title that's easy to get lost in; even if you have a quest to do, you'll spend a while tracking the deer that got away or turning off the road to see what you find. What does differ is how that technology works.

Red Dead Redemption 2 came out in 2018, so this review isn't comprehensive. I don't care about the story, the characters, the pacing, or the attention that Rockstar games paid to make sure horses will poop in the middle of rendered cutscenes. What I was curious about was how the game played on PC. Is it worth buying again to play at your desk or a good purchase for people who play strictly on PC rigs?

It's all still an achievement in games technology. However, with new controls and some new features, including a more streamlined photo mode and new missions, the game feels both fresh and old, heavy and clunky, but also smooth. I can feel relaxed knowing I'll hit my target with my rifle but frustrated because movement slows the game down.

To address the big horse in the room

If you read Windows Central often, you might have noticed that I had issues playing this game. You might've noticed that a lot of players have been having issues, to the point where Rockstar Games had to issue multiple patches for both the launcher and the game. I had to wait a week to play the game unencumbered, and even then, I was plagued with the game not booting unless I turned off my antivirus software and occasional crashes.

Rockstar took a week to release an official statement on the matter, along with a note on a fix specifically for NVIDIA users. As of this writing, most of the technical issues are gone. I can launch the game and play it on medium to high settings. My game would constantly crash when entering a new town. Every time I would die, or the game would crash, my Arthur would respawn without his hat. Why couldn't Arthur keep his hat on? I have no idea. Either way, all of those issues are fixed.

In the long run, this launch debacle will become a blip in the long history of the Red Dead Redemption franchise — another entry in the long list of games with tumultuous launches and imperfect ports. It's not unplayable like other games, even released this year, have been. This was many people's Game of the Year in 2018; a week of constant patches and updates isn't going to tarnish the series' reputation.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get into the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC What I liked

Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC

Source: Rockstar Games (Image credit: Source: Rockstar Games)

I first started playing PC games more out of necessity than preference — it was more cost-efficient to put money into a proper rig that I could also use for work than to buy a console — but I've become keen on the controls. My aim is more accurate, and I feel like I have more control over slight movements. Being able to hit one key to break into a sprint feels more efficient than clicking on a joystick, or having to hit a trigger button and another one to activate an ability. Being on PC gives you a larger range of play, which is why I stuck with it.

There isn't ray tracing here, but it feels like there is.

Red Dead Redemption 2 was an already complex game on console. There are so many things the player is capable of doing with that it feels like the system was almost built for the advantages of PC. There's a key for just about every interaction; almost the entire keyboard is utilized. Press "H" to whistle for your horse, press "G" to pet your horse, press the spacebar to read a letter you pick up.

The extensive control scheme does result in some confusion, especially early in the game, as you go through the (extremely long) tutorial. I found myself looking into the control settings a few times to remind myself that "V" wasn't melee like it usually is in other games. There are also some instances where the same action might need different inputs based on the context. Going into different interactions might require different controls -- spacebar in one or "R" in another, for example. This would've been more of an issue if the scenarios where this occurred weren't so minor.

Sometimes, however, the controls can be too complicated, especially when the UI isn't always the clearest. It's tough to tell when you have to click on the left or right mouse, or when you have to tap a button repeatedly to perform an action. This resulted in some more serious mistakes.

Otherwise, the game and the controls just work. With a mouse and keyboard, I find that I can make small adjustments or aim more precisely. Since Red Dead Redemption is the type of game filled with moments where these adjustments can mark the difference between life and death, it feels effective. Dead Eye, the feature that allows you to slow down time and set up shots, is, therefore, more effective.

All of that is made better by how optimized the game is now on PC. Minus the aforementioned launch issues, if you're able to run the game on higher settings, you'll see just how much effort was put into making sure the light reflecting off the water hits your eye just right, or how added detail on vegetation or fauna makes the whole environment look more photorealistic. There isn't any ray tracing here (the technology that uses machine learning to render realistic lighting effects in real-time), but it feels like there is. Rockstar also improved draw distances so you can see even further into the already beautifully-rendered horizon. Even if you have a lower-end PC, you can take advantage of what the PC version has to offer graphically.

A bonus to all of this is the improved photo mode. While the console version had one, it was limited to Arthur's in-game camera. Here, all you have to do is hit F6, and you'll be able to adjust filters, depth of field, angles, and anything else you want. With a click of the mouse, your photo will save, which is a great way to take advantage of how great everything looks.

Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC What I didn't like

Red Dead Redemption 2

Source: Rockstar Games (Image credit: Source: Rockstar Games)

Being on PC opens up a whole new world of controls to use and settings to play around with, but it comes at an overwhelming price. It sounds weird to emphasize, but there is just too much.

As evidenced by how much the game gives you to do, Rockstar almost put too much into how you can optimize the game. The settings are numerous and confusing for the less technically minded of us. Red Dead Redemption 2 will attempt to choose the optimal settings based on your PC specs, but it's not exact, so there's still a lot to play around with. For example, I found that dropping the recommended graphics API from Vulkan down to DirectX 12 did wonders for consistency. To ensure the game absolutely did not crash, I also lowered the aspect ratio and resolution. The game still looked great.

Red Dead Redemption 2 was many players' Game of the Year in 2018 for a reason.

Along with all the graphics settings are ones for your controls, where you can redo the key bindings. This is standard in most games, but because there are, once again, so many controls, to fix it up becomes overwhelming, or a case of trial and error. Most of the default key bindings worked for me, or I got used to them, but some — like how Caps Lock is used to activate Dead Eye, aren't optimal.

You'll most likely want to go into these settings too because, unfortunately, the one area where the PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 suffers a bit is in movement. It always felt heavy, which is in line with Rockstar's mission statement concerning realism, but it feels even heavier here.

I've been thinking a lot about why this is. It seems to come down to how movement works on a PC. Since it's more precise with WASD and a mouse, it means you're making overcorrections more often, which can cause either Arthur or his horse to, for instance, run into a rock and stop dead in their tracks. This isn't always a problem and can be rectified with practice, but it's still a bummer. Combined with the now excellent shooting, Arthur feels like both the greatest sharpshooter in the Old West and a clumsy buffoon who doesn't know how to ride a horse. That disparity can take you out of the experience Rockstar so desperately wants you to feel.

Bottom line

Red Dead Redemption 2 was many players' Game of the Year in 2018 for a reason. Minus issues surrounding how the studio crunched on seemingly unimportant features to get the game out, it's astounding. Its PC port only shows how real that all was. Not only does it look great on the PC, it somehow looks better.

The technological issues at launch put a damper on the whole release, but now that most of them have been fixed, it might be a game worth picking up. With new features and new missions, it might even be worth the purchase for fans who already owned it on a console. There are some weird issues with the controls and settings, but the whole thing adds up to what the game clearly wants to be: an immersive open-world campaign set in the Old West that attempts to recreate the highs and lows of the experience for modern audiences.

Arthur can barely ride his horse to pick up that bounty, but he's still killer with a rifle. And he can ride that clumsy horse that loves to poop into the beautifully rendered horizon. Isn't that what Red Dead Redemption 2 is all about?

Carli Velocci
Gaming Lead, Copy Chief

Carli is the Gaming Editor and Copy Chief across Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. Her last name also will remind you of a dinosaur. Follow her on Twitter or email her at