In Theory: What Kind of Improvements Could A PC Release of Red Dead Redemption 2 Bring?

In our third and final part of this series, GamingBolt’s Arjun Krishna Lal theorizes PC hardware specs requirements and visual improvements a PC version of the game could bring.

Posted By | On 24th, Oct. 2018 Under Article, Graphics Analysis

It’s hard to be a PC gamer and a Rockstar fan at the same time. While Rockstar’s opuses do have a way of eventually making it onto other platforms—including your phone, the company’s seeming refusal to outright confirm any prospects apart from console is tear-your-hair-out levels of frustrating. However, after GTA V’s successful PC outing, it is almost certain that a PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 will eventually make its way to us. The key questions, though, are “how long will that take?” and “what can we expect from a PC version?”

One of the benefits of a PC “port” is that it’s not really necessary to port the game, per se: the assets and code are written on PC initially. This is even more the case this generation as the consoles are built with what are essentially off-the-shelf PC parts. As such the amount of time/effort/cost to get a basic version of the game up and running on PC is much less than the other way around. Still, that may be time and energy that the developer decides to spend elsewhere. Yet, considering that the PC version of GTA V sold nearly as many copies as the next-gen console versions, it’s hard to make the “bad business case” argument for not having a Red Dead Redemption 2 port on the platform. The length of the wait, however, is likely to be significant.

GTA V infamously took nearly 2 years to make its way over to PC, several months after the release of the next-gen console versions, even. Moreover, both GTA IV and LA Noire took over six months to arrive on the platform. The only recent Rockstar game that arrived (more or less) on time on PC was Max Payne 3. The PC version of that title, however, was announced well beforehand. As such, we’re likely looking at a several month waiting period for Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC. But the question now is, once the wait is over, what exactly can we expect from Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC? How will it differ from the console versions and what are key areas where the raw power of high-end PC gaming will shine through?

For starters, image quality and fluidity will be a definite step up: if you have hardware that’s up to the task. GTA V’s PC outing actually provides a decent signpost for how performance will likely pan out. On the one hand, it is missing some of the technical advances highlighted by the Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer, such as higher poly models and physically-based rendering, Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in primarily rural environs, where much less is actually taking place, both on and off the screen: despite enabling punishing features like MSAA and increasing the density and draw distance sliders, 1080 Ti-class hardware offers up a fluid experience in 4K with framerates in the mid-50s.

Lesser hardware, down to the Fury, can offer up reasonably smooth mid-40s gameplay with hardware anti-aliasing turned off (and honestly, who needs MSAA when running at 4K?). And from personal experience (Iong, long ago), even the ageing GTX 970 can make a good fist at 4K/30 gameplay with some settings toned down. While performance requirements at the bottom end may be higher than GTA V, considering that Red Dead Redemption 2 no longer has last-gen underpinnings, we don’t expect top-end performance to be radically worse than the full-fat GTA V experience. The 2080 Ti ought to hand in a 4K/60 experience here, with the 1080 Ti/2080 falling somewhere in the mid-50s. Vega 64, down through the 1070, 980 Ti, and Fury series ought to deliver playable framerates in 4K—with settings tweaked to different extents, of course. This means that, at least at the higher end, resolution will be significantly higher on PC than on the PS4 Pro, and a match for the Xbox One X.

Red Dead Redemption 2_03

Higher-end kit will net you the ability to play the game in 4K at higher framerates. Meanwhile, GTX 1060-class hardware should make a good fist of running the game at 1080p/60 FPS. Considering the degree of environmental simulation going on, it’s not likely that the One X or the Pro will be able to offer a high-framerate mode, considering CPU bottlenecking. This will be the most pronounced PC advantage. Apart from this, there are a couple additional possibilities on hand. While the PC version of GTA V was delayed significantly, it came with a whole raft of PC-exclusive features. One area where we’re likely to see improvement (or at least a greater number of options) is in anti-aliasing. The temporal anti-aliasing implementation seen in the Red Dead Redemption 2 trailers does a great job of covering jaggies on transparencies and regular objects, but it does show noticeable artifacting, particularly when it comes to hair rendering. At 0:11 seconds in the second gameplay trailer, we see noticeable TAA artifacts in the outlaw’s hair.

While there’s no “easy” way to rectify this, Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC will most likely feature a resolution scale setting, similar to GTA V. Using supersampling, it’d be possible to brute-force your way to smooth, artifact-free transparencies but this would, of course, come at a very large performance cost.

Anisotropic filtering is also appallingly bad in the trailers—especially at 1:00 in the third official trailer. This is par for the course for console releases and should be an area where PC gamers enjoy a clear image quality advantage across the board: 16x AF can be enabled for virtually no performance penalty in most games with virtually all PC hardware: I simply have 16x AF set to forced mode in the AMD control panel and never even think about it. Ground textures which are not a muddy mess will certainly be an area of advantage for PC.

Red Dead Redemption 2_04

Depth of Field blur was also another perceived area of weakness in the gameplay trailers. The rather simple interpretation—as seen in close-ups such as at 2:46 in the second gameplay trailer—simply blurs the background uniformly, without much in the way of bokeh. GTA V saw PC-exclusive options for contact-hardening shadows, a rather specific thing to change. It’s possible that we could see Red Dead Redemption 2 offering PC-exclusive depth of field effects to enhance the game’s cinematic appeal.

With Red Dead Redemption 2 just a few days away now, we are extremely excited to see what Rockstar’s latest Wild West outing has to offer. Stay tuned here for more!

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