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In Theory: what would a current-gen upgrade for Red Dead Redemption 2 look like?

A deep dive into the possibilities - from an unlocked last-gen version to a brand-new PS5/Xbox upgrade.

It's one of the most baffling mysteries of the current generation era. So many PS4 and Xbox One titles have received remasters or 60fps upgrades and yet one game stands alone… Red Dead Redemption 2. Tthere's no real reason why developer Rockstar couldn't deliver a mightily enhanced version of the game for PS5 and Series X, with the PC version combined with console-equivalent hardware giving us some insights on what quality and performance modes could actually look like.

Right now though, today's consoles are limited to backwards compatibility versions of the existing last-gen version. What that means is that PlayStation 5 runs with a lacklustre 4K checkerboard rendition of the game, locked to 30fps. The situation improves somewhat on Xbox Series X, which runs at a native 4K - again at 30fps. However, both of these experiences are basically interchangeable with gameplay on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. This game deserves better.

First of all, I want to highlight the work of modder Illusion, who has released a frame-rate unlock mod for Red Dead Redemptio n2 that - alas - only works on exploited PlayStation 5 consoles. By removing the Sony system call to limit to 30fps, the game 'just works' at 60fps. PS5 has more than enough horsepower to double frame-rate at checkerboard 4K - and in fact, thanks to another Illusion mod, v-sync can be disabled and the frame-rate completely unlocked. Run Red Dead 2 in its 1080p mode (accessible via the console front-end) and we can see that even in the most CPU intensive areas, we're always above 60fps.

Here's a bit of theory crafting in using console-equivalent PC hardware to envisage what a current-gen Red Dead Redemption 2 might look like - plus footage of the PS4 Pro game running unlocked on PS5.Watch on YouTube

That's the back compat hack situation covered, but what form might an actual Red Dead 2 current-gen upgrade look like? Regular readers will know what happens next: we ran the PC version of Red Dead 2 on our Frankenstein's Console - this is a computer built using the AMD 4800S desktop kit, which is literally the Xbox Series X CPU in PC format. Unfortunately, its integrated GPU is disabled, meaning we need a GPU to stand in and for that we're using the AMD Radeon RX 6700 10 gig, an RDNA 2 graphics card with many similarities to PlayStation 5's GPU.

In targeting 60fps, we used Alex's optimised settings for the PC version, which is effectively the same as Xbox One X - a bizarre mixture of everything from lower than low PC equivalents to full-on ultra. Where there were hybrid settings - like a quality that sits between medium and high, for example - we went for high. Interestingly, PC offers Vulkan and DX12 render paths: you'd think DX12 would be a better fit for consoles, but I lost a lot of performance up against Vulkan.

Next stop: Red Dead 2's benchmark sequence. I ran at full 4K, 1944p, 1890p and 1800p, finding that only 1800p delivered an effective 60fps lock. Perhaps current-gen consoles could do better with bespoke optimisation, but having said that, we're looking to double Xbox One X's 30fps… and that console was a beast! On the GPU side, the game is locked for the vast majority of play and really does showcase what we're missing. I did see minor performance drops in the saloon brawl in Valentine - which delivered proper nostalgia as Xbox One X dipped beneath 30fps in the same area. I reckon a 1728p to 2160p dynamic resolution range would likely cover all scenarios.

I also noted some traversal stutter - which is either a factor of the PC game itself or the rather odd nature of the computer I built for the task, which isn't exactly typical hardware. Either way, Illusion's frame-rate unlocks for the PS4 Pro version of the game running on PS5 do suggest that these stutters simply aren't an issue with the consoles.

As you'll see in the video above, I also put together a projected quality mode - which does run at native 4K and ups the ante in areas where perhaps Xbox One X does fall short. Lighting quality, global illumination, grass draw distance, volumetrics and shadows were my first port of call in increasing settings quality. However, full-on ultra was off the table at a locked 30fps - Red Dead 2 is that demanding.

I also noted that the PC version's half-rate v-sync doesn't work properly, producing inconsistent frame-pacing. This isn't an issue in the console builds, of course, and I solved it on PC thanks to Kaldiaen's SpecialK. This projected 'quality mode' looks good, but really - 60fps is where it's at as a properly transformative upgrade.

The original Red Dead Redemption finally came to PlayStation 4, running at 4K 30fps on PS4 Pro... and PS5. It took weeks before Rockstar unlocked the frame-rate - and here's how that looks.Watch on YouTube

So on the face of it then, a good looking 60fps experience could be viable for PS5 and Series X based on what the PC code is telling us, with scalability for a 30fps mode that improves on the weaknesses inherent to the last-gen versions - as slight as they are. However, I do wonder if more recent enhancements to the RAGE engine might deliver more, out of the scope of the PC version of the game.

Looking at Grand Theft Auto 5 on PS5 and Series X, Rockstar did push further. Ray traced sun shadows offer a nice improvement over the more traditional shadow maps. Of course, those were grafted onto a much older game with GPU cycles to spare, but looking ahead to GTA 6, there are no RT shadows but it does seem to have RT reflections and global illumination - and the latter in particular would look stunning in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Rockstar is flexing its technology in its upcoming game, but it would seem like a bit of a stretch to add RT to a prospective Red Dead 2 current-gen upgrade. Then again, maybe some level of ambition is the reason we've yet to see this most anticipated of upgrades?

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