But let’s start with the obvious good points: The first is that Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic game. Sure, it’s a little old and creaky in places, it is from 2010, but John Marston is still a complex and fascinating character and the Western setting is just one huge vibe. The game drips atmosphere, from its depiction of the wild west to its somber music and stellar acting. It could be argued that it’s even better than Red Dead Redemption 2 in some ways.
And this release means the game is natively available on PlayStation 4/5 and the Switch, so a whole bunch of people who have never had a way to play it before can finally experience Marston’s story in all of its Western glory. Hell, there’s probably a lot of play who only played Red Dead Redemption 2 who can jump into this, letting them play through the story in chronological order. I have to say, replaying RDR after Red Dead Redemption 2 makes the story resonate far more than in 2010 when characters like Bill Williamson were just a name. Now, though, with all the proper context, hunting down John’s former brothers is much more emotionally engaging.
The initial announcement was worded in a way that suggested absolutely no improvements were made to the original game, so I’m happy to say that’s not quite true. This version of the game runs at 4K and 30fps on the PlayStation 4 Pro and the PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility. So while the rest of the game’s graphics are untouched, the higher resolution (it ran at 720p back in the day) does make it look much sharper than the original and more suitable for large screens. Despite the age of Red Dead Redemption, its art design still holds up in 2023 very well. There’s something magical about riding a horse down through a dusty valley as the sun sets or moseying into a saloon as the other patrons huddle over shots of whiskey. Red Dead Redemption makes it easy to inhabit its world and feel like a part of it, rather than just a player.
This new version uses AMD’s FSR2 temporal upscaling and anti-aliasing tech, resulting in generally sharper images and far less shimmering than in the original game, especially in foliage. Surprisingly, there’s also an option to swap over to FXAA which is a post-processing effect instead. There’s really not point in trying it, though, because there are far more shimmering and rough edges versus the FSR2. I’m honestly not sure why Double Eleven included the option to toggle between the two.
The shadows seem to fare better on this new version, too. Red Dead Redemption’s shadows were always messy, but on the PlayStation version the shadows are much sharper than before, especially when you get close up. In fact, it’s almost too sharp because some of the shadows lack the softness you get in real life, making them seem slightly unnatural. It’s a small complaint, mind you.
Annoyingly, the UI hasn’t received the same resolution boost that the rest of the game has benefited from. Instead, all the menus, icons and text are still in 720p, making them look fuzzy and frankly ugly on a modern 4K TV. Bafflingly, however, the button icons do seem to have been redone making them stand out against the blurry backdrops. I’d love to know the decision making behind this. Why only do the button icons? Why not do the whole UI?
So far I’ve mostly discussed the game running on the best hardware possible, so let’s step backwards for a second. There’s no native PlayStation 5 version, rather it just runs the PS4 Pro Enhanced version of the port. If you use a standard PlayStation 4, though, you only get a 1080p image with more noticeable aliasing. Swapping over to FXAA on this lower resolution really lets you see just how much work FSR2 actually does because the image is far, far worse.
Let’s talk about the framerate, shall we? This new port is locked at 30fps which is undoubtedly a massive disappointment. We know that people who have emulated the Xbox version on PC have been able to get it running at 60fps with only minor issues, so surely a company like Rockstar could have found a way to boost Red Dead Redemption’s framerate which would have been a MASSIVE upgrade and an important selling point.
The good news is that it sticks to that 30fps like superglue. The exceptional Undead Nightmare expansion, included in the package, is the best way to test this since there are plenty of enemies on-screen all trying to claim Marston’s flesh for lunch. Not once did I notice the framerate dipping, regardless of how many zombies were shambling around the place. It’s completely rock-solid, although it really should be considering the power of modern consoles.
However, this new version seems to have introduced a small problem in cutscenes wherein certain animations stutter. It doesn’t happen in every cutscene but when it does it’s quite distracting. Hopefully, we’ll get an update that fixes this.
Over on Switch things are a little different. I was given both versions to test, so I fired up Nintendo’s console, curious to see how Red Dead Redemption would perform on a machine that was deemed somewhat underpowered even when it first launched. For the most part, it runs at 1080p and 30fps, but like the original Xbox 360 version you can see the framerate dip when TNT is getting thrown around and a bunch of enemies are on the screen. That’s a little disappointing but not wholly unexpected. No matter how you view it, though, it’s considerably better than how the game originally ran on the Xbox 360 where it was common to see the framerate drop to low 20s. On the Switch, it would usually only drop a couple of frames into the very high 20s, even while playing Undead Nightmare, making for a far more stable experience.
In terms of image quality, it gets a touch more complicated. Shadows have seen a slight increase over the original game but not as much as PlayStation version. But the biggest difference is that the Switch doesn’t get AMD’s FSR2 and instead relies on FXAA. While the resolution boost ensures this looks better than the game originally did, it cannot compete with PlayStation where FSR2 really helps sharpen the image up.
Handheld mode runs at 720p. Everything is pretty much identical, including the framerate occasionally dipping but never to any worrying amount. Red Dead Redemption may be a game from 2010, but it’s still pretty cool to be able to play it on a handheld while chilling in bed or on a train.
The tricky thing is when you start comparing this “conversion” to the existing Xbox iteration which can be bought via the Xbox store for around £25. Making the comparison even harder is the fact that the Xbox version has some system-wide gamma effects that create a slightly punchier image, whereas this new port presents a more neutral image that has the added benefit of keeping more shadow detail. For a detailed comparison, you should check out Digital Foundry’s excellent breakdown of the two versions, but from this layman’s perspective, the PlayStation versions look a touch sharper and more detailed, mostly due to the improved shadows and FSR2. It’s not a staggering difference, though, and certainly not worthy of paying twice the price.
While there’s very little to choose between the PS4 Pro and Xbox Series X versions of the game, Red Dead Redemption on an Xbox One is now the worst way to play the game outside of firing up an Xbox 360 or PS3. It essentially runs the original game with no improvements, meaning the image is stuck at 720p. It looks considerably worse than the new port across the board. Meanwhile, the Xbox Series S renders the game at 1440p.
|PlayStation 4 Pro
|Xbox Series X
|Xbox Series S
|Xbox One X
|Xbox One/Xbox One S
This does beg the question of whether the Xbox version could get these small updates, in particular the AMD FSR2 option. It seems unlikely that Take-Two would be generous enough to offer these for free, though, and I’m genuinely shocked that they haven’t already bumped up the price of the Xbox version to match the re-release.
Looking at this new version of Red Dead Redemption as just a port, it’s a solid yet barebones effort. The resolution boost and the FSR2 provide a pretty solid upgrade to the visuals, making this the best Red Dead Redemption has ever looked. And truthfully, Red Dead Redemption actually still looks pretty good. There’s some gorgeous vistas that stretch out into the distance. Things only look rough when you start looking closely at the low-res textures. It’s most noticeable on Marston’s face which looks muddy and undefined. With minimal work, his face and a variety of other textures could have been improved and it would have made a huge difference.
It’s hard not to be disappointed with the lack of effort put into this port. Red Dead Redemption has sold millions and millions of copies and is widely held as one of the best games of all time. This was Rockstar’s chance to bring their western epic to a whole new audience, including potentially millions who have only played Red Dead Redemption 2 and could now have the opportunity to follow Marston’s journey. Even a few minor tweaks could have made this an exceptional package, such as a high-performance mode, a few texture upgrades and perhaps even something like ray-tracing.
And that’s ultimately the problem, isn’t it? This is a very basic port of a 13-year-old game that contains almost no improvements and an RRP of £40. Had they launched this at £25 to match the existing Xbox store version it would be a more palatable product. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said, “we don’t just port titles over, we actually take the time to do the very best job we can making the title different for the new release, for the new technology that we’re launching it on.”
Note: the star rating is purely based on the quality of the port, and not the game itself.