We all know Red Dead Redemption 2 is a gorgeous looking game (at least when it's not crashing and freezing), but holy moly does it look stupidly good in ultrawide. Specifically, the kind of ultrawide made possible by Samsung's new CRG9 monitor, which is an even higher specced version of last year's ludicrous 49in, 32:9 CHG90.
Whereas the CHG90 had a resolution of 3840x1080 (making it effectively two 1080p monitors stuck together), the CRG9 bumps that up to 5120x1440, increasing its pixel count to the equivalent of two 1440p monitors strapped together instead. It's a mad thing to behold, and man alive if there was ever a screen tailor-made for Red Dead 2's cinematic cowpoke antics, this is the one. Let me tell you, it is stunning.
I'll be doing a full review of the monitor itself next week, but for now I just thought I'd take you for a quick tour across Red Dead 2's ultrawide prairie. Because, when you're out on your horse, looking out over the lush green plains from a high mountaintop, it's... argh. Genuinely, I've been wanting to write about this all week, but I feel like I'm bashing my head against a wall trying to find words to describe how it looks. With not a black bar in sight, playing Red Dead 2 at 32:9 is 'shivers down the back of your spine' levels of good, a chefkiss.gif in pixel form. I mean, just look at what we're dealing with here - it's silly even putting words next to it:
That's a PHWOAR in all caps right there. Forget about Dutch and his quest to escape the law. When the world looks this good, I'd be happy enough just roaming mindlessly, story missions, side quests and everything else be damned.
Alas, the magic is frequently broken whenever the game enters a cutscene - which, in the opening hours it does exceedingly frequently. Here, the game shrinks back down to 16:9, with black bars appearing at the top and bottom, and on either side of the action. This 'cinematic view' still happens on a regular monitor, of course, but here the effect is much more pronounced. Whereas normal 16:9 screens merely suggest a bit of cinematic flair with their gentler narrowing of the screen, playing Red Dead 2 on the Samsung CRG9 feels like you're suddenly squinting through a toilet roll tube, and the sheer amount of black space on the screen looks silly.
It's a shame, especially when so many of the cutscenes occur in-engine - you'd think they'd still be able to open them out? Still, credit where it's due: the transitions in and out are incredibly slick, and the way the black bars slide in from the side really emphasises the tightening of focus on what's coming next. You've enjoyed your scenic ride, the game seems to say. Now it's time to peer down the cowboy's tube.
Conversely, there's a real sense of freedom when the black bars melt away again at the end of a cutscene; like the whole world is suddenly at your feet again after being closed off for a bit. It's quite liberating, watching the screen open itself up like that after a tense shootout, especially given how much more real estate is uncovered when playing in 32:9 rather than on a regular 21:9 ultrawide monitor.
That said, there are some practicality issues that crop up when playing at such a mad aspect ratio, especially when it comes to looking at the HUD. Instead of centralising your map and context-sensitive keyboard commands around the middle of the screen, for example, everything gets shunted right to the very edges. That's great for getting a nice clean view of the landscape, but less handy when you're trying to remember which key is 'shoot' and which one's for saying hello.
Indeed, with so many key bindings to learn, I found I was constantly having to turn my head towards the bottom right of the screen to make sure I was pressing the right buttons. Sure, it's a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, but given how often you're required to do stuff in Red Dead Redemption 2, whether it's chatting to members of your gang or just fetching a shotgun from your horse's saddlebags, this perpetual back and forth can get tiring quite quickly.
Of course, I'd imagine this effect will be slightly less pronounced on regular 21:9 ultrawide screens, especially if you've got one with a less intrusive base that lets you set it back further against the wall. The CRG9, on the other hand, takes up almost 50% of the depth of my desk at the moment, which means it ends up sitting quite close to my face when I'm sitting down. You can use the 'HUD Safezone' option in the Display settings to bring button prompts further in towards the middle, but even the tightest option of 90% horizontal required a full head turn on the CRG9 before the HUD came into view.
Similarly, you need a beast of a graphics card to run Red Dead Redemption 2 at 5120x1440. The game is already pretty demanding on a standard 16:9 monitor (as we've seen in both my Red Dead Redemption 2 PC settings article and my What you really need to get 60fps in Red Dead 2 piece), but playing in ultrawide is another kettle of fish entirely. Indeed, I've been playing the game with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super over the last couple of days and even that's been struggling to hit a smooth 60fps on Medium-ish settings, at that resolution. When I tried adding some High settings to the mix, the frame rate quickly fell back down to somewhere closer to 45-50fps. It's still playable, of course, but it's also not quite as silky smooth as I'd like.
Again, this will be less of a problem on normal ultrawide monitors, which generally max out at 3440x1440. I wasn't able to test this particular resolution on the CRG9, but even dropping it down to 3840x1080 allowed me to ramp almost everything up to Ultra on my RTX 2080 Super. So, those with slightly less powerful graphics cards should still be able to get a pretty decent frame rate on Medium-High settings at 3440x1440.
It's also worth noting that the game's photo mode restricts you to 16:9, even on an ultrawide monitor, which for me was almost more devastating than having to lower my graphics settings.
Ultimately, despite all the practical drawbacks, playing Red Dead Redemption 2 in ultrawide mode remains a feast of sheer spectacle. I'll be very sad indeed when I have to bid farewell to the CRG9 and ship it back to its cage at Samsung next week. With wild landscapes and panoramic views that roll as far as the eye can see, this is exactly the kind of game that cries out to be played in ultrawide, and I'd definitely recommend it if you've got the right kit.