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Red Dead Redemption 2 patch 1.09 tested: has HDR been fixed?


Red Dead Redemption patch 1.09 arrived last week, delivering a huge update that took the online component out of its beta period and addressed the game’s somewhat disappointing HDR support. On top of this, the patch notes discuss improving ambient occlusion, giving weight to stories circulating for months that the effect was somehow downgraded after the game launched. Were there actually reductions in visual quality? Is HDR now ‘fixed’? We took a look at the new update and the news is positive: Red Dead Redemption 2 has never looked better with the new patch installed.

First impressions from an HDR perspective are impressive. The calibration screen now offers two modes – cinematic and game mode – plus there are user-controlled calibration variables for peak brightness and paper white. Side by side, the cinematic mode looks highly desaturated next to the game mode – which is perhaps not surprising as cinematic is effectively identical to Red Dead 2’s original HDR implementation. This still presents like an eight-bit SDR image mapped into 10-bit HDR space, and for many users with HDR screens, the standard SDR mode may present a more impressive, vibrant picture.

It’s in the game mode where Red Dead 2 delivers the HDR upgrade we’ve been waiting for. Contrast is exceptionally impressive, the bright sun’s interactions with the atmospheric rendering look sublime, while highlights pop beautifully, especially on specular sheen. Moving into interiors and contrasting the darker corners with the bright light flooding into the windows gives us immense contrast, and the impression overall is that this is almost exactly the kind of HDR presentation we wanted at day one. The naming of the cinematic and game modes is interesting though, hinting at how the artists view RDR2’s two HDR implementations.

The new HDR game mode is not quite perfect though. As a rule of thumb, the sun is the brightest source of illumination, and so in theory, looking at it should give us our look at peak brightness. It’s interesting to note that the game is about 10 per cent short in delivering that. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a similar effect – the blackest blacks are not pure black. Perhaps it’s down to the game’s colour grading or some other variable subtly compressing the final image, but there it is.