Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding proved to be a divisive adventure when it launched back in November 2019. Harnessing the power of Sony’s PlayStation 5, Hideo Kojima is bringing players a refined take on the lofty experience – but it still won’t be for everyone.
Death Stranding places you in the muddy shoes of Sam “Porter” Bridges, a key figure in the United States’ quest for survival after a world-changing event known as the “Death Stranding”. With the USA’s landscapes devastated by supernatural fallout, it is up to Sam to restore communications and balance, by repairing the technological wonders of the Chiral Network. Along the way, players will dispatch bandits and ethereal creatures known as B.T’s, in an effort to forge a brave new world, along with delivering parcels – a lot of parcels.
If you’re a fan of Hideo Kojima’s knack for intoxicatingly outlandish plots seen in the Metal Gear franchise, then you’ll feel right at home. However, Death Stranding’s core gameplay remains a heady mix of traversal and wandering, and this Director’s Cut won’t convert anyone still on the fence.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut – Key Details
- Price: $59.99 / £49.99 (£5 via upgrade path)
- Developer: Kojima Productions
- Release Date: September 24, 2021
- Platforms: PS5 and PC
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut trailer
Bringing the world together
When Death Stranding launched two years ago, its reception was exactly cut and dry. Death Stranding is an intrinsically unique prospect, but also in many ways an amalgam of all that came before. It may borrow and retrofit elements of familiar genres, but Kojima’s comically dubbed “Amazon delivery simulator” is more than just traversing harsh environments. For the Director’s Cut, Kojima Productions has attempted to refocus around new players, with mixed results.
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Initially, the core gameplay loop of Death Stranding is to take on numerous assignments that see Sam deliver everything from highly requested supplies to more mundane objects like photographs, action figures, and maybe even a pizza along the way. Understandably, that doesn’t seem like a high octane concept that could carry a game with a story boasting at least 30 hours of playtime to climb through an astoundingly emotional story of connectivity, trust, and love. However, once the formalities are out the way and the true potential of the pseudo multiplayer component, the Chiral Network, opens up, Death Stranding transforms itself into something impressively unique in the triple-A space.
Somehow managing to tread the line between enthralling and tranquil, exploring these mountainous renderings of the United States is aided by asynchronous multiplayer across the in-game Chiral Network, with players leaving ladders, climbing ropes, and more behind for others to find in their own games. To ease players into this world, the Director’s Cut extends an olive branch in the form of some quality-of-life additions.
Fitting in with a new generation
Combat isn’t the primary focus of Death Stranding, but there are scenarios in which defense is required out in the wild. Rogue porters, known as MULEs, are out to capture your precious cargo at the cost of Sam’s life, and every death leaves a crater in the environment. As such, Sam will need to defend himself, and a new firing range helps players get used to gunning down other humans and BTs (paranormal entities that roam the world) alike by allowing Sam to practice with all of the weapons.
Accessible via terminals at every distribution center, this inclusion feels similar to that of the V.R missions that graced the Metal Gear franchise back in the day, and offer a wide variety of additional challenges. While Death Stranding rarely, if ever, devolves into pure, unadulterated shooter territory, it’s a great way to check out the new Dualsense capabilities afforded by the PS5 port.
Other new additions don’t fare quite so well, though. The much-publicized race track needs to be constructed from materials gathered, but with only two courses, it soon wears thin. Hauling a heavy, sluggish truck around these tracks is no “Fast and Furious”, but at least the new Roadster vehicle is quick enough to elicit some enjoyment.
Thankfully, when it comes to gear, the massively helpful catapult and buddy bot creations are a godsend. There is no limit to the number of obscenities that came out of my mouth when bringing parcels to the Wind Farm area back in 2019. Now that I can slingshot deliveries high into the air and ensure a safe landing, the game has been changed and much of its tedium has been removed. Equally, the buddy bot is helpful both as a delivery companion and as a traversal method on some of the longer trips Death Stranding throws at you.
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It’s worth noting too, that if like me you completed the PlayStation 4 edition, porting over your safe will not only bring your progress over – but potentially unlock gear that wasn’t you didn’t know was available. In my experience, far sturdier versions of the “Skeleton” exo-suits were available to be crafted. Bringing over your save is fairly simple: boot up the PlayStation 4 game, export the save using the in-game menu option, load up the PlayStation 5 version and import it. Done – it’s a far cry from the messy save importing of Marvel’s Avengers earlier this year.
Want to revisit past battles with your new upgrades? Kojima has ensured that the more tantalizing moments of Death Stranding’s story are able to be revisited with PlayStation 5 slickness. The Director’s Cut also boasts silky 60FPS framerates, with a 4K fidelity mode, that can be viewed in either standard 16:9 or the expansive letterboxed 21:9 widescreen ratio if your gear can support it. Playing at the smoother framerate is easily one of the best assets that the Director’s Cut has going for it and makes the cheaper upgrade path worth the price of admission alone.
Is a sequel on the way?
Death Stranding’s ending is an absurdist, fever dream to say the least. Even though it wraps up most of its loose ends, there is a sense that Sam’s future isn’t quite as straightforward as the climactic moments suggest. Players looking to get a fix of story content can do so here but isn’t as long as it should have been. Confined to a dingy, dilapidated factory near Capital Knot City, the extra story missions act more as a tribute to Kojima’s past in tactical stealth action, offering a few notable references along the way. Centered around having the player explore two areas of an abandoned facility, there are some brief combat encounters to break up the desolate journey, but nothing to truly satiate fans looking for any additional context for the ending.
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This also provides some fresh perspective on Sam and one of his trusted comrades. Unfortunately, it’s all too brief to feel warranted or substantial enough in the grander scheme of things. With rumblings of a sequel in the works, perhaps Kojima is simply laying the foundations for Sam’s next adventure.
The original game itself is a triumphant genre experiment, but viewing these new additions in a singular lens begs the question: is it worth upgrading? Simply, yes. Death Stranding Director’s Cut has become the essential version of the game, even if purely for the better optimization alone. Available for a mere £5 / $7, players who already own the game aren’t risking too much when it comes to revisiting Kojima Productions’ bizarre hike through America.
Reviewed on PS5