Death Stranding Director’s Cut will not be converting anyone who failed to find value in Kojima’s unconventional offering, as this review will show. However, for those who resonate with Kojima’s ideas, Death Stranding Director’s Cut is the definitive way to experience what is easily the most unique and aesthetically impressive sci-fi titles in gaming history.
The game takes advantage of the PS5’s DualSense features, greater power, and zippy SSD to breathe new life into a not-so-old title. As if that is not enough, the game also boasts a host of additional content ranging from new tools and weapons to new missions.
It is a substantial upgrade with something to satisfy both newcomers and experienced porters. Despite a finicky save transfer system, upgrading to the PS5 edition is worth every bit of effort.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut is available for purchase on PS5.
Story – A Tale of One Man, A Tale of Humanity
The story of Death Stranding is a sinuous one, and the weirdness on display may be off-putting to some. However, the game still manages to arrive at emotional narrative moments that pull at your heartstrings and subvert your expectations. Death Stranding‘s writing exudes all of Kojima’s eccentricities. Hence, if heavy-handed metaphors, bad puns, convoluted storylines, and quirky character names are not your thing, do not go into Death Stranding thinking Kojima has shielded the game from any of those elements.
At the center of Death Stranding is Sam Bridges. He lives in a post-apocalyptic America that has been fractured after seemingly supernatural events destroy society. Timefall, a special kind of rain that erodes everything it touches so fast it is as though it is aging at superspeed, pours down like seasonal rain. Horrific creatures known as BTs roam the Earth, trying to drag the living to their otherworldly realm.
Sam is tasked with rebuilding America by reconnecting various distribution centers and bunkers, helping isolated people find connections with each other again. To do this, he has to make key deliveries around the American map, facing dangers from the landscape and foes who wish to thwart him.
As Sam teaches America to once again have faith in each other and value human connections, Sam, too, undergoes his own transformation. Sam faces his own phobias, not least of all his irrepressible fear and revulsion of being touched. He, too, must learn to accept human love, connect with others, and become one piece of the United Cities of America.
The story is one that will probably leave you scratching your head after the credits roll, but still appreciating everything you experienced nevertheless. The game makes obvious allusions to the ways the real world has been fractured and people have been alienated by political disagreements, social media, and fear. Hidden within the zany story of undead monsters and unborn fetuses is a touching story about the value of everyday human connections.
Although Death Stranding Director’s Cut does not expand on the story in any significant way, it does introduce a side arc that has Sam infiltrating a ruined factory to collect some important intel. While it does offer some useful information to those wanting to piece every part of the story together, it is not unmissable stuff story-wise.
Kojima’s storytelling is certainly of a niche variety, but if you are the kind of person it clicks with, it is an enthralling experience. Much like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, it leaves you speechless with its striking aesthetics, and in an existential haze with heady narrative sporting big ideas.
Gameplay – A Masterclass in Play and Imagination
The main gameplay involves making deliveries. For a large chunk of the game, these will be done on foot. Hence, you will have to take into account the weight of your cargo, the weight distribution, and how it affects your center of gravity.
Once you are on your journey, your main adversary is the landscape. Death Stranding provides a realistic terrain that must be intelligently navigated. This involves crossing rivers, negotiating rocky mountainsides and steep slopes, enduring blistery blizzards, and overcoming chasms. While you make these long treks, stats like endurance and the wear and tear of your boots also need to be considered. The result is an impressively detailed hiking simulator that tests your resilience and ability to get back up the hundredth time after falling down ninety-nine times.
How you solve your delivery problem is up to you. The game provides a cornucopia of tools that can be used in both conventional and unexpected ways. For example, a ladder might, as you would expect, help you climb a steep mountain. However, you can also lay it down and use it as a bridge to cross a river. Likewise, a floating carrier is intended to be used to drag along your cargo. But, if you like, you can also hop on it and use it as a sled to toboggan down a slope.
In some unfortunate circumstances, you may forget to bring the tools you want to get over obstacles you face. Luckily, the game has online features which allow for structures built by other players to appear in your world. This, of course, emphasizes the game’s main theme of human connectedness. There is no better feeling of relief than reaching a cliff only to find a climbing rope that some generous soul has left behind.
As you advance through the game, you unlock better tools and structures which make deliveries a little less tedious. You can start building roads, driving vehicles, constructing ziplines, and assigning robots to do a couple of deliveries for you. This drastically changes the gameplay style required of you. While the first few hours of the game can be a very meditative, introspective experience with just you and the open world for long lengths of time, the addition of more complex tools turns the game into more of a crash course in efficiency, and deliveries can become dull checklists.
Death Stranding also features numerous combat encounters. Some, you can stealth through while others will require you to pull out the big guns. There are a host of weapons at your disposal, each with unique uses and abilities. Bola guns incapacitate targets non-lethally while your handguns and rifles can be used against humans and BTs. Although these encounters tend to be the weakest part of the game, they do provide a nice break from the more zen-like delivery jobs that make up the bulk of gameplay.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut features a range of new tools and weapons for you to play with. This includes a catapult gun for blasting your cargo across long distances, a Buddy Bot to accompany you and ease the load, stabilizers to ensure that a fall of a high cliff does not spell death, ramps for jumping chasms (and doing cool tricks), and new weapons, to name a few.
The new missions take Sam indoors, having him do stealth missions in a ruined factory. These missions feature gameplay reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid. The segments are genuinely fun, introduce action-packed gameplay that keep things fresh, and offer up a new experience for veterans.
Another new addition that Death Stranding veterans may appreciate is the addition of racing. Racetracks are available where you can set your own personal best times, or compete on the world stage. You should be warned that a high-velocity Need for Speed experience is not what is on offer. Cars here are relatively slow with stiff handling, so you will not be going sideways around any corners. Still, blaring some Low Roar while easing into driving that requires more technical skill than speed is a fun experience for those who are open to it.
The game incorporates some excellent use of the DualSense controller’s features. Guns utilize the adaptive triggers, allowing each of the weapons to feel significantly different. Adaptive triggers are also used during traversal when gripping your cargo and maintaining balance. This is a subtle yet effective way of increasing immersion and letting you know how much of a strain Sam’s load is putting on him.
To get a sense of how all the new guns feel, there has been a firing range added where you can do drills that have you going against hordes of enemies. These drills are unexpectedly fun, and you should not be surprised to find yourself spending hours more than you expected at the firing range.
The accurate haptics of the DualSense is also taken advantage of. Walking through different types of terrain will yield different sensations, not unlike what can be found in A Plague Tale: Innocence. Strolling through a field of wheat will feel different from marching through thick snow. These were the features that were promised with the arrival of the new generation of gaming, yet few titles have managed to incorporate these features as well as Death Stranding Director’s Cut has.
What Death Stranding Director’s Cut does best is polish and expand on what the original game did, which is to offer the player a sandbox for them to accomplish given tasks as they please using whatever tools they have at their disposal. This opens up the avenue for truly creative gameplay that stimulates your imagination. Using a catapult to knock out a terrorist, or an oxygen mask to remain undetected when stealthing around BTs, are moments that are unscripted and allow the player to craft unique solutions to the problems the game throws at them. It is something that Kojima’s games have gotten remarkably right in the past, and this takes things to new heights.
Graphics and Audio – A Work of Art
The PS5 is fast approaching its first birthday, yet it is still a little lacking on next-gen titles that feel truly revolutionary. For the most part, its lifespan thus far has been fueled by its backward compatibility and its ability to play PS4 games at boosted framerates and with better resolution. This has left the floor open for remasters of last-gen games to flourish as some of the best-looking games on the console at present.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut may just be one of the most gorgeous games of all time. On Performance Mode, the game runs at a buttery-smooth 60FPS at 1800p which is upscaled to 2160p. On Quality Mode, the game is rendered at native 2160p at 60FPS, although frame drops can be expected. Interestingly, the game also offers an Ultrawide Mode which has the benefit of increasing your field of view.
But it is not just the high resolution that makes Death Stranding Director’s Cut so beautiful. Instead, that can be attributed to its art style and environmental design which features some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes since Red Dead Redemption 2. While the drudgery of climbing up a rocky mountain may grate at you after a few dozen hours of making deliveries, those moments where you remember to stop and just admire the scenery make it all worth it.
There has to be something said about the way the game expertly weaves interesting sci-fi shots together with natural landscapes to produce an aesthetic that is somehow simultaneously futuristic yet earthy. If ever there was a game that benefitted from photo mode, this is it.
Complementing the game’s impeccable visuals is an atmospheric soundtrack. It features plenty of songs from Low Roar which help to set that navel-gazing feeling the game tries to evoke. Some of the most memorable moments of the game occur during the end-points of deliveries where, after an arduous journey, you finally peer over the horizon, see your destination in the nearby distance, and the perfectly themed song comes on.
The flawless score and eye-candy shots would easily lead one to believe that this title is best compared to a lofty, high-concept sci-fi film. What Kojima has delivered is something entirely unique, however. It presents itself with the high-quality production value of a Hollywood movie, but it does so while subverting every possible expectation in the video game realm. It is a work of art that obstinately refuses to be categorized as it explores new imaginative spaces, and it encourages you, the player, to do the same.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut was reviewed on PS5.