(Pocket-lint) – When Kojima’s Death Stranding was released for PS4 in 2019 it divided opinion like very few games before – some thought it genius, others a load of old pretentious tosh. Very few hovered somewhere in the middle. It’s seemingly the gaming equivalent of Marmite.
Now it’s back, significantly improved and reworked for a native PlayStation 5 experience and, while it will similarly cause debate among players, we have to say we’ve found it much more approachable the second time around.
The story is identical to the PS4 original (and PC follow-up), of course, as are the first eight or so hours – which will more than likely baffle and bamboozle you.
We review that earlier version here, so you can read that to get a more in-depth grip on it. However, a brief synopsis is that you play Sam Bridges – a porter (courier) who transports essential items around a post-apocalyptic landscape. The game is largely, therefore, a series of fetch and delivery quests over a vast open-world setting, with the occasional encounter with BTs (Beached Things) and Mules (bandits) to permeate the solitude.
It’s also somewhat a road movie, with Sam given an overarching mission to reconnect US cities to something called the Chiral Network – a worldwide web of sorts, that also allows for 3D printing of weapons, items, buildings and other helpful structures. Each city or location connected adds both new gear to make and equip, and the ability to have structures and items left by other real-world players in their play-throughs pop up in yours.
Ironically, you need to be connected persistently to the internet too for that. The game is available to play offline, but it’s nowhere near as fun, while the stuff other players’ have built or dropped are genuinely useful.
We digress though. While we make the plot sound relatively straightforward, it must be remembered that this is all from the mind of Hideo Kojima. And, although he is clearly one of the greatest game directors in history and a bonafide legend of the format, his storytelling can often be befuddling. Much of the long-winded cutscenes at the beginning make little sense, for example, until you progress much further into the game.
And, it must be said, you can be left scratching your head even after the end credits. But, we have to say “stick with it” as the experience is well worth the ride.
Death Stranding – Director’s Cut or not – is a unique action RPG-style game. The main thing you’ll be concerned with throughout is inventory management, as Sam can only carry so much (on his back, strapped to his uniform, etc). And, when you travel across the terrain, mainly on foot, you’ll be challenged to keep your balance underneath a wobbling tower of items.
Get it wrong and you might find main mission items rapidly floating away down a stream. Or, they can be damaged by a Timefall – rain that has the effect of rapidly accelerating time to the effect that items (and unprotected people) can age unnaturally quickly.
A successful delivery is not just rated on it getting there, it’s whether it gets there in good condition (and, sometimes, the speed of its journey). You are then rated in social media-style likes on how well you’ve done. These are like experience points and help you level up and, potentially, give you stat boosts.
Other hazards you’ll encounter along the way are the aforementioned BTs – deadly ghosts that roam Timefall locations. They were stuck between worlds during the Death Stranding event that devastated Earth and now look for the living to join their numbers. At first, you are best advised to avoid them, something fairly simple thanks to help from a baby in a jar strapped to your chest (BB) that can detect them. Then, you get weapons that can defeat them – leading to some great set pieces later on, especially after you find out more about the Beach and their origins.
Combat is therefore a large element of the game too – but not it’s main concern. In all honesty, its best moments are when there is nobody else around at all.
For us, the solo pursuit of traversing large swathes of landscape on foot is a calming process rarely offered in gaming. It helps that haunting electro-rock tracks punch in when there’s not much else around to concern you.
The game also looks stunning. The vast landscapes looked great in the PS4 version, but are especially so on PlayStation 5. Photorealism can be found in a few games – and we expect more in future, with the likes of Unreal Engine 5 knocking about – but few offer such picturesque views.
On PS5 and exclusive to this Director’s Cut, you get a few picture options to choose from. There is a performance mode which offers scaled 4K visuals running at “up to” 60 frames per second – the PS4 version ran at 30fps, even on PS4 Pro.
Alternatively, you can choose a fidelity mode for a native 4K experience. We’re not sure whether the latter is locked to 30fps to maintain that resolution or whether it’s using a dynamic frame rate, but both seem to run smoothly enough – and there’s very little to choose between them in terms of crispness and clarity, even on a 65-inch OLED TV. It’s nice to have options, for sure.
The other visual mode is 21:9, which offers a wider field of view and more cinematic experience. Of course, on a PS5 running on a normal 16:9 TV, this amounts to black bars top and bottom, but it could be worth it for some.
Other PS5 additions in this version of the game include haptics and adaptive triggers that make great use of the DualSense controller, plus 3D Audio for those who play through using compatible headphones, such as Sony’s own Pulse 3D wireless headset.
You can also carry over your PS4 save game to the Director’s Cut, although you will need to have the PS4 game installed too until you do, as you first need to go into its menu to select the relevant option.
New missions and story elements have been added too, with two new mini-games appearing once you’ve progressed to certain points in the campaign. One is a new training area, where you can test weapons on BTs and Mules in a simulation rather than out in the field. This definitely helps hone skills before you need to dispatch either of them in the heat of the moment.
Another is a well-realised racing game. It’s a decent wedge into the story, so you’ll take a while to get there, but we think worth it.
Some quality-of-life enhancements are also present: some gear and items have been moved to earlier in the storyline to make progress less grindy; power skeletons, for example, are especially useful earlier on, as they help you carry more cargo and stabilise you a bit. The “Fragle Jump” function has been refined, with quick travel easier to implement as it’s now done from the map rather than a list (once it’s unlocked, of course). And, there is new gear to help too, including an enormous cargo catapult that can shoot cargo to remote areas over a healthy distance.
Many of the other tweaks and improvements might even go under the radar, but you can be safe in the knowledge that Kojima and his team have put in a lot of effort in ensuring this is not a “Director’s Cut” in name alone. Some purists might not like that – a la George Lucas’ incessant meddling of the original Star Wars – but it makes for a better game, we believe.
Of final note is the performance of the mo-cap cast and, most significantly, Normas Reedus as Sam. He manages to add his own stamp on a character that barely speaks and remains po-faced and largely disinterested throughout. In many ways, this is Daryl from The Walking Dead even more pissed off that he’s found himself on yet another post-apocalyptic world – this time with even fewer friends.
To pull that off and remain captivating is no mean feat. It helps that we have class-leading graphical representations of the actors – including Guillermo del Toro (in body form, at least) and Mads Mikkelsen – and now shown in even higher resolution on PS5, but the acting should not be overlooked.
Plenty of additions and tweaks or no, Death Stranding: Director’s Cut will continue to allude those sceptical the first time around. It does make it easier to get immersed into Kojima’s world though, for those who had a passing interest and decided against taking the plunge previously.
It’s still confusing and – unless you find the solace of virtual hiking as comforting as we – a bit dull at times. However, it is also one of the best-looking games around – possibly the best. It’ll certainly help you show off the talents of your swanky PlayStation 5 console.
So, if you’ve held your hand for now but are interested to find out what all the fuss was about, you’ve had no better time to do so until now. Plus, if you did opt for the PS4 version but never finished it, now’s your time to do so – it’s a relatively cheap upgrade platform-to-platform (not least if you own the digital version) and you can even transfer your save.
That’s key for us. We somehow got distracted and never completed Death Stranding before – detached from it but still connected through a strand of interest, much like a BT – and while we’re still mostly left wondering what it was all about, we’re so glad we took the time to revisit in the Director’s Cut.
Writing by Rik Henderson. Originally published on .