Death Stranding Director’s Cut review: A triumphant return

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, like many of the Japanese game maker’s titles before it, is a game that polarised people when it came out on PlayStation 4 in 2019.

Placing players in the work boots of Sam Porter Bridges (played by The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus), a delivery man working to re-establish a broken and fractured post-apocalyptic America, many heralded the game as the second coming. Others saw it as a grind-laden walking simulator.

I’ve always found Kojima’s games a little bizarre. I didn’t play the early Metal Gear Solid games & only bought Metal Gear Solid V because of all the praise it received from everyone. I hated it. I sold the game disc to a friend pretty soon after I bought it.

Last year, however, I played the PC version of Death Stranding for the other website I write for (to see how it fared on PC) and for the most part, I enjoyed it, concluding “I’m not sure whether it’ll completely win me over but I’ve found myself kind of enjoying creeping through BT (Beach Things)-infested plains and silent valleys.”

For the uninitiated, Death Stranding is a game where you walk from point A to point B then generally back to point B but sometimes via point C and E. There’s stealth thrown in every now and then where Sam has to avoid the BTs – floating remnants of dead people – which can cause events called “voidouts”. If caught by a BT Sam will have to face off against animal-like creatures made out of a tar-like goo that would like nothing more than to eat him if they got the opportunity.

They explode in a shower of a chirrilium, a gold coloured compound that sprouts from the ground in the shape of a hand when the boss is defeated.

The story involves people with names like Fragile, Deadman, Heartman and Die-Hardman and Sam carries an infant in a portable incubator called a Bridge Baby attached to his suit. It can sense BTs. There’s also a protagonist called Cliff, a former special forces solider who is searching for his lost BB, which just so happens to be Sam’s BB. It’s confusing and complicated.

Fast forward to September 2021 and I’m playing the PlayStation 5 enhanced version of Death Stranding thanks to a review copy supplied by PlayStation NZ and I think that the changes made to this version have actually made the game more enjoyable and accessible and I’m enjoying it much more the second time around.

Sure, it still has the incessant grind where one minute you could be delivering underwear to a base somewhere high in a mountain range while the next you’re transporting old parts to a junk man, but the refinements in the new version have made it a less frustrating experience and a, dare I say it, more enjoyable experience.

The Director’s Cut brings a few quality of life improvements: For starters, you gain access to equipment like the wearable power skeletons (which makes you walk faster or through rough terrain) and new weapons much earlier on now.

There’s also the cargo catapult that is, as the name suggests, a canon that that sends cargo into safer areas, avoiding zones that might put it at risk from at the best MULES and at worst BTs. Being able to use those things much earlier on makes things so much easier to traverse the environments – and makes the grind less of, well, a grind.

There are also new story missions and a racing track – and the Monster Energy drink found in Sam’s living quarters has now been replaced by another game-specific brand!

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding brings a performance mode which up scales to 4K (from 1800p) & targets 60 frames per second and a fidelity mode that offers native 4K but slightly reduced performance. It also has faster load times thanks to the PS5’s SSD & uses the haptics and adaptive triggers of the PS5 controller remarkably well.

Another new feature is that you can replay the boss battles through the figurines on display in Sam’s private room & you can even use a Buddy Bot – an automated delivery robot – to give Sam a lift when he’s tired of walking. They’re small quality of life changes but they’re welcome.

What hasn’t changed here is Hideo Kojima’s movie-like treatment of the game: It’s still incredibly cut-scene heavy but thankfully you can skip them, which is a god send. I really don’t need to sit through four cut scenes every time Sam goes to his private quarters or takes a shower. It’s just a little too much.

As weird as the story is, though, to its credit it’s delivered so masterfully by the ensemble cast that I found myself strangely engaging with what was going on. I mean, I was still confused half the time but it was presented so well that I just went with it.

Death Stranding is also intriguing in that it’s a persistent online world too which means that one morning you’ll step out from your safe house to find overnight while you’ve slept, someone has built a bridge over a nearby ravine or a shelter that will protect you from the acidic timefall rain.

So far, I’ve sunk around 21 hours into Death Stranding Director’s Cut & I’ve just finished Episode 7 (there are 14 from what I understand ). It’s a long, long game with a few of the episodes chocked to the brim with the weird shit that you’d expect in a Kojima game.

Here’s the thing, though: On paper, Death Stranding isn’t normally the type of game that would capture my attention but here we are, more than 20 hours in and I’m still happy to strap a antimatter bomb to my backpack and drudge 2000m through rocky terrain (and possibly deep snow) to deliver the item to some doomsday prepper way in the back of beyond.

Or take on a bunch of enemies to recover a camera for a photographer just because it has sentimental value. Or continuously slide down an icy cliff face, determined to get the winter clothing required for a mission-critical delivery.

The Director’s Cut of Death Stranding has something pushing me forward that the game couldn’t do when I played it on PC. I also found that completing one or two deliveries then putting the game down – sometimes until the next day – worked well. It broke up the trudging from point A to point B into more digestible chunks.

Even with the new additions, Death Stranding will still divide gamers but personally, after spending time with both the original Death Stranding and now the Director’s Cut, I believe that if you’re on the fence over whether you should dip your toes into Hideo Kojima’s weird but kind of intriguing world, then the Director’s Cut is definitely the way to go. I also appreciated the soundtrack more this time around, especially when a tune kicks in when you’re mid-delivery. It’s calming.

Who knows: Like me, you might find some solace wandering alone through a post-apocalyptic landscape with nothing but the cargo on your back and a baby strapped to your chest for company.

Metro Exodus thoughts: Surviving post-apocalyptic Russia

Please note, I haven’t finished Metro Exodus yet but I thought I’d give my impressions after a few hours in the world 4A Games has created. To be honest, though, I’m making my way through parts of this game so slowly, due to all the nightmarish horrors I’m having to deal with, I reckon it’ll take me weeks to finish it.

I often question myself over things I’ve done in the past.

Most recently, after I was scared stupid – again –  by some abomination mutated by years of radiation in post-apocalyptic Russia while playing Metro Exodus, I asked myself: “What the fark was I thinking putting my hand up to review Metro Exodus, a game that features nightmarish creatures hell-bent on ripping my intestines out through my throat?”

Look, I’m a mess at the best of times when it comes to scary moments in video games. Truth be told, I tend to play games that feature any scary moments during the day, when people are at home, with the curtains open. None of this play it in the dark, all alone, with headphones on rubbish. Fark that for a game of soldiers.

The Metro series, as those that have played it will know, is a game that features scary moments and is based on the books written by Russian author Dimitry Glukhovsky. Lots of them, especially when you’re creeping through claustrophobic environments when it’s dark and all you have to light the way is the slowly dimming glow from your head-mounted torch.

I played Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light and so I had a strategy for Exodus: Play during the day when monsters are supposedly less abundant, meaning more human foes and less of the mutated humanoid ghouls and beastly beasts (notice how I highlighted less in that sentence?). Less monsters means less chance of having to deal with aforementioned nightmarish creatures. Well, I’m calling bullshit on that assumption right off the bat.

During one area in the Volga (Exodus’ first location), I decided to hunt for upgraded equipment for Artyom’s attire (upgraded helmet, gas mask, bullet carrying capacity). Three buildings nearby were heavily guarded by bandits so it was risky to take them out during the day – there was more potential for things to turn pear-shaped – but I thought I’d take that risk: It was better than facing the unspeakable horrors that lurked during the night.

One building, an abandoned petrol station, seemed easy enough, although two of the five bandits were heavily armoured. My strategy was to skulk around the outskirts, picking them off one by one, pluck the equipment from the storage areas and get out. Well, things didn’t go quite according to plan.

As I crept around a barrier, two little monster things suddenly attacked me from behind so as I dealt with them the sniper on the roof of the saw me, alerted his friends and all hell broke loose.

I took out two guys out easy enough, advancing on the building, but one of the heavy armoured dudes appeared, forcing me to duck behind a rusted out car. As I took him out, a horde of humanoid monsters suddenly appeared, forcing me to fire randomly, hoping to take them out. It had all turned to custard, royally, but I survived. Just.

And don’t get me started about the monsters during the night, or when you wander through dark locations, or the terrifying electrical anomalies that crackle and roam, setting all matter of things on fire with their electrical energy. In one example of these things, it suddenly appeared in a rail car that I had just finished driving, sending arcs of radiated energy everywhere.

In Metro Exodus, everything is out to get you, literally, be they two-legged, four-legged or multi-legged.

As in previous Metro games, part of the tension came from the scarcity of resources, and that has returned here, with things like ammunition in short supply, forcing you to collect what you can then craft it – bullets, air filters, knives, decoys – either at a workbench or from your backpack. When possible, I’d use stealth, punching an enemy in the back of the head rather than waste a precious bullet on him.

I liked how you can scavenge parts from discarded weapons then cobble together frankenstein-ish armaments at workbenches, creating some amazing variants. Want a sniper scope on a handgun? Sure. A longer muzzle and extended clip on that rifle? No problem.

Exodus’ story is engaging, and I actually became invested in the story as the travellers moved from location to location on the Aurora, and visually, man, the game looks stunning on the PlayStation 4 Pro, especially night-time environmental effects. It looks pretty impressive on PC, I’m told. I also really loved the option of no onscreen clutter and that the in-game map is a clipboard that Artyom can flip around to view mission notes. It’s a really nice touch.

All that data comes at a price, obviously, as Exodus has incredibly long load times, especially when you first fire up the game. At times, it took in excess of 3 minutes, nine seconds to first load up. Load times are quicker if you have to reload a save but initially, it’s “Make a cup of coffee and some toast load times. Hopefully, a patch will remedy those load times.

Also, I don’t think the developers have done a very good job of actually telling you what some of the controls are for certain actions. It wasn’t initially clear to me how I actually took of my gas mask when I didn’t need it (on the PS4 it’s hold down on the D-pad).

I noted that at times people would talk over the top of each other, making it difficult to follow what was going on sometimes (I always have subtitles on so that makes things easier) and sometimes, the enemy AI is a bit brain dead, with foes sometimes forgetting that you’re there.

One thing I would like to see if there are any future games is – and this is just a personal preference – is for Artyom to have a voice. Many times during the game, his comrades would call out to him over a radio and there was no response: Just silence. He grunts and groans when he’s exerting himself and gets injured but Artyom is continuing the long held tradition of many first person shooter heroes being the strong, silent type.

When I first heard that the Metro series was coming out of the tight confines of the previous two games into a more open world environment, I was worried that the series would lose some of its charm. I needn’t have worried. Despite a more open world, Exodus is a worthy addition to the series.

Now, if only I could muster up the courage to face those mutated creatures during the night, I’ll be sweet.

A big thank you to Five Eight Distribution in New Zealand who supplied a code for the PS4 version of Metro Exodus. 

Artyom’s Nightmare: Entering the world of Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus, the next game in one of my favourite shooter series of all time (it really is), is close, dear readers, very, very, very close.

How close? So close you can almost taste its radioactive source code.

It’s out next week, actually (February 15) and to celebrate its imminent arrival, Deep Silver and 4A Games have released Artyom’s Nightmare”, a 4 minute something CGi short that acts as a prologue to Exodus where it explores main character Artyom’s hopes and fears of a life beyond the ruins of the Moscow Metro.

If you’re a fan of the series, it’s well worth a look and sets the scene for what we can expect in Metro Exodus.

The countdown for Artyom’s return has begun …

 

Hold your breath, gamers, Metro Exodus is just around the corner

4A Game’s Metro series, which kicked off with Metro 2033 then followed up with Metro Last Night and set in post-apocalyptic Russia, would be one of my favourite FPS series of all time – and two of the most scary, too, with memories of creeping inch by inch forward for fear of something nasty jumping out from the shadows of an abandoned train station or sewer system.

Inspired by the writings of Russian novelist Dmitry Glukhovsky and his Metro 2025 novel, players fill the radiation stained boots of ranger Artyom as he searches for new life in the land laid waste by nuclear war.

In the lead up to the release of the third game in the series, Metro Exodus, Deep Silver and 4A Games have released some three documentaries on the making of Metro Exodus, talking to the development team in Kiev and in Malta. Metro Exodus is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on February 15. I can’t wait.

You can watch episode one of the series below:

And as if by magic, you can also watch episode two here, which talks about the 4A graphics engine and the attention to detail in the in-game weapons:

Impact Winter review: Surviving winter

Inside the church where Jacob, Blane, Wendy, Maggie and Christophe are sheltering after an asteroid struck earth, plunging it into winter.

According to Wikipedia, an impact winter is “a hypothesized period of prolonged cold weather due to the impact of a large asteroid or comet on the Earth’s surface” – and that’s the premise behind Impact Winter (PC: Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year), a survival game from developer Mojo Bones and published by Bandai Namco.

Players control Jacob Solomon, one of four survivors eeking out an existence in an abandoned church after an asteroid has hit earth, plunging it into perpetual wintry conditions. The group’s robot companion, Ako-Light intercepts a radio transmission indicating that help will arrive in 30 days. You have to explore the game world, searching for supplies to help you survive until help arrives.

The game really does an excellent job of a bleak existence as the result of a cataclysmic event. Jacob’s fellow survivors – Christophe, Blane, Wendy and Maggie – can be given tasks to complete while Jacob goes out and searches abandoned house for supplies and equipment that will help speed up how long it takes for help to arrive.  Tasks can be things like repairing the church to upgrade its resilience in the harsh weather or making equipment that help in the search for better supplies. In the game’s early stages, Jacob will also has to make sure that the fire in the church, which provides heat and cooking facilities for the group, is constantly fueled.

Part of the charm (is it charm?) about Impact Winter is that there’s a real sense of urgency in trying to find supplies then get back to the church to get stuff done. Every time Jacob or the other survivors achieve a milestone, XP points are earned and  time is taken off how long it will take for help to arrive, allowing more skills/roles to be assigned to the characters. There’s also a real sense of hopelessness at times with Impact Winter as during one expedition I had to hurry back to the church as I was notified that Blane was not feeling well. By the time I got back to the church – the temperature had plummeted to -7 degrees – Blane, Wendy and Christophe who are all bed-ridden, hungry and unwell, and the fire had died. I wasn’t doing too well and had to use all the wood I had gathered to help repair the roof to fuel the fire.

Jacob trudging through the winter.

Impact Winter does a great job in setting a gloomy, post-apocalyptic scene, with Jacob wading through knee-high snow and being buffeted by arctic winds. Houses and business as dark and gloomy and often you’ll have to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Ako-Light, your robot buddy, has a powerful spotlight that is useful for illuminating dark spots and can help dig out objects from the ground.

Sadly, Impact Winter is hampered by technical issues, which is a shame. Sometimes, the game takes a while to load (but that seems to have been sorted) and even though I was using a game pad, button presses don’t always do what they’re supposed to. The key layout just seems to be a mess (apparently, a patch is on the way to sort out the key binding issues).

Technical issues aside, there’s a huge amount of depth to Impact Winter – and a huge amount to like – and it’s a game where you have to carefully pay attention to the other members of your party and not go Rambo and head off on your own for too long. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to juggling everything you have to do to survive – I’m failing miserably right now – but Impact Winter is an interesting idea that just needed a bit more polish before it was released.

Jacob outside the entrance to the church where the survivors are living.

 

Thanks to Bandai Namco for providing a review code for Impact Winter.