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.

Death Stranding (PC review)

This review was originally published over at Koru-Cottage, another site I write for.

Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding is a game that polarised gamers when it came out on PlayStation 4 and you had two camps. Those that saw it almost as the second coming as one of the best games they’d ever played.  Versus those that found it good looking game hindered by repetitive gameplay.

I never played Death Stranding on PlayStation 4, but did play Metal Gear Solid V on the console and wasn’t a fan. It just didn’t gel with me. I just didn’t get it.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to look at Death Stranding on PC when asked by the esteemed editor of this fine publication. I was curious to see how it played on a PC with more powerful hardware than a PS4. Also how Guerilla’s Decima game engine – which was used in Horizon Zero Dawn – scaled to a PC. Where there are a wide range of hardware variables at play, unlike consoles which are standardised in their design and hardware.

Players control Sam Porter Bridges (played by The Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus). Broken down to its core elements – it’s a game where you play a courier in the future (Sam Bridges), tasked with reconnecting a fractured America. He does this by delivering vital packages from point A to point B, all the while reconnecting the UCA (United Cities of America) to a network that will reunite them.

It’s kinda weird, man

Let’s be honest here, Death Stranding is a weird game. I mean, in one encounter with the game’s ghostly enemies – BTs – a trike I was riding got stuck in some black goo that rose up from the ground. A giant tentacled whale then dropped from the sky, ate me, then when I found my body (after floating through water), a giant crater had suddenly been created, surrounded by dead fish. I wish I’d remembered to get a capture of it: It was wild. Seriously, WTF, Hideo?

In another encounter, the aforementioned tentacled whale returned, but I threw three grenades made out of Sam’s blood at it and it exploded in a shower of gold flakes. Another time, I clearly overloaded poor Sam with too many containers, causing him to stumble and fall, dropping all his cargo and causing the baby strapped to his chest in a pod – a BB which can help Sam sense the BTs – to cry. Again, WTF, Hideo?

Death Stranding PC - Norman

Anyhoo, this review is focusing more on the technical aspects of this PC port. How it looks, how it works with mouse and keyboard and, importantly, whether higher frame rates mean a better gaming experience. [Spoiler alert: of course they do].

better, stronger, faster on pc?

The tweakable graphics options for this PC version of Death Stranding aren’t massive but there is enough to show that the Decima engine on which this game is built is hugely scalable if you’ve got a moderately good graphics card (ie current or last generation). Kojima Productions have clearly spent time getting this conversion right.

You can customise the level of graphics quality you want [I ran a mix of very high and high settings]. There’s no tweakable FOV slider, which will frustrate some people, but a really nice touch is that you can select the maximum frame-rate, which goes from 60FPS right up to 240FPS.

I’m running an AMD Radeon RX580 – a still capable GPU but not current generation – and I  locked the frame rate cap at 120FPS.It’s liberating at how much smoother game play is when you’re not locked at 30 frames per second like with console games.

With my RX580, I was averaging 100 frames per second. I can only imagine how high the frame rates are with a top-end GPU like an RTX2080 or higher.

Death Stranding already looked good on the PlayStation 4 but it really does look stunning on PC. With highly detailed environments, characters and weather effects – it just shows how talented the team at Kojima is.

If you’ve got the hardware, you will be impressed with how good Death Stranding looks. I did notice a few stutters, however, in early cinematic sequences which seemed to sort themselves out after a quick restart.

Death Stranding PC - Tricycle the fun!

keyboard or traditional mouse & keyboard?

Using the mouse and keyboard took a little getting used to for me as lately I’ve been more used to using a controller. Using the standard W-A-S-D set up for movement was familar and worked. I had to stretch my fingers a bit when using V for melee combat against MULEs but it was doable. You can use a controller. Although I had no luck using my wired Xbox 360 controller which the game wouldn’t recognise.

The game has a comprehensive photo mode (all the photos in this review were captured using it) and it brings a tonne of options for in-game photographers.

However it took me a while to work out how to actually take a photo: There is no on-screen “capture” button. It was only after a bit of sleuthing using Dr Google that I found you have to use either Steam’s photo capturing software or something like nVidia or AMD’s photo capturing solutions to take a screen shot. It’s a bit finnicky so an actual on-screen “capture” button would be a nice addition.

Death Stranding PC - wind in my hair

I’m more hours into a Hideo Kojima game than I’ve ever been before and you know what? I actually think I’m starting to like it. I’m not sure whether it’ll completely win me over but I’ve found myself kind of enjoying creeping through its BT-infested plains and silent valleys.

Death Stranding is one of the most polarising games in recent memory and I’m still to be convinced that Hideo Kojima is a genius. The bottom line is it is absolutely stunning on PC and provides frame rates that only a current generation console could dream of.

To that end, I have high hopes for games like Horizon Zero Dawn, another Sony game which is also PC bound and uses the same Decima graphics engine. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a PC gamer.

Norman Reedus Winkie

Metal Gear Solid V just went all cute on me & update: I’m liking it [may contain spoilers]

Note: If you’re playing it and haven’t got far, this could spoil a really nice moment for you. You’ve been warned

A few days ago I wondered whether I’d made a mistake buying MGSV: The Phantom Pain.

Well, after a few more hours, I can report I’m actually starting to dig it. It’s really throwing up some neat little touches that I’m liking [I really like the shower on Mother Base so I can wash off all the enemy blood from Snake. Thumbs up, Mr Kojima]

I think the turning point was a mindset change. I started playing it more Splinter Cell and less Gears of War [insert any other shooter name here, if you like]. I started thinking  tactically, rather than go in guns blazing [although during one early mission I was doing incredibly well, being stealthy, until a guard spotted me carrying an unconscious buddy – then all hell broke loose]

Then this happened during the opening moments of, I think, the third mission:

METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN_20150917111253

Up, up & away: Yes, that’s Snake fultoning a puppy back to Mother Base.

So, I completed the mission, returned to Mother Base to wash off the blood, not really giving the puppy a second thought, then this happened as I stepped from the helicopter.

Oh, Mr Kojima, you know how to generate the “Awws” from me. Nice work.

 

 

Metal Gear Solid V: Did I make a mistake buying this game?

MGS5Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the game of the moment, it seems, getting rave reviews from critics and fans of the series alike, but here’s a confession: In the two hours or so I’ve played it of it, I can’t get into it, and I’m actually starting to regret buying it. I kind of wish I’d bought Avalanche’s Mad Max instead.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a strong history of playing the MGS series that is taking over here. The only MGS game I’ve played was MGSIV, and I didn’t like that much either. The Phantom Pain just isn’t capturing my attention. I don’t think about it every waking moment. In fact, I’ve played Tearaway Unfolded, a PS4-exclusive, than MGSV: The Phantom Pain.

I don’t know why the game’s not impacting on me. Maybe I was swept away with the hype surrounding the game, convincing me to buy it and be Big Boss. Maybe I was captivated game play I’d seen that made it look really, really great and I just had to have it. I don’t know what it is but at the moment, I almost have to force myself to play it, to justify the money that I paid for it.

I’ve heard that the first two to three hours will be make or break as to whether you’ll like it – is that right? – so maybe I have to grit my teeth and persevere until I get access to Mother Base and the ability to fulton things. I guess in a game that can give you 40+ hours of game play it’s going to have a slow start, right?

The first hour was totally confusing (Hideo Kojima has a wild imagination, that’s for sure), and to be honest, half the time I had no idea what was going on (I’ve just come across some zombie-like soldiers called the Skulls – this is also confusing the hell out of me). When I’d finished the prologue I was still none the wiser as to what had just happened.

So, have I made the right decision with MGSV and should I stick with it? Will it get better?  Or do I cut my losses, try and sell it and pick up something like Mad Max? I’ve also got Tearaway Unfolded, Forza 6 and Until Dawn to play.

I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.

*I’m going to continue playing MGSV and see whether I get hooked. I’ll keep you posted!