There’s a certain subset of people who play games that are almost slavishly devoted to winning some sense of legitimacy for the medium. In my mind that was never really necessary – that desperation in itself holds the medium back by stinking up all manner of discussions about gaming. Still, it is what it is, and a lot of those people have clung to the games of Hideo Kojima as an example of how games are a legitimate art form. You probably know him from the Metal Gear Solid franchise, which he created and no longer works on.
Now his latest Kojimaventure, Death Stranding, is available on PC! It’s still shockingly good given that it is, essentially, a surreal, sci-fi take on a truck simulator. With some decent hardware it’s even better on PC than it was on PlayStation 4, which means you won’t have to listen to the console screaming in agony as it tries its best to render modern graphics. The future is great!
Death Stranding, a game made by Hideo Kojima – who we’re not going to mention again in order to try and differentiate this review from any others – follows the exploits of Sam Porter Bridges, played by Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead fame. Sam is essentially an Amazon delivery boy in a post-apocalyptic world full of spooky ghosts. As an agent of the United Cities of America, represented by the Bridges corporation, Sam’s job is to make deliveries between various isolated settlements in order to build connections between them and rebuild America.
This mostly takes the form of hauling missions where you carry goods from one place to the other. Doing so earns you transporter renown in the form of Likes and advances the plot. Hauling can be more or less difficult depending on the terrain, the equipment you bring with you and potential attacks by the spooky ghosts. If you’re going a long way, you might want a vehicle; if there’s plenty of cliffs, you might want ladders or ropes; if there’s a river perhaps you’d even consider building a bridge, which requires a somewhat more strenuous time and labor investment but can also benefit other players online.
Other concerns include the amount of weight you make poor Sam carry, with excessive piling resulting in a more dangerous trip as he staggers about and drops cargo everywhere. More than anything, Death Stranding thrives on emergent gameplay, so while conceptually, hauling things from one place to the other isn’t necessarily interesting, you’re bound to run into fun as you do it.
Spicing your trips up a little are enemy factions out to stop your deliveries faster than a mistyped zip code. You’ve got the aforementioned spooky ghosts, known as BTs, which try to drag Sam down into spooky ghost goop; you’ll need to avoid these with stealth, though you do have some blood-based weaponry as a backup if need be. There’s also human foes, many of whom are out for your cargo. Since setting lore precludes actually killing anyone, you’ll need to fight back with nonlethal guns, martial arts or a good old-fashioned cargo case to the face.
Intertwined with all this is a set of online features that basically revolve around helping one another out – making connections, if you will, as per the main theme of the game. Building structures makes those structures available to others, for instance, and you’re able to collect dropped and lost cargo from other players and finish their deliveries for them. The PC renaissance of this game has done a lot for this feature, allowing newcomers to check out the online component of Death Stranding as if it were fresh and new.
As for presentation, well, this is a game built largely around cutscenes and walking around from one place to the other with periodic stints of intense action. Of course it looks fantastic. Now it’s on PC and it looks even better; as mentioned, if you’ve got the tech chops then Death Stranding is more than happy to put them to work. Framerate and graphics alike benefit from the upgrade, particularly with the addition of Nvidia DLSS 2.0 for those rocking RTX capable video cards. Crank it on up to 4K and play the game at 60FPS. Haul like you’ve never hauled before.
In particular, the improved framerate on the PC version might be the biggest upgrade. This isn’t something comes out quite so well in screenshots, but the overall improvement to how it feels to play makes this the definitive version of Death Stranding.
Perhaps even stranger than the overarching concept is the game’s voice cast, an odd mix of Hollywood heavy-hitters and…everyone else. It’s no secret that Kojima has often been criticized for his cinematic approach to storytelling, one that can feel like it favors drawn-out cinematic cutscenes over pure gameplay, but here that observation becomes a reality. Apart from Reedus, keep your eyes (and ears) open for contributions by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), as well as others you might never have expected to see in a videogame, let alone one like this.
With a fascinating plot, plenty of backstory to enjoy, high-class cutscenes and a gameplay loop that can be pretty damn interesting if you let it grab you, Death Stranding turned out to be a pretty solid experience. It’s not quite a shooter, not quite a stealth game and you do spend a lot of time carrying things around. The fun here, though, is all about what you do when carrying things doesn’t go the way you planned – and in that sense, there’s plenty of fun to be had with Kojima’s latest creation. Now that it’s been given a new life on PC, there’s no better time to give Death Stranding a shot and see what all the hubbub was about.