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.
The last time we talked about the latest Kojima game, Death Stranding, we were looking at the PC version. It’s now made its way to another platform – the PlayStation 5 – in the form of the presently-PS5-exclusive Death Stranding: Director’s Cut. What’s new? What’s changed? Is it worth tying America back together again?
Let’s start from the beginning yet again. 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 – oh, you can do it, but you’re gonna wish you hadn’t – you’ll need to fight back with nonlethal guns, martial arts or a good old-fashioned cargo case to the face.
In the Director’s Cut, you’ve got a few more options to help you out when you’re making deliveries. There’s new cargo catapults, ramps to launch your vehicles off of, basically a ton of ways to make the game easier. Whether or not this is a good thing is really up in the air; as mentioned, the original release of Death Stranding was all about learning to make do with what you’ve got. New players might come to appreciate the help, though.
Along with that, you’ve got racing and shooting challenges to check out as well, adding a little bit more in the way of traditional gameplay to the haul-a-thon. Finally, there’s a little bit of new story content here and there and a tiny new area to explore, but none of this is going to shake the world of package delivery.
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.
Speaking of fresh and new, we’re playing on the PlayStation 5! That means fancy graphics and haptic feedback! Death Stranding Director’s Cut offers all of that in spades. It’s easily the definitive version of the game, though a souped-up PC might be able to offer an even more graphically intense experience. That nice framerate compared to the original PS4 release remains the best improvement, as with the PC version, so savor making deliveries without slowdown.
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. Death Stranding Director’s Cut offers a few new perks, but it might not be enough to merit a full replay; instead, this take on the game is probably best experienced by newcomers.