Death Stranding: Director’s Cut
From legendary game creator Hideo Kojima comes a genre-defying experience, now expanded and remastered for PS5 in this definitive DIRECTOR’S CUT.
Experience an extended storyline through new missions in an expanded area. Make use of additional weapons and vehicles, take on new enemy types and explore new locations such as the Firing Range and Racetrack, featuring extra missions and minigames.
Stay connected with other players from around the globe.
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I respect a lot of what Death Stranding is doing. It’s definitely unique and has some strong core themes and some good ideas. But, ultimately it’s frustrating, kinda boring once you’ve played it for a while, and WAY too weird for its own good. I mean, seriously? Piss mushrooms?! Fuck off man. Did anyone tell Kojima “no, dude, what the fuck?” at any point during this game’s development?
Also the story is utter nonsense, half exposition from static images on screens and it completely fails to carry this game across its absurd runtime. I only got about 13 hours in and I was already wishing it was ending soon.
I started off being quite impressed with this and enjoying playing something different, but that pretty soon wore off and I’m sorta feeling like I wasted the last few evenings playing it.
Beaten: Oct 9 2021
Time: 28 Hours
Have you ever thought to yourself "Wow, I wish Hideo Kojima would make a piece of media that's like a perfect crossroads between his singular style and Neon Genesis Evangelion"? If you have, this is probably the game for you. If you haven't, it might still be the game for you, idk. Somehow it's also a game about being connected to people despite not being able to see them in person, that came out a year before we had to live like that in real life. It's a game about the way that american patriotism can be taken advantage of, the way that the bonds between us are more important than anything else. And for all of that, I respect it wholly.
But that's not why I love it. I love it because it gave me that feeling of exploring the outdoors, finding footholds in the rocks in my neighborhood, the way I used to when I was a young kid. Breath of the Wild did this too, and I think it might be what makes these games special to me. Not only is free traversal the main thrust of the gameplay, you're encouraged to just, find your own way. Not your own destination, but your own journey.
Literally I didn't find anything more enjoyable in this than just walking from one end of the country to the other, carrying too much cargo on my back. No roads, no bikes, just walking. It's the kinda thing I should do more in real life (walking, not carrying too much weight lol), given how thoroughly enjoyable and nostalgic it left me.
On top of all that, the setting for the game is maybe the most original post-apocalyptic setting I've ever seen. The style and tone remind me of Arrival, but what's actually presented as lore and concept here is just stellar, and about as original as I've ever seen. It feels like a very unique, very modern HBO science fiction show in so many ways. Er, one that mixes itself with like, Rambo occasionally? It's great lol.
Beyond all that love though, there's a few things that didn't quite connect with me here, or put some distance between me and the game. For one, I thought a lot of the early-mid plot was kind of uninteresting. Not bad per se, but a bit standard, and a bit flat. Die-Hardman and Mama doesn't come into their own as characters until much later in the game, particularly Die (er, or at least they didn't for me, your mileage may vary). Del Toro's character was great from the outset though, and once Heartman really entered the picture, the game really came into it's own for me.
Another issue, that's probably more a me thing than anything else here, is the facial animation? It's not bad across the board, and it works for some characters (Mads Mikkelson's character and Dr. Heartman in particular), but there's a stiffness to everything that really threw me off in some scenes. Emotions never felt like they were acted quite right, despite these actors being all very talented. It was probably my biggest issue with the game, the only thing that really kept me skeptical until things started to go down. I almost wish it'd gone for a less realistic style, but that might've beeb a completely different game.
Anyways, if you want a moving and unique and weird triple AAA experience, you probably can't do much better than this. Give it a try, if you like artsy stuff or Kojima in general.
Death Stranding is an experience that could only ever be possible in the world that exists within Hideo Kojima's mind. It is an experience that is difficult to really put into words, as it's the culmination of so many factors put together to create what felt like much more than a video game. What I completed was clearly Kojima's creative magnum opus, completely evident was his free reign over direction, narrative, sound, and atmosphere. No moment in the journey of Sam Porter Bridges' journey across the country feels without purpose, no element of the mystery behind the plot at large is wasted, no character is left feeling unimportant. Completing a game like this felt like it did when I finished Red Dead Redemption 2, I was experiencing the peak of an artform. Gaming is such a visceral platform because, unlike television, music, or film, the player is the ultimate decision maker. The person controlling whoever your protagonist is, is ultimately the one experiencing those emotions, those story beats first hand. I wasn't watching a movie of someone trek across the country whilst combatting the paranormal, I was Sam Porter Bridges. I was connecting the United States by foot, I was the one saving humanity. Every mountain I scaled, every BT I put away, every delivery I made was an impactful push towards the conclusion of the story.
The narrative in Death Stranding was excessively ambitious and something I previously never thought I'd see in gaming. I've seen anime and movies get abstract in the realm of Death Stranding, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I found that unlike NGE, Death Stranding did a phenomenal job explaining its eclectic and boundary pushing story. There's so much at hand here that I can't even begin to write about it in a review, other than that it will have the player absolutely gripped to their screens. Just like in MGSV (which I will touch on below in regards to its influence,) the lore and story are drip fed to the player over time. As you first get into the cutscenes and mystery of the Voidouts, BT's, Death Stranding, etc... your ears perk up and your mind wanders as to what they could all mean. Mission by mission, chapter by chapter, the expose of these items become explained and more impactful to the player. Once the ball is rolling in regards to Death Stranding's story, you'll never want to get off its ride.
The world is downright gorgeous and purposefully empty in many places. The game takes places in a sort-of post-apocalyptic sort-of United States that beckons the player to start in the East Coast by Washington DC and asks them to end it in Los Angeles. I semi-recently upgraded my rig and this was decidedly one of the best games to experience on it. Everything from the luscious greens in the eastern United States to the powdery whites of the Rockies popped in colour and detail. I felt like I could almost smell the air running through the scenery because it felt so realistically detailed. Every mountain I scaled had me audibly gasping to those around me, it was a frequent occurrence for me to stop and stare, the sign of a phenomenally designed open world game.
Adding on to the fantastic visual fidelity of the eye-popping environments was the character and enemy design. Hideo Kojima has always put a heavy emphasis on the visuals and intracacies of his characters, and Death Stranding is the most recent and sucessful forray into bringing the characters of gaming to life. Kojima tapped into some of film and television's biggest names in Guillermo Del Toro, Norman Reedus, and Madds Mikkelsen for Death Stranding. With the power of some extremely impressive CGI, the characters these actors portrayed seemed almost lifelike. While Guillermo did not provide the voice for his character, the rest of the cast did an impeccable job bringing the emotion of their unique personalities to the S tier animation. While it's most definitely a meme at this point, this game is laden with lengthy cutscenes that detail these characters interacting and talking at length. I had to pause frequently and sit there in awe that I was actually playing a video game. This was a far cry from the polygonal days of Metal Gear Solid 1. You could see the sweat pores in Sam Bridges, the tears trailing down from Fragile, the silky black chiralium exuding from Higgs. Everything in regards to the cast of the game was so crisp. Their perfect animation wasn't the only thing impressive about the character base of the game, as the outfit design, which I believe is an underated aspect of many modern games, was also very well done. Sam's clunky delivery outfit was purposeful and unique, Fragile's black suit was slick fit in her background very well, and Higgs' mask and outfit fit his mysterious allure to the T. I only named a few as to not wear it out but Kojima again strikes gold in how his characters are outfitted in varying and unique threads.
Usually with video games I try not to listen to soundtracks before I play whichever game they belong to. Sometimes they are unavoidable earworms like Persona 5's which I'd heard quite a bit, and othertimes I am able to avoid them like Death Stranding's. This was paintstaking as I always watch the game awards every year, and it took home the Soundtrack of the year in 2019. After finally playing the game and running through the emotional gambit, I can completely see why the OST is held in such high regard. The artists Kojima tapped for the game wrote perfectly for the narrative and expansive open world. I was very happy to see Chvrches and one of my favorite recent artists in Okay Kaya get some light in the gaming world!
Functionally Death Stranding is a loooooooooooot like it's Kojima predecessor MGSV. Instead of sortie-ing for missions you are taking deliveries. This makes the game feel a bit like a big budget television show in the same manner as the Phantom Pain did. Characters appear in cutscenes in between deliveries and give Sam details as to his missions in the same manner as Ocelot and Emmerich did. Instead of Kiefer Sutherland you have Norman Reedus. In Lieu of the sounds of the 80's, you have synth pop bands from the current era producing futuristic sounds. In both games you have an expansive open world that beckons the player to exploit the mechanics of the game and try new things to complete their objective. I don't mean to say that Death Stranding is a copy of MGSV, but moreso an evolution of the direction Kojima has been taking his games in the last few years. There lies a strong departure from the early Metal Gear Solid days, not necessarily a bad one, but it sure is distinct.
While I think Death Stranding is one of the coolest games ever made, it definitely had its frustrations. These for me boiled down to: reverse trike movement and BT interactions. The game, as most people know revolves around the player making deliveries to connect the United States from coast to coast. You could run this all on foot while toying with the intricate weight mechanics, or you could elect to try it via the games motorcycle, the reverse trike. The trike is great because it moves fast but the player has to rely on the beneficiary porters who have played the game previous and their own precarious planning so that they can have a steady line of generator's to power their journey from point A to B. That part wasn't difficult, as I understood generally what it took for me resource wise to make sure my bike was charged, what got annoying though was the fickle momentum mechanics of the game that made accelerated jumping extremely unpredictable and wonky. I would take my bike everywhere with me because it was a great way to take the heavy delivery loads off of Sam's back and not have to deal with the intentionally difficult weight system. The drawback was making my way up mountains required "Skyrim-ing" which, I signed up for so I can't complain, however the trike's interaction with rubble and moving uphill or over rocks was so inconsistent that I was constantly mouthing my frustrations at the screen. My second point is more of a minor one and not as frustrating as the trike dilemma. BT's are the primary enemy in Death Stranding that you'll encounter. They're initially invisible and the BB attached to Sam's chest serves as a detection system so that you don't run into them. If they do catch up to you though, it's a reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally big setback and can take you way out of the intended direction that you were on. I wouldn't mind it if these were set encounters and fights that the player actually had to go through like you'd see in a Souls game, but most of the time I could just run out of the immediate vicinity of the BT that had nabbed me and everything would be back to normal. It made any sort of fighting outside of the few story moments that you had to fight BT's fairly pointless.
My slight negations aside, Death Stranding is the latest in masterclasses from gaming's most eccentric auteur. This is the most ambitious AAA project you'll find in the world of gaming for some time and is a breathtaking experience from start to finish. If you have a mild degree of patience or are familiar with the works of Hideo Kojima, I strongly suggest you take a dive into the world of Death Stranding. It is an experience like none other, a dive into full immersion and what science fiction narrative is like at its peak.