Death Stranding is game I have been wanting to replay for quite some time now, but the idea left me worried. Would it hold up on a second play? Thankfully it does, although it’s also a slightly different experience. Knowing how it all ends means a lot of the cutscenes and story beats that made absolutely no sense whatsoever on the first play can now, with hindsight, be interpreted correctly. Yes, it’s still a ridiculous and over the top mash up of dead whale tornadoes, poo grenades, Tetris, trudging up hills and comforting babies, but it just makes a little more sense this time round.
Oh, and there’s all the improvements you’d expect from this Director’s Cut running on PlayStation 5.
When you write it down, the main game loop of Death Stranding sounds incredibly tedious. You travel from one point to another, usually covering a great distance on foot, and you deliver a package. That’s it. Clambering round rough terrain with a box of CDs or some wheat seeds. As the game progresses you get more options on how to travel, including bikes and trucks, and you can construct ramps, exoskeletons, zipwires and other devices to help you move across the terrain. There’s an awful lot of strategy hidden away in this, a joy that comes from planning your routes, equipping the right gear and tweaking your load outs so everything is optimised to let you travel as fast as possible to your destination.
Along the way you encounter areas of land occupied by rogue porters who will try and steal you cargo, and then there are the BT’s. Because reasons, dead people now explode with the force of a thermonuclear bomb, and those that have in the past hover around the landscape as ghostly apparitions. Get too close to them and you will be dragged half way across the land, lose your cargo, and be forced to fight a whale in an oil slick. Or maybe a giant lion, while a ruined city rises from the ground and it rains fish.
Death Stranding is as mad as a box of soapy frogs and I still love it. Everything I mentioned in my original Death Stranding review still stands, from the outstanding performances by Lea Seydoux to rather odd cameos that includes Conan O’Brien dressed as an otter. Does anything need changing? Not really; it’s a damn near perfect experience already, which begs the question why there is a ‘Director’s Cut’.
Kojima built the studio, wrote the story and had complete control over the production of the game. The first release was his vision, the one he wanted to make. There’s no need for a so-called Director’s Cut, and Kojima has stated exactly that. “A director’s cut in a movie is an additional edit to a shortened version that was either released reluctantly because the director did not have the right to edit it, or because the running time had to be shortened,” he tweeted. “In the game, it is not what was cut, but what was additionally produced that was included. Director’s Plus? So, in my opinion, I don’t like to call ‘director’s cut’.”
Clearly the “Director’s Cut” title has come from Sony’s marketing to help push the PS5 upgrade and, as Kojima has stated, it’s a completely incorrect label. The game does include new features, but the story and cutscenes remain exactly as they were when the game was first released. What you do get is a bunch of small, mostly irrelevant additions to the game.
The game difficulty has been adjusted slightly to help new players. You now get the Support Skeleton earlier on and there are more tips and hints on what you should be doing. There’s also a couple of new weapons to use and a VR Firing Range with a number of time trials in which you have to neutralise enemies as fast as possible. Reach the farthest point westward in the first section of the map and you can build a racetrack. Here you can earn extra likes or a snazzy new car, but as the vehicle handling in Death Stranding is basic at best it gets boring very quickly.
There’s also a tremendously exciting new type of bridge,a ramp which you can construct and drive a bike off to do tricks, and a cargo catapult which you can use to fling you precious boxes half way across the map, and then spend an hour clambering rocks and trying to find where the blasted things landed. There is one new area to explore – a subterranean factory which has Sam sneaking about doing his best Solid Snake impression – but while it’s fun, it really doesn’t add much to the game.
The biggest impact simply comes from the game running natively on PS5. The game now includes a couple of graphics options: Performance runs at 60fps with upscaled 4K and a second mode runs at true 4K and something pretty close to 60fps. Either way, the game looks stunning, and some of the set pieces are true spectacles that make Naughty Dog look like amateurs.
There’s also a widescreen mode which adds black bars to the bottom and top of the screen and makes the game look like a movie. It looks so good in this mode that it’s a shame that it’s useless. Rather than remake the menus so they don’t get cut off on the top and bottom, they have simply shrunk everything so it fits within the bars. This means the already small text is barely readable and combined with your now very limited view it’s a nice idea that’s badly executed.
The good news is that Sony has announced that the PS4 to PS5 upgrade is just a fiver in the UK and $10/€10 in the US and EU. You can import your save data from the PS4 version via the usual stupidly complicated method of logging on to the original game, uploading your save to the cloud (but not the usual Save Game cloud), then downloading it on your PS5. On the plus side I did make me realise just how long the PS4 version takes to load. It feels like an ice age compared the PS5’s super fast SDD.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut is not a Director’s Cut, it’s Death Stranding Plus Some Frivolous Extra Bits, but for five quid or ten dollars you can’t really complain. If you’ve never played the game then you are getting the best version, so it’s win either way.
Strap a baby to your chest, lob some grenades made of out your own urine, deliver a pizza, zipline across America, laugh, cry, die, and then take a nice dip in a hot spring that helps your bowel movements. It’s nuts and it’s still brilliant, but with 60fps and a new gun or two.