Hello, and welcome to my third article about Kojima’s 2019 masterpiece, Death Stranding. This time, it’s the Director’s Cut. What does that mean? Who knows, even Kojima doesn’t like to call it that. But it doesn’t matter — what does matter is that Death Stranding Director’s Cut still owns, I still get hopelessly addicted to it, and it’s still COVID season, baby. Combine Kojima’s harrowing vision of the future with the juicy haptics of the DualSense for full ankle-twisting immersion.
I gave Death Stranding, perhaps controversially, a perfect score when it was initially released. I stand by it, maybe because I’m afraid of being wrong, but more likely because I value vision above most other aspects of art. Sure, games that are polished to a shine and inoffensive to general audiences are usually great fun, but the sheer earnestness with which Death Stranding carries itself still warms my heart. It borders on outsider art — going against many conventions of standard game design and never saying “no” to the director’s vision.
Does this make it a perfect game? No, of course not, it’s full of tiny flaws, awkward moments, and some frustrations. But it does make it unique, bold, and refreshing. But enough of me justifying myself to the void – what’s the deal with this Director’s Cut?
The first thing you’ll notice is that wowee this game looks great. The vastness of the landscapes really comes alive with HDR and a beefier resolution, and I haven’t experienced a single dip in frame rate during my entire playtime thus far. The second thing you’ll notice is that wowee this feels great. The haptics brought by the DualSense seriously give Sam some extra presence, whether it’s the gravel crunching beneath his boots or the straps of his rig resisting your push of the triggers as weight increases. It’s about as close as you can get to shattering your spine with a towering pile of VHS tapes from the comfort of your couch.
Then there are the new additions, which I won’t spoil too much of. The trailers showed some of the bigger setpieces already — the Fragile Circuit and the Factory recon missions. But there are smaller additions throughout which I loved. Some make BT segments more engaging (and difficult), and others make some of the more one-and-done upgrades a necessity when carrying certain cargo. If you haven’t played Death Stranding already, these will go unnoticed, like a few carefully chosen ingredients tossed into a hearty stew. If you have, you’ll appreciate their addition, but it probably won’t change your mind one way or another.
While the racetrack and firing range are probably the flashiest additions, they showcase two of the things Death Stranding does worst — combat and driving. I didn’t spend long in the firing range, as there aren’t any real rewards besides score-chasing, but it’s… nice to have, I guess? Fragile Circuit can unlock the fabrication plan for a slick racecar if you do well enough, so there’s incentive enough to try it out at least. These aren’t what I came back to Death Stranding for, but I certainly wouldn’t complain too much about additions that are completely optional extra content.
Some of the new equipment does actually change the game, though. Jump ramps are a hilariously impractical way to cross large chasms, and the new collection of gear is peppered throughout the opening hours, giving even veteran players reason to change up their playstyle. Nothing feels broken or out of place, and while a few of the tools are a bit redundant (like the new active skeleton that mixes the benefits of the power and speed skeletons), it’s always nice to have more options.
I guess my only big gripe with the whole thing, as someone who is on their third playthrough, is the lack of a “veteran onboarding” process. You can import your save from the PS4 version of the game, but it was recommended to me to try it from the beginning, as some of the new additions make themselves known as early as Chapter 2. What this actually meant was sitting through (or skipping through) hours of expository dialogue and Die-Hardman’s constant lecturing, “Sam, use your legs to step forward. Start with your left, then your right. If you like, you can reverse the order.” Luckily it is all skippable, but I felt like it took a bit of the wind out of my sails early on.
Ultimately, you’re looking at a $10 upgrade to “scaled” 4K visuals at 60FPS plus haptics and a whole slew of little changes and additions, plus all the PC content piled on top. If you’re a fan, I’d say this is a no-brainer. If you haven’t played Death Stranding, this is your best possible entry point. It might be a little more daunting than the vanilla release in terms of extras, but once things get rolling you’ll be happy to be inundated with yet another silly little tool to make Sam’s adventure that much more interesting.
Even with some early slogging, Death Stranding Director’s Cut hits different emotional notes circa-COVID 19. I mentioned in my piece on the PC version of the game that the feelings of connection with others and themes of social isolation couldn’t be more relevant than they are at this moment, and unfortunately that still rings true. Frontline workers, once heralded as heroes during the early days of the pandemic, were hit the hardest by it. They’ve been tossed aside in lieu of new, more exciting narratives. Even if Kojima didn’t intend to be quite so prophetic, Death Stranding can help us rediscover the feelings that have dulled with time, and hopefully remind us why it’s important to stay connected.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut is an oddly named excuse to get addicted to delivering all over again. The visuals are stunning, but the haptics and new gadgets take things to even greater heights. Its themes have never been more relevant, and its gameplay never more fun.
Death Stranding Director's Cut Review