Death Stranding ahead of its time, though not in the way you might think. Usually, it’s an expression dedicated to innovation that feels years ahead of the competition. In the case of Hideo Kojima’s polarizing “rope” game, I mean that the project is literally kicked off before technology can fully implement it.
Released in November 2019, the game was a late PlayStation 4 exclusive that pushed the hardware to the limit. While there’s a lot of debate that can be made about how “fun” the game is, there’s no arguing that it’s a technical wonder. But with the PS5 dropping in price almost a year later, I’ve always wondered how much it could benefit from pumping the brakes and waiting for a new console.
With Death Stranding: Director’s Cut, I do not need to imagine. While the upgrade won’t sway any objections to its corner, the upgrade does feel at home on PS5 compared to the previous generation’s hardware. It’s a richer experience that benefits from DualSense integration and small, but important quality-of-life changes.
At first I thought I would just transfer my old PS4 save data to my PS5 and pop in where I left off. After losing a bit, I just decided to start the game from scratch. NS Director cut is meant to start the game smoothly for newbies, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to start from scratch.
Right off the bat, the new version delivers the kind of technical boost we’ve come to expect from next-gen upgrades. Fans can enjoy the game in native 4K or 4K scaled at 60fps. It also has faster load times, which is a godsend as it’s a game that triggers three separate cutscenes any time Sam takes a shower.
Those changes are not what make Director cut stand out, though. Instead, it’s the finer details of the PS5 hardware. The first time I used the DualSense controller, I remember wishing Sony brought Death Stranding to the PS5 to take advantage of that. That’s exactly what happens here and it enhances the experience. As Sam paced around with a cargo tower on his back, I could feel the weight of every footstep on each side of my controller. That helps me better identify when I’m leaning too far to one side, adding to the game’s already compelling hiking mechanics.
Adaptive triggers also do wonders to make the experience immersive. Used to rebalance Sam, the extra tension when pressing one down really sells off the heaviness. It actually felt a bit hard when Sam tried to rotate the hundred-pound boxes vertically. These are subtle sensations, but better barrier-breaking sensations between the player and the controller.
The sound is also greatly improved thanks to 3D sound, which adds more depth. However, I found myself most interested in the DualSense’s speakers, which Kojima had a field day with. The most noticeable is the cry of BB coming out of the small speaker. I hold my controller down to my back while playing, right where Sam attaches BB to his suit, so the experience becomes all the more unsettling.
Playing the new version, I was really shocked when Death Stranding Not designed for PS5 from the start. Every little DualSense feature makes it feel like home in the game, as if it’s for everyone. While they don’t change the polarizing gameplay, they do sell it a bit better and make the experience feel more complete. It’s not a reason to go back if you didn’t like it initially, but it’s a good reason to take a chance with it if you’ve been barricaded about trying it for the past two years.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut offers a bit of extra content, although most of it is in stealth form improve quality of life. For example, Sam gets a new “Support Skeleton” in Chapter 2, which allows him to carry heavier cargo and run faster early in the game. In the past, players have waited longer to finally get access to the skeletons, making the first few chapters particularly grueling at times.
Similarly, Sam gets the Maser in that chapter. The new tool is a stun gun that can knock out enemy MULEs in a quick blast. Gunplay was introduced more deeply in the original version, so Maser made the initial MULE wars more manageable. When Sam gets the tool, he also unlocks a shooting range so he can test the game’s weapons. Players who are already familiar with the game won’t use much (except trying out some ranked missions), but it’s an important addition to help newbies to an unreserved mechanic. introduced gracefully at first.
There’s some more important stuff here, though nothing fundamentally changes the experience. There’s a new story set in a factory filled with MULEs, which seamlessly blends into the main game (a similar tactic was used in this year’s Nier remake). Now there’s a track, sure, why not? Nothing here is going to change any minds, but the experience is a bit more varied now.
In my opinion, this is the version of Death Stranding that we should see initially. Its notoriously dry opening acts are just a little easier to swallow, and the PS5-specific features feel like they’re supposed to be from day one. It’s a solid version in that it’s a more fully executed version of the best-selling game. Death Stranding always feel out of place on PS4; now it’s right where it belongs.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut available on September 24th for PS5.