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A radical departure from Kojima's previous work on the Metal Gear Solid series, Death Stranding puts you in the role of an essential worker, Sam Porter Bridges (played by Norman Reedus), in a post-apocalyptic version of North America where the lines between life and death have become blurred. Think Annihilation with a light helping of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
Two years after its debut, this bizarre open-world game about delivering cargo and doing your best under traumatic circumstances has gotten an enhanced re-release for the PS5 in the form of Death Stranding: Director's Cut.
This new edition not only presents the perfect opportunity to revisit a game that had some eerie parallels with the COVID-19 pandemic but also features one of the most visually alluring worlds ever built.
It can undoubtedly be a contentious game to get a grasp of -- . But for me, Death Stranding offered a meditative and surprisingly emotional experience that had me hooked from beginning to end. I never thought a game about delivering packages and avoiding ghosts with a cloned baby at your side would be one of my favorite games in recent years, but here we are.
I respect the hell out of Death Stranding, and I got a lot of enjoyment from experiencing it again with the Director's Cut, which enhances the core gameplay while adding some welcome tweaks to the game's pacing.
What's New In The Director's Cut?
With the Death Stranding: Director's Cut, which PS4 owners can upgrade to for $10, the original game is boosted to run at 4K/60FPS, featuring faster loading, and additional haptic vibration feedback using the PS5's DualSense controller. The improved resolution and framerate alone are fantastic improvements, rendering the world in even more stunning detail. However, the haptic feedback is an especially great addition, which gives you a better feel of every step the protagonist takes.
The haptic sensors get a lot of play with this game, allowing you to get a sense of uneven terrain and helping you stay in rhythm when exploring. It also works during the more unusual actions, such as urinating. (Stick with me on this: Eventually, if you drink enough water to keep Sam hydrated, he'll need to relieve himself.) You especially get the "feel" of Sam relieving himself with the haptic sensors; it starts with a steady vibration that slowly lets up as he empties his bladder. It's a ridiculous use of the hardware, but it's one of many things that helps get you into this world, and it's certainly effective.
The Director's Cut also gives the game's pacing and gameplay some welcome tweaks, most notably during the opening hours. Many players online expressed how unforgiving the opening of Sam's journey was, and the Director's Cut sees several of the map's BT encounters dialed down to a degree. You'll also have access to an exo-skeleton early in the game to help with heavy loads and improve movement speeds. Along with that, you can bring an AI bot to help carry cargo, which makes the more daring and intensive cargo missions easier to handle. These changes significantly improve the onboarding process of Death Stranding.
The standout additions to Death Stranding: Director's Cut are easily the new missions and activities. The special Half-Life and Cyberpunk 2077 themed missions from the PC edition, which rewarded you with specialized items, cosmetics, and fun crossover easter eggs, are in the Director's Cut. So now PlayStation players have the chance to check out some of Death Stranding's most unusual crossover content.
The brand new missions for the Director's Cut introduce rescue objectives for injured delivery men, alongside added story-focused events that provide interesting backstory to some of the game's more mysterious characters. The new story content in the Director's Cut largely feels inconsequential and isolated from the main plot, which makes some of these events a bit forgettable in the grand scheme of things. Still, they're fun missions, and I appreciated the payoff of the later missions for the amount of time invested.
There are also new songs on the game's soundtrack from the artists like Woodkid, Biting Elbows, and Midge Ure, giving these events some added emotional impact.
The Director's Cut also adds in some quirky side-activities as well. Fragile Circuit, which allows players to race on a selection of constructed tracks to compete for the best times, is a fun inclusion. Special VR missions have been added, letting you use your arsenal of weapons simulated combat courses for the best times. Both of these activities are fun to jump into when you want a break from the game's flow and just cut loose, and they're a welcome addition to the overall game.
After finishing a fresh playthrough of the game for review, I came away feeling an even greater appreciation for how innovative its core exploration and online gameplay is. The Director's Cut does a lot to enhance the core of what made Death Stranding what it is, and it highlights just how bold and different a game this is.
What's So Special About Death Stranding?
Since its release in 2019, Death Stranding has been regarded -- warmly and not so warmly -- as something of an oddity amongst the slate of AAA first-party games. It's an open-world action game starring a cast of Hollywood actors such as Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale), and Léa Seydoux (Skyfall), with a story that centers around the core theme of connection and unity in the face of trying circumstances.
The game maintains a rigorous dedication to the rules of its setting, which separates it from open-world games that focus on short-term thrills and non-stop action. It's an open-world game where the goal is to rebuild America -- not into what it was, but into something better for all.
Many of the challenges you'll face in Death Stranding are a necessary part of what makes it such a satisfying experience. The many stumbles you'll take and the moments where you get back up can give rise to a reflective experience that tasks you, as Sam, to connect with the world you're exploring and provide a helping hand to other players along the way.
There's something profound and ultimately fulfilling about being a part of a world where you're not alone in the struggle. Building up the game's world is a community effort with other players online, and some of the most satisfying moments can come from getting a note that you indirectly helped someone on their journey. Death Stranding also proves that there's satisfaction and comfort to be found in routine, especially amid chaotic circumstances.
Though initially released in 2019, Death Stranding, in many ways, speaks to the present struggles of political division and our collective sense of loneliness and isolation during lockdown. Yet, its most effective emotional hook hit me hard: Your choice to endure and make it over that next hill is worth it. Always. Whether that's for your own personal growth or for someone who's walking the same path as you.
So far, I've played Death Stranding to completion three times -- once on PS4, then again on PC, and finally on PS5. Each playthrough of this wild, open-world game hit different, and with this third tour, I felt a strong connection with the paths I've walked and the infrastructure I've built. Death Stranding is a brilliant open-world game that gives rise to some spectacular feelings of satisfaction and splendor.
It's a game like no other, and I wonder if we'll ever see anything like it again. But I can't help but feel it's the kind of game that's needed right now.