‘Death Stranding Directors Cut’ Review: The best way to play a masterpiece

Kojima’s divisive delivery simulator feels fitter, happier and more productive on PS5

Before you can transfer your save data to the Directors Cut of Death Stranding, you have to log into the PlayStation 4 version and ferry protagonist Sam Porter Bridges to a delivery station, regardless of where you left off. This was easily the most humbling ‘delivery’ I’ve ever made in Kojima Productions’ latest, given that I hadn’t touched my save file in nearly two years.

As it turns out, the spot where I left Sam couldn’t have been more of a retroactive fuck you to my future self, who didn’t expect to be covering a new version of the game so soon. With a game this nuanced and Hideo Kojima behind the wheel, there was always going to be a follow-up, but I was convinced I’d seen everything after I popped the Platinum trophy.

This explains why my Sam was standing in the middle of nowhere, his feet bleeding because he had worn through his last pair of hiking boots. Back when I was hooked on Death Stranding, I would get into a routine of setting off my automated delivery robots and challenging myself to scale the trickiest mountains, without any real aim, just in case they were hiding something. This was after 130 hours of playtime, so I knew I’d seen everything, but something kept me pushing on until I had no choice but to drop it.

Advertisement

Death Stranding Director's Cut
Death Stranding Director’s Cut. Credit: Kojima Productions

Relearning the wheel for Death Stranding Directors Cut made me further appreciate the divided response to Death Stranding. The control scheme and myriad systems are, of course, a lot to put up with. Even after so much time with the original game, my first brainwave when I loaded in was to purposefully let Sam get sucked into a tar mausoleum by some nearby umbilical demons, in the naive hopes that if I died, the game would reset my checkpoint. Perhaps I could wake up next to a friendly structure and quickly upload my data!

But that’s not the kind of game Death Stranding is. All that did was create a semi-permanent crater in the map and cause my DualSense to start violently screaming as my chest-mounted baby succumbed to autotoxemia. I woke up right nearby, in an even worse position, with no progress made to any useful destination. That’s Death Stranding for you. Punishing and monotonous. Absurd, hilarious, tragic and thought-provoking. Bo Burnham hit the nail on the head when he skewered it in his latest special, Inside: “It’s like, fucking boring, but that’s the point, you know?”

I love this about Death Stranding, but I also know many people dropped it for the same reasons. It’s a slog! But so is climbing a mountain in real life. We still find that compelling and embark on challenging expeditions for the rewarding endorphin rush and fascinating views when we get to the top. Death Stranding just gamifies all of that and throws in a heart-rending narrative led by an ensemble cast, Monster Energy drink cans and mushrooms you have to piss on for social media likes. It’s unlike anything anyone has ever made as a result, and I think the Directors Cut is the best way to experience it.

If you fell off of the original but are willing to give it a second chance, the good news about the Directors Cut is that as well as looking incredible, some of the systemic chaff has been cut away. I wouldn’t want all of it gone as that’s the charm, but there are a few clever tweaks implemented in the Directors Cut that will make your life easier. There are thrusters that negate fall damage, jump ramps, rideable cargo-carrying buddy bots and catapults that lob your deliveries across significant gaps.

Death Stranding Directors Cut
Death Stranding Director’s Cut. Credit: Kojima Productions

Advertisement

One of my favourite additions is a setting that makes it so unnecessary animations don’t repeat themselves every time you trigger them. I dread to think of the amount of time I wasted looking at that slowed-down Odradek cutscene in my original playthrough. It’s clear that Kojima Productions has been careful not to trivialise delivery by making these features overpowered — they just sand down some of the game’s rough edges, which will hopefully pull in even more players. All of these features are spliced into the experience naturally, too, so depending on where you left off, you might have some or all of it to dig into already.

The magic of the Social Strand System is augmented by these new additions too, as rogue ladders, vehicles and structures left behind by other real players become important bastions in your own journey, creating a reciprocal feedback loop of empathy.

Did I mention that it’s stunningly beautiful? The fluidity of rushing water and the sheen on Sam’s outfit when he’s weathering a storm were some of the many inspired details that stuck out to me during my playtime. Assets and materials were already striking in the original, but the Directors Cut lets you get even closer to the true intention, down to the markings on Sam’s face and the subtle stretches of skin when key characters emote. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve played, and the unforgettable vistas that truncate each delivery are made even more worthwhile by the power of the PlayStation 5. The few seconds it takes to load between maps or fast travel is also appreciated as a time-saving boost.

Death Stranding Directors Cut also boasts the most compelling application of the DualSense since Astro’s Playroom. There are haptics for all kinds of absurd animations, like Sam pulling at his eye, blowing a raspberry, cracking a can and rubbing his arms as simulated water drops pelt his skin in the Private Room shower. With 3D Audio in tow, the next-gen console is a remarkable boon for immersion, especially when you’re up against all the elements. You can really feel the cargo on you as each trudging step pounds into your palms.

Death Stranding Directors Cut
Death Stranding Director’s Cut. Credit: Kojima Productions

Newcomers will have a brilliant time with Death Stranding Directors Cut, then, but what about the veterans? Well, for £5, you’re getting quite a lot of content that will take a good chunk of time to complete, especially if you want to unlock everything. Bear in mind that I had 100% completed the game before I transferred my save file and I still spent several hours tackling the new quests and trying to ace all of the challenges. I’m still not done either, and I definitely want to start helping other players with my resources once the newbies start their adventure at launch.

The main addition to the base game for returning players is the Metal Gear Solid homage questline teased in trailers. It’s a small sidecar (and absolutely not what you think it is) that doesn’t offer much in the way of new gameplay but meaningfully expands the Death Stranding lore in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s complemented by some beautiful brand new licensed music and ends on a particularly strong emotional note that complicates some of the game’s most interesting characters. There’s also a meaty Firing Range full of challenges that feels decidedly more ‘The Phantom Pain’ if that’s what you were looking for. You can compete in weekly challenges against other Porters and peel through compounds full of enemies with your new stun gun, among other tools.

While it’s not going to give Gran Turismo a run for its money, the racetrack is also a nice touch and dishes out some extra lore once you engage with it. The previously PC-exclusive Half-Life and Cyberpunk crossover deliveries are fun to dig into, too, even if one is far more compelling than the other. You’re also able to revisit more of the game’s boss battles and tweak tons of new customization options, which is excellent fodder for the fleshed-out Photo Mode.

Death Stranding Directors Cut is out on PS5 now, we reviewed the PS5 version. 

The Verdict

If you’re a newcomer to Death Stranding, the Directors Cut is the best way to play an absolute masterpiece, and I’m very jealous that you’ll be able to engage with it in all its glory. Some of the systemic chaff has been cut out to maintain the atmosphere while making your adventure a little less punishing, and, as a result, it feels far more accessible than it was at launch. Death Stranding feels at home on the PS5 with its enhanced immersion, loading times, framerate bump and graphical fidelity, elevating an already great game into something extraordinary. Returning players are also getting a lot of bang for their buck if they upgrade thanks to a job lot of new content and lore, providing a great excuse to transfer your data, slip on your Bridges Boots and dive back in.

Pros

  • Quality-of-life tweaks and new tools improve accessibility
  • The power of the PS5 elevates Death Stranding’s stunning visuals
  • Plenty of additional content and lore for newcomers and returning players

Cons

  • It’s still not going to click with everyone
Advertisement
Advertisement