Death Stranding was a game that was ahead of its time, but not in the way you might think. Typically, that phrase refers to a breakthrough that feels light years ahead of the competition. In the case of Hideo Kojima’s divisive “strand” game, I mean that the project was released before technology could fully realise its potential.
The game was a late PlayStation 4 exclusive that pushed the hardware to its limits when it was released in November 2019. While there are many debates about how “fun” the game is, there is no denying that it is a technological marvel. However, with the PS5 arriving almost exactly a year later, I’ve always wondered how much the PS4 would have benefited from putting the brakes on and waiting for a new console.
I don’t have to imagine anything with Death Stranding: Director’s Cut. While the improved rerelease won’t persuade any sceptics, it does feel more at home on the PS5 than it did on last generation’s hardware. It’s a more immersive experience that takes advantage of DualSense integration and small but significant quality-of-life improvements.
I thought I’d just transfer my old PS4 save data to my PS5 and pick up where I left off. After becoming disoriented, I simply decided to restart the game from the beginning. The Director’s Cut is designed to make the game’s start as smooth as possible for newcomers, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start over.
The new version starts off with the kind of technical improvements we’ve come to expect from next-gen upgrades. The game is available in native 4K or scaled 4K at 60 frames per second for fans. It also has faster load times, which is a godsend considering this is a game where entering a shower triggers three separate cutscenes.
But it’s not those changes that set the Director’s Cut apart. Instead, it’s the PS5’s hardware’s finer points. I remember wishing Sony would bring Death Stranding to PS5 so I could use the DualSense controller for the first time. That is exactly what occurs here, and it adds to the overall experience. I can feel the weight of each footstep on each side of my controller as Sam plods around with a tower of cargo on his back. That makes it easier for me to tell when I’m leaning too far to one side, which adds to the game’s already intriguing hiking mechanics.
Adaptive triggers help to make the experience more immersive as well. The extra tension when pressing one down, which was used to rebalance Sam, really sells the sense of weight. When Sam tries to swing hundreds of pounds of boxes upright, it feels a little taxing. These are subtle sensations that help to bridge the gap between the player and the controller.
Sound has also gotten a boost thanks to 3D audio, which adds more depth to the experience. But it was the DualSense’s speaker that piqued my interest, and Kojima had a field day with it. BB’s cries, in particular, pierce through the tiny speaker. When I play, I keep my controller close to my waist, right where Sam fastens BB to his suit, making the experience even more nerve-wracking.
While playing the new version, I’m surprised Death Stranding wasn’t designed for the PS5 from the start. Every single DualSense feature fits seamlessly into the game, as if it was always meant to be there. While they don’t change the divisive gameplay, they do help to sell the game and make it feel more complete. It’s not a reason to try it again if you didn’t enjoy it the first time, but it is a good reason to try it if you’ve been on the fence about it for the past two years.
Death Stranding: Director’s Cut adds some new content, but the majority of it is in the form of subtle quality-of-life enhancements. In Chapter 2, for example, Sam receives a new “Support Skeleton,” allowing him to carry heavier cargo loads and run faster early in the game. Previously, players had to wait much longer to access skeletons, which made the first few chapters particularly difficult at times.
In the same chapter, Sam receives the Maser. The new weapon is an electricity gun that can quickly dispatch enemy MULEs. The Maser makes initial MULE fights more manageable because gunplay is introduced much later in the original version. When Sam obtains the tool, he gains access to a firing range where he can put the game’s weapons to the test. Players who are already familiar with the game won’t use it much (except to try some ranked missions), but it’s an important addition for easing newcomers into a mechanic that wasn’t introduced gracefully at first.
There’s some more substantial content here, but nothing that significantly alters the experience. There’s a new storey arc set in a MULE-infested factory that’s seamlessly woven into the main game (a similar strategy was used in the Nier remake earlier this year). There’s now a racetrack, which, why not? Nothing here will persuade anyone to change their minds, but the experience now has a little more variety.
This, in my opinion, is the version of Death Stranding we should have seen first. Its notoriously dry opening acts have been made a little more bearable, and the PS5-specific features feel like they should have been included from the start. It’s a definitive edition in the sense that it’s a more fully realised version of gaming’s most difficult selling point. On the PS4, Death Stranding always felt out of place; now it’s right at home.Death Stranding: Director’s Cut is available on September 24 for PS5.