(DEATH STRANDING DIRECTOR’S CUT is out on PS5 September 24th. Distributor provided review code.)
I reviewed the original release of DEATH STRANDING for the first time almost two years ago. Back then, I called it an elaborate, convoluted, often frustrating, but ultimately brilliant experiment from an equally frustrating and brilliant developer. Today, arriving on the next generation consoles with a host of updated visuals, better framerate, and quality of life improvements, the essentials of DEATH STRANDING remain unchanged.
How much you get out of it still depends entirely on how much Hideo Kojima you can put up with.
I won’t repeat what I said before, everything in my old review still stands. The fascinating world of DEATH STRANDING is as riveting this time around as last. Kojima’s ability to craft the believable out of the bewildering remains unmatched.
For newcomers, the plot begins simply enough. The world has faced a cataclysm of biblical proportions, leaving the last of humanity scattered to the wind. Tiny cities, known as Knots, foster what little remains of civilization. Traveling between them are Porters, carrying with them not just cargo, but hopes and dreams of all who wish to see the world return to what it once was.
Where the director’s cut or, as Kojima puts it, director’s plus, shines is in the addition to this madness. New gear allows for even greater traversal than before. These range from mini-jet packs, which make leaping off mountains a breeze, to robot companions to carry both cargo and player.
These additions are fun for returning fans, but they’re also explicitly bonuses that, I feel, should be ignored until completing the main campaign. They are quality of life improvements, but they also take away from the desolation and despair. Both elements that are intrinsically tied to the narrative.
The additional delivery missions are equally welcome. Kojima’s beautiful world deserves all the exploration possible, and each minute spent reconnoitering the wilderness is a joy. It’s a rare feat, building a game centered entirely around fetch quests, that never feels tiring or repetitive. Every adventure into the unknown plays like a mini-campaign, and nothing ever feels the same.
Less successful are the new community events, including racing competitions, which feel downright odd as an addition. But is a Kojima game, after all, and odd is basically the status quo.
There are even more references and inside jokes than before, and the constant barrage of celebrity cameos does make the big picture feel a little self-congratulatory. And yet, it’s hard not to like such bravado. After all, who else goes for broke like Kojima?
But putting aside the audacity, DEATH STRANDING remains an unrivaled experience. It’s an incredible attempt in delivering a communal experience tied into an inherently lonely adventure. Every minute of solitude comes with a melancholy echo of someone else sharing the same burden in some distant virtual world.
In that, Kojima’s vision enthralls. It’s not perfect, (the ending still drags), and it asks players to put up with a lot of weirdness. But those willing to buy the ticket are in for a ride unlike anything else out there.