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Death Stranding Director’s Cut review – Tarkovsky-vision update for Hideo Kojima epic


It was always inevitable, considering game designer Hideo Kojima’s cinephile tendencies, that Death Stranding would get a director’s cut. What’s surprising about this revised PlayStation 5 version of the game is that it doesn’t involve hours of extra cinematic sequences that were cut from the original. Thank goodness. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, thorough and visually arresting enhancement of the game, with interesting and sometimes amusing new features.

It still remains the mystical, artful and gloriously pretentious delivery sim it always was: you play apocalyptic postman, Sam, attempting to revive an America torn apart by a supernatural explosion that annihilated the barrier between life and the afterlife. Working for a sort of idealistic version of DHL, he must deliver packages to cities across the country, hooking the residents up to a quasi-spiritual version of the internet as he goes. But haunting him at every step are the BTs – horrible semi-invisible monsters that represent the trapped souls of the dead. The only way Sam can see these things coming is via the foetus he carries everywhere with him in a glass incubator, which requires constant care and pacification. Amid all the dialogue about hope, belief and mortality, Death Stranding is really a game about how difficult it is to get out and about when you have a baby.

Childcare in an apocalyptic world … Death Stranding Director’s Cut
Childcare in an apocalyptic world … Death Stranding Director’s Cut Photograph: Publicity image

The sheer visual impact of this PS5 version brilliantly enhances Kojima’s arthouse sci-fi vision. The bleak, rural landscape looked convincing on PS4, but rendered in higher definition, it is almost breathtakingly sharp, moody and authentic. As you trudge through the rain-sodden valleys, over moss-covered rocks and through babbling streams, it’s like being in your own Andrei Tarkovsky movie – the silence, the tension, the geologically precise scenery bathed in deadening blue-grey light. Add in the excellent support for 3D audio, which places the natural sounds far outside the whirs and clicks of Sam’s technology, and this is now a world that envelops you in its peculiar sadness.

Enhancing this greater sense of immersion is the Dual Sense controller support. The adaptive triggers put up much more of a fight when Sam is overloaded with cargo, giving you a physical sense of his struggle to stay upright. At the same time, the pad’s haptic feedback provides a tremor every time you take a heavy step, accentuating your physical contact with the earth. This effect is greatly exaggerated when under duress: say, when you’re trying to regain your composure after jogging down a hill with way too many metal boxes on your back.

Beyond these audio-visual updates, there is a lot of new content to discover, some of which – like the maser gun and improved mapping – is there to ease newcomers into what was once a rather obtuse opening act. There are also fresh side missions that integrate well with the overall story while offering new places to explore, and Kojima’s team has even provided a race track, which you can build and then zoom around in sports cars. New ways to travel, including a cargo catapult and fall-resistant boots, make long trips across particularly craggy landscapes more interesting to plan and execute. It’s possibly just enough to tempt veterans of the PS4 version to pay the extra tenner for the update and re-experience the game, perhaps at a higher difficulty level to retain the challenge.

Death Stranding remains kind of ridiculous: a bloated prog rock album of a game created by a man with a large film collection, an indulgent publisher and a budget few creators could ever dream of. But out of such ostentatious ingredients, astonishing moments can occasionally arise. If you were looking for a PS5 game that informs us that, yes, near-photorealistic visuals can lift a work in more than a surface aesthetic sense, this is it. The image of the dead rising as twisted smoking shadows above the gnarled countryside is something that will live with me for a long time.

It all goes to show that sometimes, it really can take a £500 games console and a multimillionaire developer with an Ultravox fixation to make magical things happen.



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