Hideo Kojima’s latest project, Death Stranding, which was announced back at E3 2016, was absolutely one of the most anticipated titles in the past decade. Shortly following his departure from Konami, Kojima announced a partnership between Kojima Productions and Sony Interactive Entertainment. That partnership provided funding and the Decima engine (from Guerrilla, used for Horizon Zero Dawn) for Kojima to use, which greatly contributed to Death Stranding’s development only taking just under 4 years. Death Stranding released for the PlayStation 4 on November 8th, 2019, and was truly unlike anything I’d ever played.
505 Games has assisted Kojima Productions this time around by publishing the game on PC, and at last Kojima’s work on Death Stranding is finally complete. The PC Version of the game is available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store (EGS), containing lots of new technical features not available in the PS4 version of the game, such as unlocked frame rates, resolution options, and ultrawide support.
I was incredibly excited to dive back in for the PC version of the game, ready to revisit the characters and world that Death Stranding offers. I’ve spent a good chunk of time with it, running various tests on the technical side of things, as well as messing around with the various Valve themed Half-Life cosmetic accessories you can find in the PC version.
Death Stranding is set in a near future United States of America, where an apocalyptic extinction level event known as the Death Stranding has wiped out most of humanity, leaving the survivors to create Knots, or cities, underground, completely isolated from each other. The worlds of the dead and the living have intertwined as a result of the Death Stranding. BTs (or Beached Things) haunt the ruins of America, trapped between the lines of the living while still tied to the beach (the afterlife). Corpses are literal bombs waiting to turn into a fresh BT and explode causing a voidout, with all of them having to be burned in the incinerator to avoid such a fate. The BTs aren’t the only thing that the Death Stranding has brought along, there’s also Timefall, a rain that accelerates the passage of time, rapidly aging anything it comes into contact with. All of this has left humanity ravaged, forced to live their lives in isolation.
America is no more, isolated cities/facilities are all that is left. An initiative to restore America as the United Cities of America is born, but this requires connecting all of these facilities together, which is where you come in. You play as Sam, portrayed by Norman Reedus. Sam is a porter for BRIDGES, a company apart of the UCA that makes deliveries to facilities across what’s left of America, who’s job is to deliver goods and supplies to the people. Sam takes on a mission from the dying President, asking him to go West and reconnect America once more. That really is the central goal of Death Stranding, to reconnect everyone and build the UCA, however it isn’t as simple as that. You’ll have plenty of obstacles in your way, all trying to stop Sam from completing his mission.
These obstacles don’t just effect Sam, but also include his cargo, and even the environment around you. The aforementioned BTs play a critical role in Death Stranding, haunting many new areas you will have to explore to reach certain destinations. There are also MULEs, bandits looking to steal packages, that will hunt Sam down if he steps foot in their territory. When there are BTs, there’s Timefall. Timefall deteriorates your cargo, starting with the container itself, then the contents. Leaving a dead body behind or getting eaten by a BT will result in a voidout, which will physically change the landscape of the world, making that area unaccessible. These are just a few of the problems that the Death Stranding will throw at Sam, and it’s to you to counter these and deliver your cargo to its destination.
It may seem that I’m being quite vague and shallow with my bit about the story above, however there is reason behind it. Death Stranding is a game you need to experience for yourself, going in as blind as possible. You will get so much more out of it if you avoid spoilers, so I encourage you to play the game without reading up on the story. Every person will take something different from this game, and your unique perspective will be much more meaningful.
In Death Stranding, the core gameplay loop involves Sam delivering cargo from Point A to Point B. While it may sound quite simple, your journey will never be easy. There will be plenty of obstacles in your way, whether it be BTs, the terrain, MULEs, or even Timefall. It’s up to you to properly manage your weight and cargo as you traverse, making sure you keep balance. Inventory management is a key part of Death Stranding, making sure you’ve not equipped too much wait for Sam, making sure your cargo is organized well, these are all things you will have to take care of.
There’s also the deterioration of footwear that Sam will have to worry about, as boots won’t last forever! This will require you to keep track of the footwear indicator at the bottom of the screen, as well as fabricate some new boots to make sure you have some on hand if you think you’ll need them on your journey. Footwear isn’t the only type of deterioration Sam has to worry about however, there’s also your cargo in Timefall. Timefall, the rain that accelerates the very passage of time, affects your packages too. Not to worry though, you can carry repair sprays that can repair the container in compensation for extra space and weight.
When you start, you’ll only have access to a simple ladder and rope, however as you advance throughout the game, you’ll gain access to more and more tools that will make your job easier. This includes the Reverse Trike, PVCs, grenades, the Bola gun, and so much more. Different obstacles in your way will have to be handled in different ways, like sneaking past the BTs, using your Strand or Bola Gun to bind a MULE, and more. BTs are unable to been seen by Sam, as his DOOMs level is not high enough, prohibiting Sam from visibly seeing them like Fragile. However, he can still sense them, and with the help of his Bridge Baby (BB), he has gained the ability to see them. BB can easily be distressed, and it’s important to calm it at these times. There is also stealth elements scattered throughout Death Stranding, especially in BT encounters. BTs can hear you if you’re breathing near them, so you’ll have to carefully avoid coming into contact with them while also holding your breath. In what is essentially a minefield but full of BTs each time you encounter them, stealth is absolutely key in these areas of the game.
A key factor that is crucial to Death Stranding’s gameplay is the chiral network. This network allows other players’ structures to appear in your game world, which can assist you in your travels. This system is so unique and so amazing, it’s incredibly cool to see your world expand right in front of your eyes, there’s really nothing like it. There’s also massive community projects you can contribute to, such as bridges, and even a fully fledged highway system. The highway system is incredibly unique, as other players will build some of the road for you, and it’s up to you to help contribute and build the road for you and other players, or just leave it be. Players can leave “Likes” on other players’ signs and structures, which will show up across every player’s world that has said structure in it. In turn, the player awarded the likes will have them transferred onto their profile, and as more likes are given, the number will continue to grow. It’s extremely an extraordinary system, and works so well with this theme of connection that drives through the game’s entirety.
Death Stranding’s gameplay will absolutely be a turn off for some, but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the slow pace, being able to appreciate the world in its entirety, and I really loved all of the unique mechanics that aren’t anywhere else in the market. Getting from point A to point B really was a ton of fun, and nothing will ever beat crossing that one last hill and hearing the soundtrack kick in while finally seeing the destination after traversing.
All of the performances in this game are flat out amazing. Every character is fleshed out with their own backstory, and all of their stories intertwine together through connection. Motion capture is easily some of the best I have seen in a game. It’s expressive, emotional, and absolutely conveys absolutely everything it is trying to get across. There’s a particular scene in the game with Tommie Earl Jenkins, who plays Die-Hardman, that is seriously one of the best acted scenes in video games period. It was revealed later that the scene was recorded in one take, which is beyond me how he was able to do that. Norman Reedus’ mocap is also incredible, really showing his changes over the course of the story. The stars of the show are absolutely the whole cast, as they’re all phenomenal, but I especially loved Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelson, Troy Baker, and Tommie Earl Jenkins.
Voice acting is also extremely solid, with all of the actors being incredibly convincing. Even the actors for various BRIDGES Distribution facilities are all incredibly solid. Emotion isn’t a problem at all for any of the actors, with them easily being able to convey it through their voice. I really appreciated this as I played through the game, and it really did feel like a big budget sci-fi action movie.
The visuals in this game are just absolutely stunning. The PS4 version of the game was already the best looking game on the system at the time I played it, but the PC version somehow pushes Decima even further, accelerating the visuals to an even higher preeminence. The rugged terrain of Death Stranding’s world is incredibly beautiful, hosting a plethora of gorgeous landscapes you’ll come across on your seemingly forever long journey.
Water is a very high point here. In Horizon Zero Dawn, water was a bit muddy, but that is absolutely not the case here. The water is extremely pretty, and is especially apparent while walking through a river to cross it, or taking a look at a waterfall. Stepping through it leaves perfect animations of droplets splashing everywhere, and the reflections of nearby objects balance extremely well with the clearness of the water and stones underneath. Another thing that really catches my eye is small environment details like the grass and small plants around, which all look incredibly sharp and blend perfectly with the environment. Rocks scattered all across the landscape are incredibly crisp looking, not muddy or all like you’ll see in other games. Everything has the tiniest details all throughout the environment, and nothing feels like it was just skimmed over with a muddy texture.
Character models in Death Stranding will endlessly be impressive, having some of the best models I have seen to date. The hair on each of them is incredibly realistic and moves as it should, and the detail is there down to the pores. Sam’s textures are extremely impressive, showing so much detail in his straps, and reflections on his shiny BRIDGES suit. The attention to detail with effects is also mighty impressive, with the rain dripping off Sam’s suit and the dirt flying up when he runs looking incredibly real. Reflections bouncing off cargo also look extremely realistic, and the deterioration caused by Timefall looks rustic and sharp as it happens.
The PC version of Death Stranding improves on almost all of the visuals in the game, adding even more to the already beautiful visuals. One of the standouts for me personally was the atmospheric effects, such as fog. They looked good in the PS4 version, but now they just look perfect. They’re incredibly dense at times, and don’t just magically go away when reaching an area. Another point that the PC version drastically improves is draw distance, which is seriously just crazy at this point, you can see the entire map up to a huge hill or mountain at times. Generally everything does look sharper here though, where that is especially noticeable is Sam himself, with clothing textures (especially the straps on his clothing) looking a lot better from afar. Grass also looks incredible, moving along with each step you take.
Death Stranding’s PC version supports unlocked framerates, allow you to play above the PS4’s 30FPS. The higher frame rate greatly benefits Death Stranding, truly making the experience so much more enjoyable. Climbing through valleys and crossing rivers feels so much smoother, and controls feel tighter and more responsive.
To touch on the technical side of things, I was absolutely blown away with how well optimized Death Stranding is. Running on a RTX 2060 Super, I was able to run Death Stranding at Native 4k60 with maximum settings. This was quite honestly an experience, with everything looking just flat out real to be honest. You should have no issue running Death Stranding on any recent hardware, and even then older hardware should hold up just fine.
I tested Death Stranding across three different displays, with three resolutions. The first display was a 27″ 1080p144hz screen, which it ran absolutely beautifully on. With DLSS 2.0 on and maxed out settings, I was averaging around 145-150FPS, just perfect for my display. The second display, a 1440p Ultrawide, ran amazing as well, clocking in with an average of 105FPS. Finally, the last display I tested it on was a 40″ 4K display, which really was the true test. NVIDIA claims that any RTX card using DLSS 2.0 can achieve 60FPS, but I was still skeptical. I was blown away however, finding that it ran with an average of 64FPS, which is absolutely insane considering this is a $400 card.
Ultrawide support was added for the PC release, expanding the game into an even more immersive experience. Cutscenes were redone, with an expanded view, and the gameplay just feels better. I played quite a bit through hours of Death Stranding in Ultrawide, and I ran into no problems whatsoever. Everything seems to be fine-tuned and dialed up to 11, as expected from Kojima.
To touch on the Ultrawide cutscenes a bit, they really are gorgeous. All of the cutscenes have been redone as mentioned above, so the expanded view was a brand new perspective to experience after playing the base game. Even if it was just a bit more of the environment we didn’t see in the 16:9 versions, it’s still a fascinating experience nonetheless.
Now, for one of my favorite aspects of Death Stranding – the soundtrack and audio design. The soundtrack in this game is just absolutely phenomenal, and to be truthful there are really two of them. First, you’ve got the score, led by the remarkable Ludvig Forssell, and then you’ve got the soundtrack, containing tracks from Low Roar, CHVRCHES, and Silent Poets. The score is phenomenal, being heart racing when it needs to be, but also mellow. This soundtrack grabs you immediately, opening with Don’t Be So Serious from Low Roar, a band I would have never known about if it weren’t for Death Stranding. There is a fabulous selection of songs in this game, boasting 22 tracks from Low Roar alone, and a couple from Silent Poets, CHVRCHES, and more.
The audio design is really something else here, giving the player a sense of accomplishment. During the game, when nearing a destination, it will zoom out and begin playing a song from its expansive soundtrack, and it really helps set the mood. This pulls the player in even further than it already has, and it really is something. I haven’t really experienced something like this before in a video game, but something just feels different when you see your destination and the soundtrack kicks in. A sense of accomplishment is felt, and really makes the journey feel worth it.
Death Stranding is absolutely not a game for everyone. Many will be absolutely turned off from the get-go with its gameplay loop, however many will find enjoyment in it as well. This is a slow burn, and a game that rewards you for your patience. The more you play, the more tools and resources you get along the way to help make your job a little easier, one step at a time. There’s also the community aspect, where finding a bridge left by another player right when you need one might just make your journey easier. Things like these really make Death Stranding, and help propel it even further.
There’s just something about the feeling you get after completing the game, you feel like you really did walk across the entire US. A feeling that your journey of 40+ hours was worth it, that you really accomplished something. I can’t say I’ve experienced that in a lot of games, but in Death Stranding I absolutely did.
The PC version of the game is absolutely the definitive way to experience it, and I cannot recommend it enough. Most PC hardware will be able to run the game better than the PS4 can, and the ability to play this at 60FPS or higher is worth it alone. Death Stranding knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to change that, it sticks with its core themes all the way to the very end. The presentation in this game is of the absolute highest quality, and there wasn’t a moment where I questioned the what the game was trying to accomplish. Death Stranding is unlike any other game on the market today, and if you have the patience to play through its 40 hour campaign, you will be immensely rewarded.