If you are new to the site, our Editor-in-Chief was fortunate enough to review Death Stranding last year on the PS4 Pro link here. In our PC review, the focus will be squarely on how the experience of the game has translated over to the platform. While this review will still have elements that break down bits of gameplay, narrative, etc., the scope of this review is to help communicate just what this all new port offers in terms of upgrades and enhancements.
The story of Death Stranding follows Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) in a Post Apocalyptic America fractured by all manner of malady. An “extinction” event has fractured society and normalized societal pathology of paranoia, fear, and a loss of contact. Early in the game, the President of the UCA (United Cities of America) tasks Sam to “reconnect” America. Effectively, Samuel must travel across the United States in the hopes of restoring contact between cities and societies in the hopes of saving the World.
Additionally, Samuel finds himself with a “BB” (Bridge Baby) that can help him traverse this world and the supernatural threats of the universe. BT (Beached Things) are effectively souls left in an Earth-like purgatory and serve as a primary antagonist. Whilst this description is word soup and only scratches the surface of the overall narrative, the Death Stranding story is powerful, ambitious, and is an essential experience.
All of this is only the start of the craziness of Death Stranding. It’s fair to say that this is Hideo Kojima unleashed and for better or for worse, I don’t think anyone else has the bravery or gravitas to make what is probably the most high concept AAA game ever made. If there is one thing most can agree on though is that Hideo Kojima is a fantastic visual director, and the cutscenes can strike a chord to the player (and also in my opinion improved with the ultrawide PC setting that I will talk about later in this review).
The story is also well acted by some well known stars and personas in the entertainment industry. Sam Bridges is played by Norman Reedus, while Lea Seydoux, Mads Mikkelsen, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Troy Baker, Margaret Qualley, Guillermo Del Toro, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Lynnda Carter lent their likeness and/or voice acting to the game. You can also find other famous people playing bit parts in the story, but I won’t spoil the surprises for you.
The gameplay is one of the most magical things about this game. There is so much that could go wrong with making a hiking and delivery simulator, but what the developers have managed to pull off largely works. It’s no secret that Hideo Kojima’s previous game, Metal Gear Solid, probably has the best controls for a third person game, and you could feel that they have continued that with this. While getting to grasp with balancing your cargo will feel clumsy at first, it becomes rather simple to balance it on your deliveries. Combat, as with Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid games, gives you the option of dispatching your human enemies in lethal or non-lethal fashion. There’s also the option to use vehicles for your deliveries.
One of the most fascinating features this game has ties into its online asynchronous multiplayer. It takes its influences from Soulsborne games, but differs on it in a large way that fits with the theme that the story delves into. Without spoiling much, they have managed to use how helping each other, even in indirect ways, can help foster the feeling of being linked even in an abstract way.
Visually arresting, the game has a unique look for a game set in a post-apocalyptic United States. Rather than going the usual route of a barren wasteland surrounding the landscape, the developers look to places like Iceland instead as inspiration. What we have is a world that looks serene at times with a cool sci-fi theme and tone to it. It’s an aesthetic that definitely sets it apart from other games of its ilk.
Music and sound design is stellar. While Ludvig Forsell should be commended as the composer for the game’s music, it’s the work on the ambience and sound effects of the game that truly brings it to life. It takes a lot to meet the uniqueness shown by the games aesthetic, but his team has managed to match it the same. There is no wonder that it was seen as one of the game’s best points when it was released, and won several awards for their work on it.
Now on the PC port, by far the biggest visual upgrade is the framerate. There’s something absolutely lifelike about these hyper detailed character models animating in a full sixty frames per second. Gameplay, whilst not exactly reliant on precise timing, benefits from a lower response time thanks to the higher refresh rate. Nvidia DLSS 2.0 also makes it a breeze for those of us with RTX cards to punch up to the highest possible framerate.
The most surprising upgrade, however, was the ability to run Death Stranding in Ultra Widescreen. Those of you lucky enough to don the badges of 21:9 are in for a visual treat. It’s no secret Kojima takes inspiration from cinema (IE Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott) so the translation over to the wider aspect ratio is absolutely spectacular. The word “cinematic” gets thrown around almost as much as the trope of “Souls-like”, but Death Stranding’s Ultra Widescreen mode is my preferred way to play, because it quite frankly elevates the game into art.
However, for all the flourishes in the PC port, there is still something missing. In a direct comparison against the PS4 Pro version, it appears outside of the usual benefits of brute force (resolution, filtering, framerate); there hasn’t been much else in the way of upgrades. You won’t find Ray Traced reflections, shadows, or anything that is head and shoulders above the console port. All things considered, Death Stranding on PS4 Pro is pretty similar to the PC port in terms of fidelity- albeit at 30 frames per second. With that caveat: the PC version is the best looking, best playing, and the DEFINITIVE version of the game. Just don’t expect revelatory upgrades outside the usual wheelhouse.
It is hard for me to not recommend Death Stranding because while I understand it is not for everyone, it is something that you have to experience to get. Death Stranding is a AAA like no other, taking risks where most developers would shy away. While I have a few issues with how the game treats its dialogue and story, I came out of it feeling the same as I did on playing Metal Gear Solid V. It has some very apparent flaws, but through the brilliant gameplay, it manages to pull off what they have envisioned with boldness you rarely see elsewhere.
“Death Stranding is a AAA like no other, taking risks where most developers would shy away”