It’s been two years since Death Stranding’s release; in that time, the PS4 and PC versions of Kojima’s backbreaking delivery man simulator have gone on to sell more than five million copies combined, making it a success by any measure. However, anecdotally I’ve come across just as many people who have played Death Stranding and completely loved it as I have people who’ve bounced off it within its intentionally grueling opening hours. It’s the latter group of people who perhaps wanted to like it but couldn’t, along with any other fence-sitters, that this PlayStation 5 Director’s Cut seems to have in mind; its raft of quality-of-life improvements and player-friendly features added specifically to make more manageable molehills out of its many formidable mountains. It’s just odd that so many of these concessions seem to directly contradict the deliberate hard-working spirit that many appreciated about the original version, which makes the Director’s Cut feel somewhat… compromised.
The new firing range is definitely a welcome inclusion. Accessed via the terminal at any distribution center, it allows you to get to grips with every weapon – and each of them now feels more distinct thanks to the subtle feedback afforded by the DualSense’s adaptive triggers. On top of just blasting paper targets, there are around 30 different VR drills in which you compete against the clock – from stealth-slicing umbilical cords through a gauntlet run of BTs to making fools out of MULEs using only grenades. These are enjoyable little challenges in their own right, but more importantly, they allow you to get a feel for Death Stranding’s combat without the risk of losing any precious cargo that comes with trying to learn to fight while you’re out on the job.
The firing range may provide a safe space to master Death Stranding’s fighting, but it’s not as game-changing as the buddy bot and cargo catapult. Previously only glimpsed in cutscenes or employed unseen for automated deliveries, the buddy bot can now be used in a number of different ways: it can strut along behind you carrying crates, leaving Sam unencumbered and less prone to losing his balance; or you can load it up with a shipment, slap it on its sassy robot arse, and watch it sprint off into the distance to the cargo’s intended destination. If that still sounds like too much hard work, it can even carry your Norman Reedus-shaped sack of bones all the way to the nearest distribution center on autopilot, which is huge news for anyone who’s ever wondered what it must feel like to be a bored house cat riding a Roomba.
Meanwhile the cargo catapults, which you can start constructing around the story’s midpoint, allow you to load up your boxes and fire them hundreds of metres across the map, a bit like using one of the Angry Birds as a carrier pigeon. There is a limitation to how far you can launch your flying freight before a parachute must be triggered in order to manually guide it safely to the ground, but it’s at least far enough to clear some of the nastier crevasses or wider rivers in Hideo Kojima’s stunning (albeit oddly Icelandic) vision of post-apocalyptic America.
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If, during my darkest hours with the original game – such as the extended slog through the mountains roughly 20 hours through the story – you’d offered me a cannon to fire crates of medical supplies even halfway to their summit destination I’d have loaded that cannon with hundred dollar bills and fired it directly into your beautiful face. However, while the cargo catapult and buddy bot certainly make completing orders less painful in Death Stranding, they don’t necessarily make them actually fun. At the end of the day, you’re still moving stacks of indistinguishable boxes from A to B, over and over again. Just because a menial task is made to be easier, doesn’t make it any less dull or repetitive; the calculator app on my phone may well prevent me from having to count on my fingers, but it certainly doesn’t mean I gain any more excitement out of doing my taxes.
In fact, although I certainly had my frustrations with the original “cut” of Death Stranding, never once did I think its demanding delivery gameplay was in any way arduous by accident. Kojima is undoubtedly one of the boldest game designers of all time, and he appears to be surrounded by an extremely talented team at Kojima Productions. Death Stranding isn’t a great game idea that was executed poorly; in my mind, it’s a fundamentally unappealing idea for a game executed extremely well.
That makes it especially odd that some of these Director’s Cut additions seem to actively undermine what I interpret to be the whole meaning behind the gameplay. Unless I’m mistaken, the rewards in Death Stranding are intended to be earned by carefully managing cargo and plotting intelligent routes to your destination in order to make a successful delivery. The buddy bot takes that stiff challenge, loads it onto its cargo tray and literally walks it all the way back, taking any potential sense of satisfaction with it. Sure, there is a slight penalty for relying on your doting droid to do it all for you – buddy bot deliveries are capped at A ratings, meaning you derive slightly less likes than you would completing a delivery unassisted and attaining an S rank. And they’re also not entirely infallible, since occasionally they can get stuck on the steeper sections of terrain. But these are both minor inconveniences to suffer in return for such a sizable reduction in labour.
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Meanwhile, there are a handful of features presumably intended to entice die-hard Death Stranding fans – or Die-Hardfans as Kojima prefers to call them (probably) – but like the contents of Sam’s backpack after he’s taken his umpteenth tumble down a modest incline, these are a bit of a mixed bag. At the very least, you can gain quick access to most of the new features without having to start the whole campaign over; as long as you still have access to your completed PS4 save you can import it into the PS5 version with all your progress and various shared structures intact.
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I made a beeline for the new race track, which can be constructed by delivering the requisite materials to a dedicated site just south of the Timefall farm. Sadly, it turned out to be barely worth the effort: the racing track features just two unremarkable circuits that can only be raced in simple solo time trials (with the added option of racing them both in reverse). Ironically, for a game otherwise preoccupied with weight management and inertia, the three vehicles on offer here exhibit a noticeable lack of heft. The truck and trike are both slow and far too easy to steer around full laps without requiring any real need for braking. Meanwhile, the sleek new roadster vehicle is at least fast enough to be thrown sideways around a sharp corner, but the way you’re brought to an instant halt by an invisible force field should you even touch the trackside rumble strip kind of sucks the fun out of it. It’s no wonder that Monster Energy has seemingly pulled its products out of the Director’s Cut, since Death Stranding’s bland brand of circuit racing is about as far away from extreme sports as you can get.
On the plus side, completing the race track’s time trials gives you the ability to fabricate the roadster for general use in the world. It’s only really practical to take it out on one of the player-paved highway stretches, though, since attempting to steer the sports car’s low suspension over Death Stranding’s otherwise jagged terrain feels about as smooth as trying to iron the creases out of a shirt made of rhinestones.
Death Stranding Director’s Cut Screenshots
As far as new story content, I can’t say that the over-explained nature of the ending left me begging for more details, but this Director’s Cut gave them to me anyway, although only in a very modest serving. The new ruined factory is situated to the northeast of the Distribution Center West of Capital Knot City. (Giving directions in Death Stranding sure is confusing – no wonder these people never leave their bunkers.) It’s a dilapidated facility recessed into the side of a mountain that provides an interesting space to explore, but there’s just not enough of it to really leave a mark. It’s effectively comprised of two main areas that each house a small gaggle of guards to take out, a token Metal Gear Solid reference, and then a short sequence that gives some fresh insight into the backstory of one of Sam’s closest allies. If you’re fascinated by the end of the world lore that Kojima Productions has created then you’ll likely lap this up, but just don’t go in expecting an enormous amount of new information to uncover.
Elsewhere there are ramps to build if you fancy going from Postman Pat to Evil Knieval. There’s a new maser gun that fires out electricity, allowing you to wrangle MULEs into submission like a Ghostbusters’ proton pack. There’s the option to replay boss fights and compare your scores with other players. You can even customise BB’s pod with a number of cosmetic options including ‘wood grain’ and ‘leather’, although unfortunately none of the options is ‘soundproof’. There are quite a lot of other small additions that make up a fairly long list of new features, but none of them make as considerable difference to the gameplay as the buddy bot.